By LEAH ASMELASH and MELISSA TAPIA
Members of two historic Black churches in Washington, D.C., woke up Sunday morning to a disconcerting scene: Protesters attending a pro-Trump rally the night before had torn down their Black Lives Matter signs and set them on fire.
The incident, which took place the night before, was captured on video and has been shared widely through social media.
“For me it was reminiscent of cross burnings,” wrote the Rev. Dr. Ianther M. Mills, senior pastor at Asbury United Methodist Church, one of the churches affected. “Seeing this act on video made me both indignant and determined to fight the evil that has reared its ugly head. We had been so confident that no one would ever vandalize the church, but it has happened.”
Less than a mile away from Asbury, protesters did the same thing at the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church – burning their Black Lives Matter sign as well.
“We have not been distracted by signs, sounds, or fury for nearly two centuries. We worship. We liberate. We serve,” wrote William H. Lamar IV, pastor of the church, on Twitter.
As of Monday, the suspects have not been identified, according to a statement from the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department. Photos of the suspects have been released, and the department is asking for assistance in identifying the men.
Both incidents are being investigated as potential hate crimes, said Peter Newsham, chief of police, at a news conference.
CNN reached out to both churches but did not receive comment.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser addressed the incident on Twitter, writing that the city’s “faith-based organizations are at the very heart of our community, giving us hope in the face of darkness.”
“They embody our D.C. values of love and inclusivity. An attack on them is an attack on all of us,” she wrote. “This weekend, we saw forces of hate seeking to use destruction and intimidation to tear us apart. We will not let that happen, and continue to stand together strong and United to Love.”
Asbury United Methodist Church dates to 1836 and Metropolitan AME was founded in 1872. Both are on the National Register of Historic Places and are among the oldest churches organized by African Americans in the nation’s capital.
The incidents happened during the Saturday evening protest, which saw at least four people stabbed and at least 33 people arrested. Large groups of protesters and counterprotesters gathered earlier in the day outside the Supreme Court and at Freedom Plaza to protest the presidential election results.
Members of the Proud Boys, a far-right group, were also in attendance.
The clashes, and the burning of the BLM signs, come just a few months after President Donald Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” at a presidential debate.
As Trump continues to dispute the results of the presidential election, his base has taken to the streets in support, decrying the election and claiming the results were rigged.
Other cities have seen protests similar to the events in D.C. on Saturday as a result. In Detroit, Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said dozens of armed protesters gathered outside her home, chanting and shouting obscenities about overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election.