FBI witness: Defendants in Arbery killing used racial slurs

Russ Bynum
Associated Press

Brunswick, Ga. – Two of the three white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery repeatedly used racial slurs in text messages and social media posts, an FBI witness testified Wednesday in their federal hate crimes trial.

FBI intelligence analyst Amy Vaughan led the jury through dozens of conversations that Travis McMichael and William “Roddie” Bryan had with others, identified only by their initials, in the months and years before the 25-year-old Black man’s killing. The FBI wasn’t able to access Greg McMichael’s phone because it was encrypted, Vaughan said.

Travis McMichael listens to one of his attorneys in the Glynn County Courthouse, Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, in Brunswick, Ga.

In text and Facebook conversations with friends, Travis McMichael frequently used the N-word to describe Black people. In a Facebook conversation with a friend, he also shared a video of a young Black boy dancing on a TV show with a racist song that included the N-word playing over it. He also said that Black people “ruin everything” and repeatedly said he was glad he wasn’t a Black person, using a racial slur.

In other social media posts, Travis McMichael advocated violence against Black people. In December 2018, he commented on a Facebook video of a Black man playing a prank on a white person: “I’d kill that f––ing n––r.”

Gregory McMichael.

And in June 2017, he shared a TV news story about a violent confrontation between two white women and two Black customers upset over cold food at a Georgia restaurant, using a racial slur to comment that he would beat the Black people “to death if they did that to (name redacted by the FBI) or my mother and sister.” He added that he would have no more remorse than putting down a rabid animal.

Bryan also used the N-word, but his preferred slur was one that refers to a derogatory characterization of a Black person’s lips, Vaughan said. Over a number of years, Bryan exchanged racist messages on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In messages sent in the days surrounding Arbery’s killing, Bryan was clearly upset that his daughter was dating a Black man.

Greg McMichael posted a meme on Facebook in 2016 saying white Irish slaves were treated worse than any race in the U.S. but that the Irish aren’t asking for handouts.

“I ain’t really shocked,” Arbery’s father, Marcus Arbery, told reporters outside the courthouse. Still, he said he didn’t realize “all that hate was in those three men.”

Defense attorneys had few questions for the FBI analysis and didn’t dispute the racist posts. They said in their opening statements to the jury Monday that racist comments by their clients were offensive and indefensible but don’t prove that they committed hate crimes.

Travis McMichael’s attorney, Amy Lee Copeland, said some of his texts and posts lacked context, and “you can’t hear that inflection of voice and see what’s going on.”

The McMichaels armed themselves and used a pickup truck to chase Arbery as he ran through their coastal Georgia neighborhood on Feb. 23, 2020. A neighbor, Bryan, joined the pursuit in his own truck and recorded cellphone video of Travis McMichael blasting Arbery with a shotgun.

No arrests were made until the video leaked online two months later.

Defense attorneys have insisted the deadly pursuit of Arbery was motivated by an earnest, though erroneous, suspicion that Arbery had committed crimes.

Both McMichaels and Bryan were convicted of murder last fall in a Georgia state court and sentenced to life in prison. Racist comments by the men weren’t presented as evidence in the murder trial, in which prosecutors downplayed issues of race and focused on proving the three had no justification for pursuing and killing Arbery.

All three pleaded not guilty to federal hate crime charges accusing them of violating Arbery’s civil rights and targeting him because he was Black. A jury of eight white members, three Black people and one Hispanic person was sworn in Monday.