By Therese Apel
JACKSON, Miss. (Reuters) - A black church in Mississippi was burned and spray-painted with "Vote Trump" and authorities said on Wednesday they were probing the incident as a hate crime committed one week before the U.S. presidential election.
“We’re investigating this as a hate crime," Greenville Police Chief Delando Wilson told a news conference. "We feel that the quote on the church is intimidating.
"It tries to push your beliefs on someone else, and this is a predominantly black church and no one has a right to try to influence the way someone votes in this election.”
Black churches in the U.S. South have long been a base of support for the Democratic Party.
During the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, southern black churches were often targets for arson and bombings by white supremacists.
"The FBI Jackson Division is aware of the situation in Greenville, and we are working with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to determine if any civil rights crimes were committed," the agency said in a statement.
No one was injured in the Tuesday evening blaze at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Greenville, and the cause of the fire has not been determined, Greenville Fire Chief Ruben Brown Sr. said in a telephone interview. He said the church had been heavily damaged by the fire.
The town of some 33,000 people is about 100 miles (160 kms) northwest of Jackson.
"The act that happened left our hearts broken," Pastor Carolyn Hudson told the news conference, noting that the church has a 111-year history.
Bobby Moak, chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party, said it was "reprehensible to see this sort of thing."
"Hopefully the true cause of the fire will be discovered but nothing in politics is coincidental," Moak said in a telephone interview.
The Mississippi Republican Party declined to comment.
In October, the Orange County Republican Party's office in Hillsborough, North Carolina, was set on fire and a graffiti message left nearby said "leave town or else."
No arrests have been made in that incident, which Indiana Governor Mike Pence, the Republican vice presidential candidate, called "political terrorism."
(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Alistair Bell, Toni Reinhold)