A Mississippi man pleaded guilty today in federal court admitting to a hate crime for burning a cross in his front yard with the intent to intimidate a Black family on Dec. 3, 2020.
According to court documents, Axel C. Cox, 24, of Gulfport, admitted to violating the Fair Housing Act when he used threatening and racially derogatory remarks toward his Black neighbors and burned a cross to intimidate them.
Prosecutors say that, in addition to burning the cross—one of the most brazen symbols of white supremacy in America due to cross burning’s affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan—Cox used “threatening and racially derogatory remarks” toward the victims.
Cox stated that he gathered supplies from his residence, put together a wooden cross in his front yard and propped it up so his Black neighbors could see it. Cox then doused the cross with motor oil and lit it on fire.
Cox admitted that he burned the cross because of the victims’ race and because they were occupying a home next to his.
“Burning a cross invokes the long and painful history, particularly in Mississippi, of intimidation and impending physical violence against Black people,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to prosecute those who use racially-motivated violence to drive people away from their homes or communities.”
“The collaboration among the Gulfport Police Department, the FBI, the Civil Rights Division and our office brought this defendant to justice,” said U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca for the Southern District of Mississippi. “We will continue to work with and for the good people of Mississippi to eradicate such racist intimidation.”
“Individuals in our communities should be free from threats and intimidation,” said Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “The FBI and our law enforcement partners will continue to bring to justice anyone who violates the federal laws designed to ensure civil rights are protected.”
Sentencing is scheduled for March 9, 2023. Cox faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 or both.
A man in Marion, Virginia, received the relatively light sentence of 18 months in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to burning a cross in a Black family’s front yard in June 2020. The previous day, one member of that family—part of a Black Lives Matter group in the area — had organized a civil rights demonstration in response to the murder of George Floyd.
In 2019, a white Mississippi man in his late 30s was hit with an 11-year prison sentence for burning a cross near the home of a Black family in Seminary, just 93 miles north of Gulfport. In that case, the man admitted that he’d targeted a Black neighborhood of Seminary because he wanted to scare the residents there.
The Ku Klux Klan used cross-burnings (which they often referred to as “cross-lightings” to avoid accusations of destroying a Christian symbol) to rally their supporters, and to terrorize Black communities across the South and beyond.
“So widely associated with racial intimidation that most criminal cross-burning incidents do not actually have a connection to a Ku Klux Klan group,” says the ADL. “The symbol of the burning cross has also transcended the borders of the United States, as tattoo images of Klansmen standing in front of burning crosses are not uncommon among European and other white supremacists.”