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Thinking About Burning a Cross In Your Yard To Send a Message… Mississippi Man Sentenced for Federal Hate Crime for Cross Burning

Burning Cross with headline: Thinking of burning a cross to send a message? Not a good idea.
Photo: Confederate till Death via Wikipedia  | Columbia County Observer graphic

GULFPORT, MISSISSIPPI – A Mississippi man was sentenced today before U.S. District Judge Halil S. Ozerden to 42 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release and restitution. Axel Cox, 24, was responsible for restitution of $7,810 for burning a cross in his front yard with the intent to intimidate a Black family.

The court found that Mr. Cox, 24, violated the Fair Housing Act when he used threatening and racially derogatory language toward his Black neighbors and burned a cross to intimidate them.

On Dec. 3, 2020, in Gulfport, Mississippi, after a dispute with the Black family victims, Mr. Cox wedged two pieces of wood together to form a cross, placed it in clear view of the victim's residence, doused it in oil, and set it alight. Mr. Cox admitted that he lit the cross on fire because the victims were Black and that he intended to scare them into moving out of the neighborhood. Mr. Cox yelled threats and racial slurs toward the house's occupants during this incident.

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said, “This cross burning was an abhorrent act that used a traditional symbol of hatred and violence to stoke fear and drive a Black family out of their home. While one might think cross-burnings and white supremacist threats and violence are things of the past, the unfortunate reality is that these incidents continue today. This sentence demonstrates the importance of holding people accountable for threatening the safety and security of Black people in their homes because of the color of their skin or where they are from.”

U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca for the Southern District of Mississippi added, “No one should endure such hatred and intimidation because of the color of his skin. This defendant has been held accountable. His sentence should permeate among his kind and declare that Mississippi and the Department of Justice will not tolerate this hateful behavior.”

FBI Special Agent in Charge Jermicha Fomby of the FBI Jackson Field Office said, “Mr. Axel Cox sought to intimidate community members through his intimidating threats. The FBI prioritizes protecting civil rights to ensure citizens remain safe without fear of harm. We remain committed to tirelessly thwarting the nefarious actions of those, like Mr. Cox, who intended to impact fear upon citizens based on biases."

A federal grand jury indicted Mr. Cox on Sept. 20, 2022. He faced a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison for interfering with the victims’ housing rights and a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison, consecutive to any other sentence, for using fire to commit a federal felony. Mr. Cox also faced a fine of up to $250,000 for each charge.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Cabell Jones for the Southern District of Mississippi and former Trial Attorney Noah Coakley II of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section prosecuted the case.

For more information and resources on the Department of Justice’s efforts to combat hate crimes, visit www.justice.gov/hatecrimes.

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