North Carolina Republicans on Monday said they would not be intimidated after a local party headquarters sustained heavy damage over the weekend in a deliberately set fire and graffiti on a neighboring building warned them to “leave town or else.”
Police are investigating the incident in Hillsborough, North Carolina, located about 40 miles from the state capital of Raleigh, as arson. The crime occurred less than a month before Election Day, on Nov. 8, and major party candidates Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton both condemned the attack in the battleground state that could play a pivotal role in the presidential race.
Hillsborough police said a bottle containing flammable material ignited after being thrown through a front window of the Orange County Republican Party headquarters sometime late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.
No one was in the office at the time, but the substance burned furniture, charred campaign signs and caused significant smoke damage. A swastika and the message “Nazi Republicans leave town or else,” were spray-painted on an adjacent building, police said in a statement.
“This is political terrorism,” Dallas Woodhouse, executive director of the North Carolina Republican Party, said in a phone interview on Monday. “Somebody could have been killed.”
But party volunteers were undeterred, he said, starting the clean-up and getting back to work on Monday in a bus being used as a mobile office. Local police were on site providing security.
“We’re not going to be intimated, we’re not going to be cowed,” Woodhouse said.
Local police said the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were assisting in the investigation, along with the state’s investigative bureau.
Police said they were sifting through evidence and trying to narrow the timeframe of when the incident occurred. There were no immediate damage estimates.
In a tweet Sunday evening, Clinton said she was grateful no one was hurt in the attack, which she called “horrific and unacceptable.”
About an hour later, Trump blamed his Democratic opponent’s supporters for the crime.
“Animals representing Hillary Clinton and Dems in North Carolina just firebombed our office in Orange County because we are winning,” he said on Twitter.
Registered Democrats far outnumber Republicans in Orange County, according to elections board data, and President Barack Obama won 70 percent of the vote there in the 2012 presidential election.
But local Republicans said the incident took them by surprise in what has been a divisive season in American politics.
“We’ve seen that there’s a lot of tension on the national level. There’s various forms of tensions here in North Carolina,” political activist Matthew Arnold told WRAL.com. “But it doesn’t occur to you that it will elevate to a level like this.”—Reuters