Axel Cox pleads guilty to hating crime after cross-burning

Axel Cox

Prison and prison photos by Axel Charles Cox. (Harrison County Sheriff’s Office, Mississippi Correctional Facility)

A Mississippi man has pleaded guilty to a federal hate crime after burning a cross in his front yard to intimidate his black neighbors.

Axel Charles Cox face a maximum of 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, or both.

Almost two years ago, on December 3, 2020, Cox made threatening and racially derogatory remarks to his neighbors, assembled a wooden cross on his front yard, doused it in motor oil and set it alight. Federal prosecutors say Cox, 24, admitted he did so because of the race of his neighbors and the fact that they occupied the house next door to his.

Deputy Attorney General Kristen Clarkethe first black woman to head the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division noted that the burning cross did not occur in a historical vacuum.

“The burning of a cross evokes the long and painful history of intimidation and threats of physical violence against black people, particularly in Mississippi,” Clarke wrote in a statement. “The Department of Justice will continue to prosecute those who use racially motivated violence to evict people from their homes or communities.”

On Thursday, Cox struck a plea deal in which he admitted one of the two charges. The Hate Crimes Act penalizes those who use violence, threaten violence or intimidate because of their race, gender or national origin for renting or occupying an “apartment”.

According to the Mississippi Department of Justice, Cox had already served an eight-year sentence for drug possession and theft.

When Cox was indicted in September, prosecutors obtained a warrant to transfer the convict from state prison to federal court to face his hate crime fees. The cross burn incident occurred approximately 17 months prior to his unrelated incarceration.

Deputy Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division stressed that people “should be free from threats and intimidation.

“The FBI and our law enforcement partners will continue to bring to justice anyone who violates federal laws designed to protect civil liberties,” Quesada said.

US Attorney Darren LaMarcafrom the Southern District of Mississippi, praised the cooperation between local and federal authorities.

“We will continue to work with and for the good people of Mississippi to eliminate this racial intimidation,” LaMarca said.

Cox’s attorney did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

During his Senate confirmation hearings in February 2021, Attorney General Merrick garland vowed to make civil rights a focus of his Justice Department leadership – and provided a history lesson to illustrate the point.

“Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the DOJ reminds us of the origins of the department, which was established during post-Civil War Reconstruction to secure the civil rights promised by the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments,” said Garland in his opening address. “The first attorney general appointed by President Grant to head the new department led her in a concerted fight to protect black suffrage from white supremacist violence and successfully prosecuted hundreds of cases against members of the Ku Klux Klan.”

One of Garland’s earliest and most famous cases as a prosecutor was the Oklahoma City bombing, which he viewed as an example of white supremacist-inspired violence.

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