McMichaels and Bryan used racist slurs and memes, FBI testifies at Arbery hate crimes trial

“We used to walk around all day committing hate crimes,” he wrote in another text conversation a few months before the shooting.

The second day of testimony in the federal hate crimes trial relating to Arbery’s death opened on Wednesday with an FBI analyst detailing dozens of racist social media posts and messages allegedly sent by the three men who pursued and killed Arbery, a 25-year-old black man. , in their coastal Georgia neighborhood in early 2020.

Prosecutors are seeking to prove that Travis McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and their neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan attacked Arbery out of racial bias. The three men were convicted of murder last fall and sentenced to life in prison, with Bryan eligible for parole after 30 years.

Their murder trial, in state court before an almost all-white jury, avoided outright allegations of racism, even though Arbery’s murder helped spark national social justice protests. The federal trial, by contrast, focuses directly on whether the McMichaels and Bryan targeted Arbery because he was black, and is the first trial arising from multiple high-profile black murders in 2020 to do so.

Arbery’s family said he was out jogging in the Satilla Shores neighborhood when the defendants chased him in pickup trucks and confronted him. Travis McMichael fatally shot Arbery and claimed self-defense, an argument that a local district attorney quickly agreed before video of Bryan’s shooting went viral and forced further scrutiny. Arbery had no weapon.

FBI intelligence analyst Amy Vaughan testified Wednesday about investigators’ review of the defendants’ phone and social media messages. She spent most of his time on Travis McMichael, 36, leading the jury through a litany of conversations in which he disparaged black people, often calling them the n-word. McMichael associated black people with crime, spoke explicitly about violence against them and blamed them when he struggled to get a commercial driver’s license, accusing them of “running the show”, Vaughan testified.

“I say shoot ’em all,” he commented on a video that showed a group of mostly black teenagers attacking a white teenager. He also appeared to advocate crushing protesters in response to a video of a car hitting black women. When someone sent McMichael a video in which a black man pranks a white man, he used a racial epithet saying he would kill the prankster.

As for Bryan, 52, Vaughan testified that text messages showed Bryan running a joke with a friend about serving as the “grand marshal” of a parade on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. “I think the joke is he would never do that,” she told the jury. While texting about the holidays, Vaughn added, Bryan referenced black people using several racial slurs and referenced a “monkey parade.”

Four days before Arbery was shot, the prosecutor said, Bryan used the n-word to refer to his daughter’s boyfriend, who was black.

Greg McMichael was less active than his son on Facebook, Vaughan said, and law enforcement officers were unable to crack his phone’s encryption to see his messages. But they gleaned information from online backups of the device and discovered that the elder McMichael sometimes posted memes on Facebook, including one that said white Irish slaves were treated less well than other groups of slaves. slaves. “When was the last time you heard an Irishman talk about how the world owes them their lives?” the meme continued, according to Vaughan.

The members of the jury – eight whites, three blacks and one Hispanic – leaned forward and watched the presentation of evidence intently. Leigh McMichael, Travis’ mother and Greg’s wife, sat in the courtroom with no visible reaction.

The McMichaels said they sued Arbery not because of his race, but because they suspected him of breaking and entering and potential theft. Arbery had entered a house under construction in their area a few times in the months leading up to the shooting, and did so again on the day he was shot, Feb. 23, 2020. But police had told Gregory McMichael — a former police officer and investigator with the District Attorney’s Office — and his son that surveillance footage did not show Arbery taking anything from the property during those previous visits.

Bryan said he saw the McMichaels chasing Arbery on February 23 and joined the chase in his own van, believing the young man had “done something wrong.” Arbery hadn’t taken anything from the house that day either, according to authorities.

In their opening statements on Monday, defense attorneys for the McMichaels acknowledged that their clients had said objectionable things about black people, but noted for jurors that such words are not illegal. Bryan’s attorney said jurors would see “different levels” of racism and argued that “Roddie is not a man who sees the whole world through the lens of race.”

On Tuesday, the first day of government testimony, the jury heard from residents of Satilla Shores who lived near the shooting site and did not view Arbery as a threat.

Matthew Albense, a longtime neighborhood resident, said he called police the day before after seeing Arbery at a house under construction. But Albense testified that he called a non-emergency police line and did not think Arbery, whom he did not know, was doing anything other than looking around.

Another resident, who is white, said he was an avid runner who often jogged around the neighborhood without arousing suspicion from neighbors.

Prosecutors also called Richard Dial, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation investigator who was assigned to the case and testified to the findings of the state’s investigation into the shooting.

Dial and the other witnesses said there was no evidence the McMichaels sought to provide help or comfort to Arbery as he bled to death on the sidewalk. Cross-examining Dial, defense attorneys sought to establish that there had been reports of stolen items, including firearms, in the neighborhood in the weeks leading up to the shooting, and that neighbors had discussed of these incidents on social networks.

Coker reported from Brunswick, Ga.

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