BRUNSWICK, Ga. — 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.
The evidence was presented through the testimony of FBI intelligence analyst Amy Vaughan, who read to the jury extracted messages taken from the cellphones of Travis McMichael, who fatally shot Arbery, and neighbor William “Roddie” Bryan, who filmed the shooting.
It showed that 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 a friend identified only by his initials, H.B. The friend 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 up at a Cracker Barrel restaurant 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.
In other messages sent on Feb. 11, 2019, jurors were shown 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).”
Another piece evidence 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 the phone of Greg McMichael because agents couldn’t crack the pass code on his iPhone. Still, the FBI was able to uncover a racist post he had made on Facebook depicting Black people as lazy and looking for government handouts.
Agents were able to access Bryan’s cellphone and found that he sent racist messages to people he knew as well, Vaughan said.
This included sarcastic and vile remarks about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2019 and 2020. Vaughan noted that a friend, 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 bluntly.
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.
Vaughan also testified that Bryan was upset when he learned his daughter had started dating a Black man in early 2020.
“He’d fit right in with the monkeys,” Bryan messaged a friend on Feb. 19, 2020, just four days before Arbery’s killing. That same day, Bryan messaged another friend, saying, “She has her a (N-word) now.”
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.
On cross-examination, Travis 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 one of Travis 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 once 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 Travis 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 Arbery’s family said they were disgusted by what they had seen.
“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,” she said.
Jackson said she knew racism was still alive and well, but didn’t realize people could be so hateful. “I didn’t know this was still going on,” she said. “We’ve got to be better than this.”