Federal prosecutors in the hate crimes trial of the three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery presented evidence of overt racial animus toward Black people to jurors this week, including text messages and social media posts using racist language.
Prosecutors are seeking to prove that Travis McMichael, 36, his father, Gregory McMichael, 66, and their neighbor William Bryan, 52, who are white, committed a federal hate crime when they chased down and murdered Mr. Arbery, a Black man, because of his “race and color,” according to the indictment.
In opening statements on Monday, the Justice Department said that, among other evidence of racial bigotry, they planned to show that Travis McMichael, who shot and killed Mr. Arbery, repeatedly used the n-word to refer to Black people. He also referred to Black people as “animals,” “criminals,” “monkeys,” and “subhuman savages,” prosecutors said.
In one text message Travis McMichael sent to a friend, he discusses how happy he was to leave the Coast Guard and to be working as a government contractor, saying: “Love it, zero n‐‐‐‐rs work with me.”
In another instance, McMichael sent a video via Facebook message to a friend. Attached to the message was a song titled “Alabama N‐‐‐‐r” by Johnny Rebel, a recording artist whose work explicitly supported white supremacy. The song played over a video of a Black child dancing.
And when a friend sent Travis McMichael a video of a Black person playing a practical joke, he said he would kill the person in the video, using a racist epithet.
Travis McMichael also expressed support for vigilantism in social media posts, including a Facebook post in which he said he keeps his shotgun—the one he used to murder Mr. Arbery—loaded with especially powerful shells that would “rip somebody to shreds.”
Prosecutors said William Bryan repeatedly used a racist epithet to describe a Black man his daughter was dating. Evidence presented this week—including text messages in which he said he was upset about his daughter dating a Black man and used the n-word to refer to the man—showed he continued to use racist language even after Mr. Arbery’s murder.
Investigators were unable to retrieve data from Gregory McMichael’s cellphone, but the government said on Monday it plans to call a witness who will describe a conversation in which he said civil rights leader Julian Bond, who had recently died, “should have been put in the ground years ago. He was nothing but trouble. Those Blacks are nothing but trouble.”
Jurors also heard this week that Gregory McMichael posted a meme to social media in 2016 that stated, “White Irish slaves were treated worse than any other race in the U.S.,” followed by “vulgar language that contrasted the Irish with other racial or ethnic groups who demanded ‘free’ things,” The New York Times reports.
Gregory McMichael also made pro-vigilantism statements about five months before the murder of Mr. Arbery, the jury learned, including a meme he posted on Facebook that said, “A gun in the hand is worth more than the entire police force on the phone.”
The jury is tasked with determining whether the defendants deprived Mr. Arbery of his right to use a public street because he was Black. The three men are also charged with attempted kidnapping, and the McMichaels are charged with using a weapon during a violent crime. They face up to life in prison in the federal case.