A historic church recently purchased by an avowed white supremacist caught fire and burned to the ground Wednesday in North Dakota, sparking an investigation by fire officials, according to local media reports.
Craig Cobb, who had previously attempted to create havens for white supremacists by buying up land elsewhere in the state, became a co-owner of the 108-year-old property in Nome just last month, the Bismarck Tribune reported.
By the time firefighters arrived at the scene of the blaze around 4:25 p.m. on Wednesday, the former Zion Lutheran Church was completely engulfed in flames, one of the firefighters told MyNDNow. The church was unoccupied at the time.
A few years ago, Cobb purchased property in the town of Leith, about 230 miles west of Nome, in hopes of turning it into an “Aryan stronghold,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups. He was convicted of terrorizing Leith’s residents after they accused him of patrolling the streets with a gun. He’s now serving four years on probation.
Once the news spread that Cobb had bought the building in Nome, the people there expressed upset and concern. Jerome Jankowski, who lives near the church, said he had heard talk of people threatening to burn it down, but he didn’t think they were serious.
“First of all, it’s a church, so it’s almost sacrilegious,” Jankowski told the Tribune.
“Everyone has some form of prejudice,” Jankowski said, “but this guy is way off the edge and he fell off.”
How the fire started is not yet clear. A state fire marshal is planning to investigate the scene, the Barnes County Sheriff’s Office informed KVRR.
Cobb told WDAY-TV that he thought the fire was “100 percent arson” and he offered a $2,000 reward for any information related to the incident.
The sheriff’s office, reached by The Huffington Post on Thursday, referred questions to the State Fire Marshal’s Office, which declined comment, citing a state code that grants fire investigations confidentiality until the case is closed.
Cobb also made news in 2013 when a DNA test revealed that he is 14 percent Sub-Saharan African. The results were announced to him on a British talk show, and his reaction was, well, priceless.