Jury Hears Evidence Of Racial Slurs During Hate Crimes Trial Of Ahmaud Arbery’s Killers

Travis McMichael and William Bryan, two of the three men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery in 2020, used several racial slurs about Black people, including in the days leading up to Arbery’s death, an FBI analyst testified in federal court Wednesday.

FBI agent Amy Vaughn said that McMichael shared several racist messages with friends as far back as 2019, adding detail to the claims made by prosecutors in opening statements of the federal hate crimes trial on Monday. Vaughn is the fifth witness to testify in the trial, in which the government aims to prove that Arbery’s death met the legal definition of a hate crime.

The FBI has reviewed McMichael and Bryan’s cellphones. Gregory McMichael, Travis’ father and the third man convicted in the killing, also had information from his iCloud taken by agents. Greg McMichael’s phone was encrypted, according to Vaughn.

The government showed jurors messages from Travis McMichael’s phone beginning in March 2019. McMichael asked a friend, identified as H.B., where they “ended up last night.”

H.B. wrote back: “n*****s everywhere.”

“Damn. They ruin everything,” McMichael replied. “That’s why I love what I do. Not a n****r in sight.”

“Ha ha ha,” H.B. wrote. “What do you do?”

McMichael described himself as a “government contractor driving boats for Navy & Marines.” He added: “Love it. Zero n*****s work with me.”

In another instance, McMichael was meeting someone at a Cracker Barrel in January 2019. A person identified as M.B. told him there were “hood rats” somewhere nearby.

In response, McMichael said: “They need to change Cracker Barrel to N****r bucket.”

In August 2019, McMichael referred to a location in Georgia as “N*****ville,” according to evidence presented at the trial. He also shared a racist song by the late singer Johnny Rebel with the n-word in its title. The song was played for jurors.

On social media, prosecutors said, McMichael was just as inflammatory. Writing on Facebook, he referred to Black people as “subhuman savages,” they said.

On a post shared by McMichael’s friend Derrick Thomas, describing an incident where a firecracker blew up in a Black person’s face, McMichael wrote that he wished the explosion blew “that n****r’s head off.” In comments on another Facebook post, McMichael wrote that he would “kill that f*****g n****r.”

At some point, McMichael told Thomas that a gun was recently stolen from his truck. According to Thomas, McMichael believed the person who stole the gun was white. However, prosecutors accused Thomas of changing his story, saying he’d previously told jurors that McMichael believed the thief was a Black person.

Amy Copeland, McMichael’s attorney, argued that many of the messages lacked context because you could not hear the inflection of McMichael’s voice.

Bryan also had a record of using racial slurs toward Black people, prosecutors said. In private text messages from 2020, Bryan said he’d been “working so all the n****rs” could take the day off on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Bryan did not approve of his daughter dating a Black person, according to prosecutors. In a text message, Bryan told someone: “She has her a n****r now. I’ve been calling it for a while. Not surprised.”

In their opening statements earlier this week, prosecutors hinted that all three men convicted of Arbery’s murder had a record of using racial slurs.

Arbery was fatally shot on Feb. 23, 2020. The shooting sparked national outrage and months of protests, and accelerated a national conversation on race in America and the profiling of Black people. While the state murder trial did not explore the possibility of a racial dimension to Arbery’s killing, the federal trial is focused on whether the three white men who chased Arbery down did so out of racism.

Bryan and the McMichaels are charged with attempted kidnapping and a hate crime violating Arbery’s civil rights. In November, all three men were convicted of felony murder in Arbery’s death. During the state murder trial, no evidence was presented of Bryan or Travis McMichael using racial slurs in text messages or Facebook posts.

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