The Orange County Republican Party headquarters was firebombed overnight Saturday and graffiti was spray-painted nearby in an attack that the GOP called “political terrorism.”
A flaming bottle was thrown through a window of the office and a swastika and “Nazi Republicans leave town or else” were painted in black on the side of an adjacent building, Hillsborough officials said in a news release.
The inside of the office, which contained campaign signs and other election materials, was blackened by soot, and broken glass littered the floor Sunday evening. Office equipment, including a printer, had melted.
The fire apparently burned itself out, Hillsborough officials said.
News of the attack spread quickly, and the presidential candidates of both major parties condemned it on social media.
Republican Donald Trump in a tweet Sunday evening said: “Animals representing Hillary Clinton and Dems in North Carolina just firebombed our office in Orange County because we are winning @NCGOP.”
But Clinton’s campaign tweeted, “The attack on the Orange County HQ @NCGOP office is horrific and unacceptable. Very grateful that everyone is safe.”
The state Republican Party responded, “Thank you for your thoughts & prayers, Sec. @HillaryClinton.” Later, the party responded to Trump, “Thank you Mr. @realDonaldTrump. We will not be silenced nor suppressed by this evil act. We will pray for those who seek to harm us.”
The Orange County Board of Commissioners issued a statement Monday morning that called the action “a despicable act” and said that Orange is “an inclusive, welcoming community that values all viewpoints and perspectives.”
No injuries were reported.
The damage was found Sunday morning by the owner of another business in the Shops at Daniel Boone center, south of Hillsborough near Interstate 85 and Old NC 86.
The Republican Party office closed at about 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Orange County GOP chairman Daniel Ashley said.
State Republican leader Dallas Woodhouse said a Molotov cocktail had been thrown through a window.
“This is a horrific, horrific act of political terrorism, one that we will not succumb to and one that we will answer,” Woodhouse said Sunday evening at a news conference. “When people try to stifle freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, you must come back with more speech and aggressively defend your rights.”
He pledged that campaigners would go back to work in the heavily Democratic county, home to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
About 17,000 voters in the county are registered Republican, about 52,400 are registered Democrat, and about 39,000 are unaffiliated, according to the Orange County Board of Elections.
Woodhouse said the state GOP would help the Orange County party to rebuild, and he urged all offices to close at sundown to reassess security plans.
“We will do what it takes to keep our people safe in every corner of the state,” he said.
Gov. Pat McCrory issued a statement pledging to use his resources to aid local authorities in their investigation.
“The firebombing of a local political headquarters in Orange County is clearly an attack on our democracy,” he said. “Violence has no place in our society - but especially in our elections.”
Volunteer Bob Randall was there to clean up Sunday. He said he believes that the bombing was an act of political terrorism and that it would get people angry and motivated to vote Republican.
“The idea is to intimidate us, to make us crawl back in the shadows,” he said. “But I think it’s going to backfire on them.”
The incident comes barely three weeks before an election marked by heightened tensions and passion on both sides.
The Bangor Daily News reported on Sunday that about 20 cars were vandalized with spray paint outside a Saturday rally for Trump.
Earlier this year violence broke out with protesters at a Trump rally in Chicago. And one protester was sucker-punched at a Trump rally in Fayetteville.
“You hope (the firebombing) is an isolated incident,” said Ferrel Guillory, a political analyst at UNC Chapel Hill. “It always happens that toward the end of the campaign, emotions get both frayed and intensified.”
The Rev. William J. Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP, condemned the act. Barber told the Associated Press, “While vigorous debate on issues is acceptable, we in the NAACP denounce any kind of violence that is perpetrated toward our citizens or any political party.”
No damage estimates are available yet, and Hillsborough police continue to investigate with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, town officials said.
“This highly disturbing act goes far beyond vandalizing property; it willfully threatens our community’s safety via fire, and its hateful message undermines decency, respect and integrity in civic participation,” Hillsborough Mayor Tom Stevens said in a news release.
Police ask anyone with information to contact Investigator Jon Purvis at 919-732- 9381, ext. 37.
Information may be provided anonymously through the town’s website or by calling the Hillsborough Police Department’s tip line at 919-732- 3975.
Jim Morrill of the Charlotte Observer and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Chris Cioffi: 919-829-4802, @ReporterCioffi