A Mississippi man has pleaded to a federal hate crime for burning a cross to intimidate his Black neighbors, according to the Department of Justice.
Axel C. Cox, 24, of Gulfport, Miss., admitted to violating the Fair Housing Act when he used threatening and racially derogatory remarks to a Black family and burned a cross to intimidate them in December 2020, court documents say.
Cox admitted that he assembled the wooden cross in his front yard with materials from his house and put it in his front yard where his neighbors could see, according to court documents. He also addressed the family with racially derogatory language, records say.
Cox then doused the cross in motor oil and lit it on fire. Per the DOJ, Cox admitted that he burned the cross because of the race of his next-door neighbors.
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A grand jury indicted him in September. Cox’s attorney, Jim Davis, filed a notice of intent for him to plead guilty to the cross burning on Nov. 22, 2022. Davis could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
Davis told the Biloxi Sun Herald that Cox was reacting to his neighbors allegedly shooting and killing his dog. He added that his client acted “totally inappropriately.”
The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups have long practiced cross-burnings to intimidate Black and Jewish people.
“Burning a cross invokes the long and painful history, particularly in Mississippi, of intimidation and impending physical violence against Black people,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke said in a statement. “The Department of Justice will continue to prosecute those who use racially-motivated violence to drive people away from their homes or communities.”
Cox’s sentencing is scheduled for March 2, 2023. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.
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The Gulfport Police Department and the FBI Jackson Field Office investigated the case.