BRUNSWICK, Ga. — *WARNING: The following article contains language that some may find offensive.
The federal hate crimes trial of three men convicted of killing Ahmaud Arbery continued Wednesday with disturbing testimony from Agent Amy Vaughan with the FBI’s counterterrorism department. She lead the team in reviewing digital evidence from the defendants’ social media posts and text messages, and read aloud several examples of the men using racial slurs Wednesday.
The texts and posts date back several years.
Vaughan testified that Travis McMichael also posted on social media and texted about harming Black people. He shared a video on Facebook that showed Black women getting hit by a car in St. Louis. Travis McMichael wrote, "Mash on, and drive straight," Vaughan said.
One of the more disturbing pieces of evidence prosecutors played for the jury was a video Travis McMichael edited together of a young Black boy dancing on The Ellen Show with the song Alabama N-word he edited underneath.
”It’s hard, but I’m just glad the world sees it," Arbery's father, Marcus Arbery Sr., said. "That’s what I’m glad about. I’m glad the world sees what kind of men hate African American people that can run in our streets hating our children. I’ve got grandbabies and I have seen a little baby on the stage dancing … a little baby. If you a kid … you're Black … that kid didn’t do anything to you … you hate that baby too because he’s Black. Man that’s a sickness."
Jurors were visibly uncomfortable throughout parts of the testimony. Vaughan was on the stand for nearly three hours.
Arbery’s family left the courtroom at points, visibly upset.
Vaughan said all three men associated Black people with criminality
Agent Vaughan also said texts and social media posts also suggested Travis McMichael and his father, Gregory McMichael, support vigilante behavior. Travis McMichael's mother and Gregory's wife, Leigh McMichael, sat in the courtroom all day Wednesday. Her demeanor didn't change much at all as the testimony was given. Travis at times looked uncomfortable at times, fidgeting in his seat.
Travis McMichael also texted a friend that Black people ruin everything. "That's why I love what I do. Not a n--- in site. Zero n---- work with me," Vaughan testified.
During Vaughan's testimony, prosecutors also played a video of Travis McMichael standing with a gun in front of a 'No Trespassing' sign. He posted the video to Facebook and said he was going to go hunting on private property. Travis McMichael posted this less than a month before he called 911 to report Arbery trespassing at the home under construction, which was about a week before the fatal shooting.
William Roddie Bryan sent texts about his disapproval that his daughter was dating a Black man. He called him the n word, and said, "I guess she really wanted to be done with me. It's the only thing I've said I would never accept."
One of Travis McMichael's friends, Derek Thomas, also testified Wednesday. He said he'd send Travis funny videos to "get a good laugh." Travis' responses, however, weren't what Thomas thought they'd be, he said.
For example, he sent Travis a video at one point of a Black man putting a firecracker up his nose. Travis texted back, "been cooler if it blew that f------ n------'s head off." Thomas asked if he was required to read the text Travis sent back by law. The prosecutor said yes, but let him spell the racial slur.
Travis McMichael's attorney, Amy Copeland, asked Thomas in cross-examination if it was fair to say that, "You love the man, but hate the words he uses." Thomas replied, "Yes." Thomas also said he's close with the McMichael family, and still checks on Leigh McMichael.
Wanda Cooper-Jones, Arbery's mother, said hearing Wednesday's testimony confirmed what she already believed.
"After hearing that, my thoughts are what I thought all along was true, that Travis killed Ahmaud not because Ahmaud had committed a crime, but because Ahmaud was Black and because Travis was truly a racist," Cooper-Jones said.
Defense attorneys said earlier this week that the words are inexcusable, but insisted the men chased Arbery because they suspected he was trespassing, not because he was Black.
The third witness prosecutors called Wednesday was Larry English, the owner of the home under construction Arbery was seen in. He gave a nearly four hour deposition because that was played on video for the court because he has a terminal illness.
English talked about other people on his property, and that he called 911 when he saw Arbery at one point on his surveillance cameras on a day before the shooting. English said Arbery was "pundering around," just checking things out, and didn't take anything. He said he just wanted an officer to check it out.
Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was running through the Satilla Shores neighborhood in Brunswick when Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael and William "Roddie" Bryan, who are all white, chased Arbery in their trucks before Travis McMichael fired the deadly shots that killed Arbery.
Here are some samples from the many posts being read in court:
- (Responding to a Facebook message about someone’s dad who doesn’t care about jail and is likely to kill a thief) “That’s what this world needs more of my old man [Greg McMichael] is the same way. Hell, I’m getting that way."
- In a Facebook post: “I keep my home shotgun loaded with high brass No. 5. It will rip someone to shreds.”
- Responding to Instagram video of Black man putting a firecracker in his nose, lighting it. “Been cooler if it blew that fucking n----'s head off.”
- Responding to Facebook video of Black teens rushing around a store and parking lot and a white teenager beaten. “I’m sure you know my thoughts on this lol. …My Taurus .38 says five of them would be taking a dirt nap.…I say shoot all of them ..Fuck those goddamn monkeys.”
- Text between Travis and friend, recalling giving a classmate “Chubs Mcduff” “pure hell.” "We used to walk around committing hate crimes all day lol."
- Responding to video of a Black women getting hit by car in a St. Louis protest. "Mash on it and drive straight."
- Responding to prank video involving two Black men: "I'd kill that fucking n----"
- Instagram post: “A gun in the hand is worth more than the entire police force on the phone.”
William "Roddie" Bryan
- There were a number of texts between Bryan and others regarding the fact that his daughter had been dating a black man. "She has her a n-word now." Another text message said, “She don’t give a fuck about herself, why should we?”
Bryan's friend sent him text stating that his wife was ill and his medical bills were about mount. Bryan responded, “if you were Black, you would not have to pay for it ... get on disability like the niggers that don’t need it."
No cameras are allowed in the federal courthouse, but you can follow along by refreshing this article for live updates.
Tuesday, four witnesses testified, including neighbors of the accused men, who got emotional describing the day of the shooting, as well as a crime scene investigator.
The lead GBI case agent also took the stand.
Thursday, prosecutors will continue to call witnesses starting at nine a.m.
As this second trial of three defendants already convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery gets underway, there are many questions swirling about the reasons for the seemingly repetitious proceeding.
- What’s the difference?
Unlike their murder trial in state court, the new trial is a federal hate crimes case. Georgia did not have a hate crimes statute when Ahmaud Arbery was killed – it was just one of four states without one.
The state subsequently adopted a hate crime law, but the men could not be prosecuted retroactively under that law in state court.
- What’s a hate crime?
Despite the name, it is not necessary for prosecutors to prove the three men actually “hated” Ahmaud Arbery; only that they committed the alleged crimes because of his race.