Gov. Palin stopped by the church this morning, and she told an assistant pastor that she apologizes if the incident is in any way connected to the undeserved negative attention the church has received since she became a vice-presidential candidate on Aug. 29. Whatever the motives of the arsonist, the governor has faith in the scriptural passage that what was intended for evil will in some way be used for good.
That is the statement issued by Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's office today, regarding the fire last night at the site of the new Wasilla Bible Church. It caused what is estimated to be $1,000,000 damage to a $5,000,000 building.
The Anchorage Daily News covered the story in this morning's electronic editions, and updated it Saturday evening, in preparation for a Sunday edition front pager. Good on-the-spot writing by Wes Loy and Rindi White.
MSNBC carried a report Saturday afternoon that is even more speculative than Palin's ill-advised statement:
The 1,000-member evangelical church was the subject of intense scrutiny after Palin was named John McCain's running mate. Early in Palin's campaign, the church was criticized for promoting in a Sunday bulletin a Focus on the Family "Love Won Out Conference" in Anchorage. The conference promised to "help men and women dissatisfied with living homosexually understand that same-sex attractions can be overcome."
DailyKos diarists have picked up on the facts that Palin immediately began spinning this, that the ADN turned it into a front pager, and that MSNBC is reacting in similar fashion. I'd like to point out some statistical data on arson. I was a volunteer fireman for six years, a chief for three (Whittier).
This is from the National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime (NCAVC) located at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia:
Six major classifications of motives for arson:
• Vandalism • Revenge
• Profit • Extremist Action
• Crime Concealment • Thrill, Excitement Seeking
Vandalism is perhaps the most easily understood motive. The offender intends to do damage. The most common targets are schools or their related property. The Profit motive arises when the arsonist destroys property or inventory to collect insurance. He may set a fire as a means to gain employment. Or he may get Mom to do it: Recently, the mother of a North County, California firefighter was convicted of setting five fires in the Shasta-Trinity National Forests so her son could get more overtime and hazardous-duty pay. There are also cases of private contractors of water tankers, bulldozers, and delivery trucks setting fires to boost the need for their services.
Another common reason for a fire is to conceal the evidence of crime — be that a burglary or homicide. Or the arson may be concealing wrongdoing by burning his business records.
Some fires are set from a wish to extract revenge. Fires are directed at a particular person: the fired worker angry at his boss, an evicted tenant striking at a landlord, a spurned lover evening the score. An arsonist may have some grievance with the government, a church, the academic world, the military, or a group of people. These fires are considered to be set for extremist reasons. A National Church Arson Task Force has opened 945 investigations on attacks on houses of worship between January 1995 and September 1998 (church arson became a federal crime in 1996). In 1998, a group called the Earth Liberation Front set fires to a ski lodge in Vail, Colorado because the lodge was encroaching on the habitat of lynxes (they did $12 million in damage).
Some fires are set from a thirst for excitement. This category includes bored teenagers seeking thrills or loners recognition. This latter reason is an example of something often called the "Hero Syndrome." The offender becomes a local hero for spotting a fire no one else sees — a fire he has set. An offender may also set fires out of sexual excitement, but such a motivation, according to the FBI, is rather rare.
Arsonists are usually young. According to the FBI, juveniles were involved in 45% of arson incidents cleared by law enforcement in 2000. About 85% of arsonists are male and 80% are white. In a 1988 Department of Justice study, 31% of prison inmates whose most serious offense was arson were under the influence of illegal drugs when they committed their crimes; 39% of inmates had used drugs in the month before their offense.