A Bloomington man who was the Sunday morning organist at St. David’s Episcopal Church in Bean Blossom has admitted he is the one who spray painted words and symbols of hate on the church back in November, but said he had no evil intent.
Instead, he feared the impact of the Donald Trump administration, police say, and took a drastic step to draw attention to his concerns.
George Nathaniel Stang, 26, called the Rev. Kelsey Hutto early the morning of Sunday, Nov. 13, to report he had discovered vandalism after he arrived at the church before services.
Wednesday, he was charged with institutional criminal mischief, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Brown County Prosecutor Ted Adams issued a news release saying the investigation into the graffiti — a swastika, along with the words “Fag Church” and “Heil Trump” on the exterior walls of the church — led police to conclude Stang’s action was not intended as a hate crime.
Stang told police he purchased black spray paint at the Bloomington Hardware store near his apartment and used it to deface the church, which embraces all people and endorses and performs gay marriages. Stang told police he is gay.
“Stang stated that he wanted to mobilize a movement after being disappointed in and fearful of the outcome of the national election,” Adams’ news release said. “Stang denied that his actions were motivated by any anti-Christian or anti-gay motivations. The Brown County Prosecutor’s Office believes that.”
Stang in part got what he sought, as the community and people from far and near rallied around and supported the church. The Rev. Hutto was interviewed by media across the country, and the church was lauded for keeping the graffiti visible for several weeks as an illustration and talking point about the reach and harm of hate. The pastor said then that the stark sight would compel conversations that might lead to changed minds and enlightened attitudes.
At the end of November, the church hosted a scrubbing-off of the graffiti and a religious ceremony focused on acceptance and hope.
Adams acknowledged the fear Stang’s actions brought to the peaceful rural area. “This incident targeted one of our county’s churches and thrust our community in a negative light on a national stage,” he said. But, “this was not a hate crime.”
Court documents filed in the case indicate Stang became a suspect in the crime early on after police reviewed phone records that showed Stang’s cellphone was in the vicinity of the church for 45 minutes the Saturday night before he reported discovering the vandalism. Stang had told officers he was not at the church that night.
Last Friday, Detective Brian Shrader went to Stang’s apartment, where he interviewed the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music doctoral student for 38 minutes in an unmarked police car while heavy rain fell. During the interview, Stang admitted he was responsible for the graffiti. “Stang stated he felt scared and alone because of the election results. He also stated his parents were not very supportive of him because he was gay.”
On Monday, Stang gave Shrader a 3-page letter explaining his actions. “I admit to having vandalized St. David’s Episcopal Church, Bean Blossom. I regret what I did wholeheartedly.” Stang said what he did was out of character and inspired by fear. “I suppose I wanted to give local people a reason to fight for good even if it was a false flag. I of course realize now that this was not the way to go about inspiring activism. To be clear my actions were not motivated by hate for the church or its congregation,” he wrote.
Hutto composed a response to the hate messages the morning she first saw them scrawled on the church she has overseen the past two years. “We are disappointed that our safe haven has been vandalized but will not let the actions of a few damper our love of Christ and the world,” Hutto wrote. “We pray for the perpetrators as well as those who the derogatory remarks were directed at.”
Brown County Sheriff’s Department deputies drove to Bloomington Wednesday morning to arrest Stang. He was booked into the Brown County Jail at 10:30 a.m., then released 35 minutes later after posting $155 for his release on bond.
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