A Mississippi man pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime after he burned a cross in his front yard to intimidate his Black neighbors.
Axel Cox, 24, of Gulfport, admitted that on Dec. 3, 2020, he gathered supplies from his home, made them into a wooden cross and propped it up in his yard so his neighbors could see it, the Justice Department said in a news release Friday.
He then doused the cross with motor oil and set it on fire. Cross-burning was used in the Jim Crow era by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups as a form of racial intimidation of Black people.
"Cox admitted that he burned the cross because of the victims’ race and because they were occupying a home next to his," the release stated.
He also admitted to using threatening and racially derogatory remarks toward the family, prosecutors said. The neighbors are only identified by their initials in the court documents.
A grand jury indicted Cox in September. His attorney did not immediately return a request for comment on Saturday.
"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."
Cox faces a maximum of 10 years in prison at his sentencing on March 9.