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Ahmaud Arbery killers’ hate crime trial: Prosecutors share the men's messages, social media posts

Prosecutors hope to convince the jury that Arbery’s murder was an act of racial hostility by the white men, who publicly shared their disdain for Black people.
Trial Of Ahmaud Arbery Killers Continues In Brunswick, Georgia
Travis McMichael with his attorney before the start of the trial in Ahmaud Arbery's shooting death at the Glynn County Courthouse in Brunswick, Ga., on Nov. 9.Stephen Morton / Pool via Getty Images

Federal prosecutors on Wednesday shared text messages and social media posts expressing derogatory comments about Black people from the white men convicted of murdering Ahmaud Arbery, as their federal hate crime trial entered its third day.

Many of the posts and messages included racial epithets, slurs, stereotypes and death threats aimed at Black people, who were often characterized as criminals.

FBI intelligence analyst Amy Vaughan was called to the stand Wednesday to lead the jury through the evidence she collected that included text messages, Facebook posts, videos and memes that were shared by two of the men: Travis McMichael and William "Roddie" Bryan.

She said the FBI was unable to examine Greg McMichael’s phone because it was encrypted. Greg McMichael, 66, is the father of Travis McMichael.

All three men have pleaded not guilty to the hate crime charges. The defense has said that their racist views were unacceptable but maintained that the chase and killing of Arbery, a Black man, in February 2020 was a result of their belief that he had committed a crime.

On the day of the fatal shooting, the McMichaels armed themselves and pursued Arbery in a pickup truck after seeing him running in their coastal Georgia neighborhood. Bryan, 52, joined the pursuit in his pickup truck and recorded video of the encounter on his cellphone. Arbery was eventually trapped between the two pickup trucks and ended up in a confrontation with Travis McMichael, 36, who was armed with a shotgun. 

All three men were convicted of murder in November and sentenced to life in prison.

Prosecutors are hoping to convince the jury that Arbery's murder was an act of racial hostility by men who publicly shared their disdain for Black people. The evidence also included posts, videos and messages dating back to years before the killing.

Vaughn found that Bryan had used the N-word in his messages, shared racist views of issues like Martin Luther King Jr. Day over years, and expressed anger that his daughter had chosen to date a Black man. He also often used a racial epithet regarding Black people that leans on a stereotype about the appearance of a Black person's skin and lips.

Much focus at the trial was placed on the messages and posts of Travis McMichael, who fatally shot Arbery. Travis McMichael appeared to use social media and messages with friends to share racist remarks, characterize black people as criminals and "monkeys" and express his support for vigilantism, according to testimony and the evidence shared Wednesday.

Across multiple messages, Travis McMichael seemed to state his willingness to kill people, particularly those who are Black, he believed to be criminals, the evidence presented at trial showed. In one message, he noted that he kept his gun loaded with a type of ammunition that "will rip someone to shreds."

According to the messages presented, Travis McMichael was particularly upset about weapons that were stolen from his car Jan. 1, 2020, and he appeared to blame Black people for the theft.

There was a litany of other evidence shared, much of which the defense had tried to omit from the case in the lead-up to the trial.

In response to a Black Lives Matter protest, Travis McMichael called the demonstration "a zoo" and joked about a video of a Black woman who was hit by a car, according to Wednesday's testimony. He also responded to an article about two white people being assaulted by two Black people by calling the Black individuals "subhuman savages" and claimed he "would beat those monkeys to death."

He also shared or received numerous memes with similar views.

The lawyer for the defense cross-examined Vaughn for a little over five minutes and emphasized that "context matters" when considering messages and social media posts.

Wednesday was the third day of the trial. The first and second days of the trial included testimony from neighbors and police officers who responded to the scene of Arbery's murder.

The jury that consists of eight white people, three Black people and one Hispanic person was sworn in Monday.

CORRECTION (Feb. 16, 4:10 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated Travis McMichael’s age. He is 36, not 35.