A transgender activist has been accused of lighting his own home on fire.
Police in Jackson, Mich., arrested Nikki Joly and charged him with arson for the 2017 blaze, which killed five of his pets -- two German Shepherds and three cats.
The arrest came as a surprise to many locals, as previously, the case was being investigated as a hate crime, reports The Detroit News.
Joly, 54, had been named 2018 Citizen of the Year by MLive.com for his many efforts of LGBTQ activism, including helping to found a community center, starting a Pride festival, and fighting to pass a local nondiscrimination ordinance protecting gay people in employment and housing.
An investigative report from Jackson police suggested that a wish to draw attention to LGBTQ issues is a possible motive for the crime.
Barbara Shelton and Bobby James -- who work at the St. Johns United Church of Christ, which houses the Jackson Pride Center -- told authorities Joly was upset that Jackson Pride, held in the week before the blaze, hadn't attracted enough attention and he feared public interest in LGBTQ rights was waning after the passage of the nondiscrimination ordinance.
Shelton disputed this account in a response to The Detroit News. Shelton "never heard Nikki comment in any fashion about anything like that," she said.
Daniel Barnett, Joly's representation, dismissed the motive as well. "It doesn't make sense," he said. "He was citizen of the year. There was plenty of media coverage already before the fire."
Evidence compiled by Jackson police show that Joly would have had the means and opportunity to commit the crime. According to the investigative report, Joly purchased $10 worth of gasoline the morning of the fire, which he told authorities was for his lawn mower. The blaze was reported by neighbors at 1:16 p.m. -- only a few minutes after Joly had left the house. Traces of gasoline were also discovered on the clothes he wore that day.
News of Joly's arrest comes in the wake of the investigation of Jussie Smollett, who is also accused of faking a hate crime. The headlines have plastered many right-wing media sites in what appears to be an effort to discredit victims. Ann Coulter has said outright that all hate crimes are fake. In reality, attacks against LGBTQ people and other minority groups have reached record highs, according to the FBI.
However, activists point out that even one fake allegation can give powerful ammunition to enemies of the LGBTQ community. "All that good work is tainted. We know one bad mark outshines a hundred good ones," Stella Shananaquet told The Detroit News in response to Joly's arrest. "I'm infuriated someone could tear down the community that way."