The DOJ indicts Missouri resident for attempting to burn down a religious center.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) announced this month that a Missouri man, indicted on charges of arson and a federal hate crime, pleaded guilty after burning down the Cape Girardeau Islamic Center in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, in April 2020. Islam is a Middle Eastern religion centered around the Quran, a religious text considered by Muslims to be the direct word of God as it was revealed to Muhammad, the main Islamic prophet.
In the early hours of April 24th, 2020, the first day of the holy month of Ramadan, Nicholas John Proffitt, aged 44, set the Islamic Center, a place of worship, on fire. Security cameras caught him throwing objects through the building’s window, causing it to break. He then stepped into the center and poured two-gallons worth of gasoline throughout the foyer and down the hallway.
After lighting both fires, the blaze immediately spread throughout the building, causing severe enough damage that the building could no longer perform its intended use as a religious center. Families who lived in the building were also sent scrambling for their lives. Upon questioning, Proffitt admitted that he burned down the structure because he disagreed with the religious values it stood for.
This was not the first time Proffitt staged a malicious attack against the building, or against a house of worship in general. In 2005, when 27 years old, Proffitt staged an attack on a mosque in Dearborn, Michigan in which he smashed the building’s windows, punched holes in its siding, and poured chemicals on its wheelchair accessible ramp. Dearborn is home to many Middle Eastern residents including immigrant families who practice Islamic customs.
While authorities had caught Proffitt in the act and took him back to the police station, they had no reason to believe it was a hateful attack and assumed that the drunken Proffitt would have chosen any building to vandalize.
In 2009, however, Proffitt staged another attack, this time on the Cape Girardeau Islamic Center. Prosecutors charged Proffitt with a hate crime, but he was able to plead down to two felony counts of property damage motivated by discrimination and one count of driving while intoxicated.
After the fire at the Islamic Center in 2020, the FBI offered a $5,000 reward for information and coordinated with the Cape Girardeau police to distribute a black-and-white surveillance photo depicting a man in a hooded sweatshirt. They soon determined their suspect to be Proffitt and took him into custody.
The DOJ reports that there were roughly 8,600 hate crimes reported in the U.S. in 2021. Of the estimated 6,3oo known offenders “56.1% were White; 21.3% were Black or African American and 13.5% are of an unknown race.” The agency also reports, “Most hate crime incidents, 32.2%, occurred in or near residences/homes; 16.9% occurred on highways/roads/alleys/streets/ sidewalks; 8.1% occurred at schools/colleges; 7.0% happened in parking/drop lots/garages; 2.8% took place in restaurants and 2.7% occurred at parks/playgrounds.”
Hate crimes can occur for a variety of reasons including hate for one’s religious or racial or ethnic background, ongoing contention between two or more groups, and, all too commonly, an ill-formed perspective of a particular culture. The DOJ continues to ensure offenders are brought to justice.