Church-Burning Hoax Pays Huge Dividends

By Michael Fumento


Copyright 1998 Michael Fumento

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It appears that the public may be finally catching on that the black church-burning epidemic of 1996 is actually one of the biggest hoaxes to come along in years. It’s also turning out to be one of the most lucrative for the people who started it.

We’ve all seen such headlines as "Flames of Hate: Racism Blamed in Shock Wave of Church Burnings," "A Southern Plague Returns," and "The South is Burning: A Rash of Torchings at Black Churches Has Resurrected the Ugly Specter of Racism."

In fact, independent investigations by several reporters, including those at the Associated Press, The New Yorker, USA Today, and myself in a piece for the Wall Street Journal, have revealed no plague and little evidence of racism.

Despite claims that the "epidemic of hatred" began in 1994, the only increase came in 1996. This increase was the result of two factors: better reporting of a crime that like all crimes is normally underreported, and copycat fires by arsonists who (as some openly stated) got the idea from media publicity.

Though we were warned of a white supremacist conspiracy, only two church fires (of over 70 which USA Today investigated), have been identified with any racist group. Both were lit by the same two Klansmen. A third burning clearly had racial motivations. That’s it.

Meanwhile, during the same period far more southern white churches than black churches were burned. Further, USA Today’s latest tally shows that of all the arsonists arrested in connection with black church burnings, a third have been blacks.

So how did this harmful hysteria get started? My piece in the July 8 Wall Street Journal focused on the originating group, the Center for Democratic Renewal (CDR), whose political leftism was carefully omitted in the hundreds of media stories which uncritically repeated its claims.

The group’s stated purpose is to work "with progressive activists and organizations to build a movement to counter right-wing rhetoric and public policy initiatives."

CDR’s June report alleged to show an epidemic of 90 black church arsons in which all the perpetrators caught were white. But when I called fire officials in four southern states I found that the CDR had systematically labeled mere vandalisms as fires, had ignored fires set by blacks and those that occurred in the early part of the decade, and labeled fires as arsons that were not — all in an apparent effort to make black church torchings appear to be an escalating phenomenon.

Why? The bottom line appears to be the bottom line: The church-burning epidemic was essentially a fund-raising effort for the National Council of Churches (NCC) and its causes. The NCC is an association of Protestant churches, essentially a left-wing version of the Christian Coalition.

"A little more than a year ago, the [NCC] was struggling to raise money to fund ambitious programs designed to combat racism," an August 9, 1996 front-page Wall Street Journal article noted. "Even after soliciting funds among normally sympathetic charitable foundations, it found virtually no donors."

It’s wasn’t the KKK, but
the NCC fanning the flames of hate.

The idea of exploiting burned churches was that of Mac Charles Jones, the "associate for racial justice" of the NCC, and a former president and current board member of the CDR. It was Jones’s plan to have the CDR prepare the bogus church-burning report. He then fanned the flames of fear and racial division with statements eagerly broadcast by the media decrying "domestic terrorism" by "a well-organized white-supremacist movement."

Suddenly the NCC’s coffers were overflowing. It had established a "Burned Churches Fund" which it announced in major newspapers with full-page ads. Many newspapers also reprinted the group’s 800 number in articles about the "epidemic." As a result, according to the Journal, the group raised "more money more quickly than it has for any previous cause."

It has already amassed over $10 million, which added to insurance coverage is enough to build each burned church three times over. But not to fear, the NCC knows what to do with the windfall. It has designated at least a third of that amount to what Jones calls "program advocacy," seminars and other forums to denounce not just "racism" but in Jones’s words "interlocking oppressions from gender to homophobia." NCC will also use the cash to campaign for "economic justice" — a code phrase for increased welfare spending.

Some of the NCC’s donors, especially the larger ones, are well aware of this. Grain magnate and Archer Daniels Midland Chairman Dwayne Andreas, himself the major recipient of a corporate welfare program (gasohol) estimated to cost taxpayers $770 million a year, considered giving money to the Burned Churches Fund but ended up cutting a cool $1 million check directly to the NCC instead.

But most of the $20 and $50 donors have no idea their contributions won’t necessarily be spent on a new steeple or altar, but perhaps instead to convince Americans that gay is good and that American women are treated as second-class citizens.

They also don’t know that the man designated to administer the fund is Don Rojas, formerly press secretary to the Marxist leader of Grenada, Maurice Bishop, and later executive editor of the anti-Semitic Amsterdam News in New York.

If anything good has come from this hoax, it’s proof that Americans are not the scum-sucking racists we’ve been accused of being. But we are, alas, suckers. Behind their crocodile tears, the NCC and CDR must be laughing all the way to the bank.


Read Michael Fumento’s additional work on the church arson hoax.