In early january 2017, a fire allegedly started by Mark Vincent Perez burned a mosque in Victoria to the ground. Since then, the community has remained quiet about the motivations for this act of arson. As the case goes to trial, details are finally coming out, one witness at a time.
Prosecutors say “rabid hatred” was the motive for Perez’ action, and they have now outlined the case to jurors. Perez is charged with arson and a hate crime, with a potential 40-year sentence and up to $250,000 in fines.
Jon Wilcox covers crime and the courts for the Victoria Advocate and has been reporting on the case. After three days, he says, prosecutors are “blazing through their witnesses,” hearing from ATF agents, FBI agents and digital forensic experts.
One man testified that he met Perez through a Facebook group known as “3 Percenters.” The group was described by the prosecution as a “quasi-militia group” and said to have “espoused anti-muslim beliefs” by the FBI.
“They discussed together that they were fearful of Muslims and Perez decided he would drive by the mosque late at night to see if they were up to any violent acts,” Wilcox says.
Perez recruited teenagers from his own neighborhood to form “rogue units” and even referred to himself and his efforts using paramilitary coding and terminology. Prosecutors say one recruit, a then 16-year-old, assisted Perez in breaking into and burning down the mosque.
Perez joined the Air Force for a short time but was quickly discharged.
Wilcox says the consensus in the community is that the actions that Perez and his paramilitary group are accuse of do not mainstream values in Victoria. Members of the mosque who were present at trial declined to comment, at the request of prosecutors.
“But when we hear testimony about him recruiting people, maybe just young people, it’s very troubling,” Wilcox says. “It’s something that gives pause.”
Written by Sarah Yoakley.