On February 25, 2022, fire destroyed 2 of the 6 buildings at Historic Wintersburg, and is now under investigation for possible arson. Republic Services, owners of the property, demolished both buildings several hours after the fire, destroying evidence for the investigation. They previously applied to demolish all 6 historic buildings so they can develop or sell. In the lead up to the fire, Historic Wintersburg volunteers have been attacked by racists on social media, stalked, photographed, and been subjected to other acts of intimidation against the preservation project.
Mary Urashima, organizer for the project, has requested that organizations and individuals write letters to the Huntington Beach mayor and city council demanding:
- An arson investigation.
- That Republic Services cooperate with government agencies to help preserve the buildings.
- To bring Republic Services to the bargaining table to arrange a purchase of the property by preservationists.
Commenters on social media have demanded independent state and federal level investigations, which have been done before, to investigate the Fountain Valley PD in the 1980s and 1990s. (Hayashida, NSC)
This fire happened as hate incidents have skyrocketed across the country. A recent report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism said hate incidents, which include hate crimes, have increased 339% from 2020 through 2021. (Yam)
Attacks against Asian Places of Worship in 2020 and 2021, locally, have been numerous and dramatic.
- Six Buddhist temples in Orange County were vandalized, and people were verbally harassed, in November and December of 2020. (Introvigne, Kandil)
- Higashi Honganji in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo was vandalized, and arson attempted. (Peralta)
- Konko Church, a Shinto shrine in Boyle Heights, was attacked by arsonists twice. (Yamamoto)
- An old Japanese American church in Sacramento was vandalized. (CBS Sacramento, CAIR)
- Two Seattle, WA churches were vandalized with graffiti including “China, you will pay,” “go home” and “f–k China,” even though only 5% of the congregation was Chinese. (Chen, Esteban)
- Three statues were destroyed at Wat Lao Santitham, a Buddhist temple in the town of Fort Smith, Arkansas. (Stills)
- In Calgary, Canada, a Vietnamese Canadian church was burned. (CBC News)
Other sources report additional incidents at temples, mosques, video conference church meetings. (Kandil, ACLU, Borja)
Vandalism against ethnic churches should be understood intersectionality, as not only an attack against a place of worship, and not only as an attack against a specific minority, but an attack against the intersection of the two.
Racists, typically white Christians, have attacked Black Christian churches and other houses of worship since they originated, because the serve as community political centers to defend Black people, and increase Black power. (Boddie) Japanese American faith organizations have similar functions: popular mobilization, protection, and power.
Causes for anti-Asian violence and vandalism are numerous, but it’s often irrational, where general anger from one situation results in violence against an Asian person or Asian institution completely unrelated to that situation.
- China is blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic, and Asian people in western countries experience rising rates of violence. (Yam)
- The infamous murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American, was by autoworkers angry about international competition from cars made in Japan. (Guillermo)
- In 2016, when North Korea was in the news for nuclear missile testing, a Korean American church in Buena Park was vandalized with swastikas. (Ryan)
- In 1984 three Vietnam war veterans burned a Tibetan Buddhist temple after dissatisfaction with Veterans Affairs, a US government agency. (Kandil)
The fire at this historic site is happening at the same time that reactionaries are mounting an attack on “Critical Race Theory”, or CRT, in the state legislatures. CRT is a legal theory, but their use of CRT is a code word for Ethnic Studies and accurate U.S. history. It’s a push back against teaching minority histories in the schools. (Sawchuck)
It’s against this ambient and legislative attack on history education that we must consider this fire could have been arson, motivated by hatred or anger at a racial minority.
- ACLU. Nationwide Anti-Mosque Activity.
- ADL. Rise Above Movement.
- Arrelano Gustavo. They Didn’t Know I Planted Anti-KKK Seeds.
- Boddie, Stephanie Clintonia. Burning Churches Should Set Black Souls on Fire.
- Borja, Melissa. Asian American Religious Institutions Are Targets of Racist Attacks – And Also Sites of Resistance.
- CAIR. CAIR-SV/CC Expresses Solidarity With Japanese Community, Calls for Hate Crime Probe of Vandalism at Church.
- CBC News. Police release images of man believed to have information related to Calgary church fire.
- CBS Sacramento. Japanese-American Church In Sacramento Vandalized.
- Chen, Shawna. Seattle church vandalized with anti-Asian messages.
- Esteban, Michelle. North Seattle church targeted again with anti-Asian hate speech graffiti.
- Introvigne, Massimo. Buddhist Temples Vandalized in California.
- Fisher, Earle J. Black Liberation Theology and the Movement for Black Lives: A Match Made in Heaven.
- Guillermo, Emil. Lessons from Vincent Chin murder 35 years after; Podcast interview with Helen Zia; and thoughts on my interview with Chin’s killer, Ronald Ebens.
- Hayashida, Kenneth. Comment on thread, “The details of the situation boil down to the fact that the Cal DOJ / Attorney General Bonta and the Biden US DOJ / Attorney General Garland need to task the hate crime investigation group on this. The fire needs arson investigation, but so far, other than me, there’s been nobody posting the need for a hate crime investigation.” “There’s no discussion of anti-Asian hate crimes and no demand to investigate the bulldozing of the site after the fire occurred. The point is that the owner of the land sent his bulldozer across a public street, tore up the street, and bulldozed the remaining structure that the fire department saved. That is a pretty clear indication of hate.”. https://www.facebook.com/groups/671388230002326/posts/1330957914045351/
- Kandil, Kaitlin Yoshiko. Buddhist temple attacks rise as COVID-19 amplifies anti-Asian American bias.
- Knight, Faatima. Rebuild with Love: Rebuild Black Churches & Support Victims of Arson across the South.
- Mason-John, Valerie. The Time for Black Sanghas Has Arrived.
- Maxouris, Christina and Brandon Griggs. A California synagogue was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti four days after Pittsburgh.
- Peralta, Isa. Buddhist Temple Set on Fire, Vandalized in LA’s Little Tokyo.
- Ryan, General. Korean Church in California Vandalized With Swastikas in Possible Hate Crime.
- Saavedra, Tony. Owner of car painted with swastika allegedly by Torrance police wants $6 million in damages.
- Stills, Mary M. Vandalized Buddhist temple in Arkansas seeks funds to replace destroyed Buddhas.
- Sun, Dee Dee. Multiple Seattle churches targeted with anti-Asian hate speech.
- Talbot, Peter. Buddhist nun attacked outside temple in Tacoma. Police investigation continues.
- Yam, Kimmy. Nationwide, Anti-Asian Hate Crimes More Than Tripled in 2021.
- Yamamoto, J.K. Konko Church Struck by Arson Again.
- Yip, Randall. AsAm News. 6 Buddhist temples vandalized in Orange County.