1205 GMT January 21, 2018
Richard Lloyd, 64, tried to burn down the store in St. Lucie County by setting fire to the contents of a dumpster he had pushed in front of it, US media reported on Sunday, citing St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara.
The apparent arson attack took place on Friday morning and did not cause much damage as it was quickly extinguished. Charged with first-degree arson, Lloyd was taken into county jail on $30,000 bond.
Lloyd told the officers that he wanted to “run the Arabs out of our country” because of “what they are doing in the Middle East,” Mascara said.
“It's unfortunate that Mr. Lloyd made the assumption that the store owners were Arabic when, in fact, they are of Indian descent,” the sheriff added.
The state attorney’s office was investigating the case as a possible hate crime. Lloyd will undergo mental health evaluation tests, officials said.
According to local media, Lloyd told investigators that the idea of a Muslim employee at the store bothered him. He said he "was doing his part for America" by attempting to burn down the building.
This was the fourth racially charged incident in the US over the past weeks that involved Indians. In one case, a Kansas man stormed a restaurant and shot three people, saying later on that he thought they were Iranians.
The attack comes amid a surge in racism and hate crimes across the US since Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election last November.
Some 63 percent of American voters think hatred and prejudice have increased while 32 percent said the levels have not changed compared to the pre-election levels, according to a new poll by Quinnipiac University.
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Civil rights groups say there has also been a spate of hate crimes targeting Muslims since Trump’s election on November 8.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a civil rights organization that tracks hate crimes, said in November it had documented 867 hate incidents in the 10 days after Trump was elected.