This review was originally published on January 17, 2014…
When the Little Hope Baptist Church burned to the ground in East Texas, it rightly caused alarm for the community. Local investigations were mounted, but it wasn’t necessarily a crime that initially hinted to something greater. Until another church burned down. And then another. By the end of the plague of church fires, ten churches had been decimated within a forty mile radius in East Texas.
And the communities, understandably so, rallied. Watch groups were formed and, as someone remarks, this being Texas, of course they were well-armed watch groups. Even as congregations repeated that the church is about the people inside, and not the buildings themselves, it was clear that deep wounds had formed; these were logical words meant to console, but not necessarily strong enough to remove the vulnerability that had been revealed. The ATF becomes involved with the investigation, however, and leads begin to point in a surprising direction.
Little Hope Was Arson builds slowly, letting familial drama and intrigue grow as the perpetrators are unmasked and their reasons, and fate, revealed. By the time you know the full who and why for the arsons, you’ve already gotten all the back story you need to be invested in the investigation. In that way, it’s like any good crime drama, only here it’s a documentary.
And as reality, if you’re expecting some massive manifesto for the destruction of the churches, or some deeper meaning, you might be disappointed. The arsonists’ proficiency in lighting the fires is matched only by their potential impairment, and poor decisions, due to drugs. There may be a deeper motivation for one of the arsonists, but that’s also a thread that is more suggested by their past and then assumed as the explanation; people don’t want to believe that something that is important to them can be taken away for no good reason, after all.
Ultimately, Little Hope Was Arson is an intriguing tale of a community’s symbols of faith and religious conviction under siege. It’s also a tragedy on a personal level for all involved. How the investigation unfolds, and the dramatics escalate, is as engaging as any compelling narrative can be.