Ahmaud Arbery case: Racist posts introduced at hate crimes trial

Travis McMichael (left), his father Gregory McMichael and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan.

Credit: Body camera photos

caption arrowCaption
Travis McMichael (left), his father Gregory McMichael and their neighbor William "Roddie" Bryan.

Credit: Body camera photos

Note to readers: This article contains disturbing content.

Brunswick ― Federal prosecutors on Wednesday moved to buttress their hate crimes case over the killing of Ahmaud Arbery by introducing more than two dozen racist messages and social media posts sent by the men convicted of his murder.

FBI intelligence analyst Amy Vaughan read to the jury messages taken from the cellphones of Travis McMichael, who fatally shot Arbery, and William “Roddie” Bryan, who filmed the shooting.

Travis McMichael regularly referred to Black people as “savages” and “monkeys,” and often associated them with criminal activity in online posts and messages with friends.

On March 16, 2019, almost a year before Arbery’s death, McMichael exchanged texts with someone identified only as H.B., who texted that he went bar-hopping the previous evening but complained he had encountered too many Black people.

“They ruin everything,” McMichael responded, according to Vaughan. “That’s why I love what I do. Not a (n-word) in sight.”

On Jan. 21, 2019, McMichael and a friend identified as N.J. were about to meet at a Cracker Barrel when N.J. texted he had parked and saw a number of Black people there, said Vaughan.

“Need to change the name from Cracker Barrel to (N-word) Bucket,” McMichael replied.

Other messages sent on Feb. 11, 2019 included a conversation between McMichael and a friend that included a photo of a man who appeared to be disabled. The man was wearing a jersey that read, “At least I’m not a (n-word).”

Also collected from the 36-year-old’s social media accounts was a video of a Black child dancing on the daytime show “Ellen.” The sound on the video had been edited and dubbed over with the song “Alabama (n-word),” which included disparaging lyrics about Black people.

McMichael, his father Greg McMichael and Bryan were convicted last fall in a state court trial of the murder of Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020. The three men are now on trial in federal court charged with hate crimes.

Vaughan said the FBI was unable to get messages from Greg McMichael’s iPhone because agents couldn’t crack its password. Still, the FBI was able to uncover a racist post he made on Facebook depicting Black people as lazy and looking for government handouts.

Vaughan said agents were able to access Bryan’s cellphone and found that he sent racist messages including sarcastic and vile remarks about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2019 and 2020. Vaughan noted that someone identified as P.T. messaged Bryan that he must be taking off from work to be the “grand marshal” of the MLK Day parade.

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

ExploreComplete coverage of the Ahmaud Arbery case

On MLK Day in 2019, Bryan responded, “I’m working so all the (n-words) can take the day off,” according to messages shown to jurors. The following year, Bryan messaged P.T. about the “monkey parade over there” on Gloucester Street, one of the routes for the MLK Day parade in downtown Brunswick, Vaughan said.

Derek Thomas, Travis McMichael’s close friend from high school, testified Wednesday about some of their conversations on social media. Weeks before Arbery’s death, Thomas sent McMichael a viral video showing a Black man playing a prank on a white man in a mall.

“I’d kill that (expletive) n-word,” Travis McMichael responded, Thomas testified.

On cross-examination, McMichael’s lawyer, Amy Lee Copeland, asked Thomas, “Is it fair to say you love the man but you hated the words he used?”

”Yes ma’am,” Thomas said.

Another of McMichael’s posts seemed to celebrate violence against Black Lives Matter protesters. In others, he advocated harming Black people seen breaking the law in news reports and viral videos.

“These thugs need to be taught a lesson,” he wrote. “I would beat those monkeys to death.”

Copeland argued that portions of the prosecution’s evidence lacked “context,” and she had some of the footage McMichael was responding to online played for the jury. “You can’t hear the inflection of the voice and you can’t tell what’s going on.”

Outside the courtroom, members of Ahmaud Arbery’s family said they were disgusted.

“I ain’t really in shock,” said Marcus Arbery, his father. “I knew all that hate was in those men. ... It’s hard, but I’m just glad the world can see this.”

He said the toughest part of the afternoon’s evidence was the video shared by Travis of the Black child dancing on “Ellen.”

“How you hate a little baby because he’s Black?” Arbery asked. “That’s a sickness.”

Arbery’s aunt, Diane Arbery Jackson, used a tissue to wipe away tears. “It just hurt so bad. I didn’t know this was still going on. We’ve got to be better than this.”