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Racist social media posts, text messages revealed during hate crimes trial against Arbery’s killers

Two of the three white men convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery used racial slurs, shared racist memes and made violent comments about Black people in dozens of separate instances, according to testimony from an FBI intelligence analyst.

(CN) — Two of the three white men convicted of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder repeatedly used racial slurs on social media and in text messages, an FBI witness testified on Wednesday in their federal hate crimes trial.

FBI intelligence analyst Amy Vaughan gave several hours of detailed testimony, walking jurors through more than two dozen instances of racist language and violent sentiments expressed in the months and years before Arbery's killing by Travis McMichael, who fatally shot the 25-year-old Black man, and William “Roddie” Bryan, who filmed the shooting.

The men, along with Travis McMichael's father Greg McMichael, were sentenced to life in prison in January by a Georgia state court for chasing Arbery in their pickup trucks and shooting him as he jogged through their neighborhood on Feb. 23, 2020. They now face federal charges for attempted kidnapping and using force or the threat of force to intimidate Arbery based on his race.

Evidence laid out during Vaughan’s testimony showed that Travis McMichael frequently referred to Black people as “savages” and “monkeys,” often associating them with criminality in private messages with friends and public social media posts.

In one text message exchange with a friend who complained about the number of Black people at a restaurant, the younger McMichael suggested, “Need to change the name from Cracker Barrel to Nigger Bucket.” The conversation took place in January 2019, approximately one year before Arbery’s murder.

In March of that year, Vaughan said, McMichael spoke to another friend about why he loved his job: “Not a nigger in sight… Love it. Zero niggers work with me.”

The evidence of Travis McMichael’s use of racist and violent language piled up throughout the morning as Vaughn continued to testify. Evidence culled from McMichael’s social media accounts showed his response to a video of a Black man playing a prank on a white man: “I’d kill that fucking nigger.” A video of a Black man lighting a firecracker inside his nostril prompted him to comment, “Been cooler if it blew that fucking nigger’s head off.”

Derek Thomas, the friend who sent the prank video, testified Wednesday that he was surprised by McMichael’s reaction.

During cross-examination, attorney Amy Lee Copeland, who represents Travis McMichael, asked Thomas, “Is it fair to say you love the man but hated the words he used?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Thomas said.

Copeland’s questioning was brief and did not attempt to dispute any of the statements testified to by Vaughan. Instead, Copeland agued that the evidence lacked “context” and requested that both the prank and firecracker videos be played for the jury.

Jurors also viewed a video which was shared on Facebook by Travis McMichael of a young Black boy dancing on the “Ellen” talk show. The original audio had been swapped out for a song titled “Alabama Nigger” by Johnny Rebel which included racist and disparaging lyrics.

Even a text message conversation with a friend about zoodles — noodles made of zucchini — prompted McMichael to use racial slurs. As the two joked about "zoodle" being a word used only by white people, McMichael responded, “I’d rather say zoodle every day for the rest of my life than ever be a nigger."

An analysis of Bryan’s cell phone also uncovered frequent usage of slurs, particularly around Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

In WhatsApp conversations, Vaughan said an individual identified only as P.T. messaged Bryan and sarcastically said he must be taking the day off work to be the “grand marshal” of the holiday parade.

“The joke, I think, is that he would never do that because he doesn’t care for Black people or MLK Day,” Vaughan explained.

According to Vaughan’s testimony, Bryan told P.T. on MLK Day in 2019, “I’m working so all the niggers can take off.” In another message shared with the jury, Bryan described the parade associated with the holiday as the “monkey day parade.”

Vaughan also testified that Bryan was upset at the news that his daughter was dating a Black man. Just four days before Arbery’s killing, Bryan messaged a friend, “He’d fit right in with the monkeys.”

In addition to their frequent use of racial slurs, the two men also made statements associating Black people with criminality and appearing to celebrate violence against Black people. Vaughan read Facebook comments and text messages from the younger McMichael in which he referred to Black people as “savages” who “ruin everything.”

Vaughan also testified that McMichael posted more than one video on Facebook showing a Black person being run over a car.

In response to a June 2017 Facebook post he shared about a white mother and daughter who were assaulted by Black customers upset about cold food at a restaurant, Vaughan said McMichael wrote: “I would have the same remorse putting them down as I would a rabid coon… I would beat those monkeys to death if they did that to (name redacted by the FBI) or my mother and sister.”

The FBI was unable to break the encryption on a phone which belonged to Greg McMichael, Travis McMichael’s father, Vaughan said. However, an analysis of his Facebook account uncovered a meme posted just four months before the shooting which read: “A gun in the hand is worth more than the entire police force on the phone.”

Attorneys for Greg McMichael and Bryan made no attempt to cross-examine Vaughan.

During opening statements in the trial on Monday, none of the three defense attorneys tried to deny that their clients expressed negative views of Black people. Instead, they told jurors that the McMichaels and Bryan pursued Arbery based on their honest, though incorrect, suspicion that he had committed crimes in the neighborhood.

The jury panel is made up of three Black people, eight white people, and one Hispanic person.

Court will resume at 9 a.m. Thursday.

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