Mississippi man pleads guilty to burning cross to intimidate Black neighbors

A Mississippi man has pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges after he burned a cross on his property to intimidate a Black family, prosecutors said Friday.

On Dec. 3 2020, Axel Cox, 24, used “threatening and racially derogatory remarks” toward his neighbors, who are Black, and burned a cross in his yard to intimidate them in violation of their right to fair housing under the Fair Housing Act, according to the indictment. Cox, of Gulfport, Mississippi, admitted to assembling a wooden cross and propping it up in his yard so his Black neighbors could see it, before dousing it in motor oil and lighting it on fire, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a news release.

The indictment identifies at least five victims by their initials.

Jim Davis, Cox's attorney, did not immediately respond to an inquiry from USA TODAY on Sunday.

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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.”

“Burning a cross invokes the long and painful history, particularly in Mississippi, of intimidation and impending physical violence against Black people,” U.S. Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke was quoted in the news release.

Cross-burning is a practice associated with the white supremacist hate group Ku Klux Klan.

Cox faces up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, according to his plea agreement. A sentencing hearing is set for March 9.

Contributing: Associated Press

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Man who burned cross in yard pleads guilty to hate crime