Axel C. Cox in an image provided by the Mississippi Department of Corrections.
A 23-year-old is facing federal hate crime charges for burning a cross in his front yard in Gulfport, Mississippi, allegedly to intimidate a Black family.
According to court documents, Axel C. Cox “threatened, intimidated, and interfered with a Black family’s enjoyment of their housing rights,” when he burned the cross on Dec. 3, 2020.
Federal prosecutors served their warrant for Cox at a state prison, where he’s serving an eight-month sentence for charges linked to drugs and stolen property.
Prosecutors say that, in addition to burning the cross—one of the most brazen symbols of white supremacy in America due to cross burning’s affiliation with the Ku Klux Klan—Cox used “threatening and racially derogatory remarks” toward the victims. The victims are only identified by their initials in court documents.
If convicted, Cox will face up to 10 years in prison for interfering with the victims’ housing rights, and a mandatory minimum of 10 years for using fire to threaten and intimidate. Both charges carry fines up to $250,000.
Last year, a man in Marion, Virginia, received the relatively light sentence of 18 months in federal prison after he pleaded guilty to burning a cross in a Black family’s front yard in June 2020. The previous day, one member of that family—part of a Black Lives Matter group in the area — had organized a civil rights demonstration in response to the murder of George Floyd.
In 2019, a white Mississippi man in his late 30s was hit with an 11-year prison sentence for burning a cross near the home of a Black family in Seminary, just 93 miles north of Gulfport. In that case, the man admitted that he’d targeted a Black neighborhood of Seminary because he wanted to scare the residents there.
The Ku Klux Klan used cross-burnings (which they often referred to as “cross-lightings” to avoid accusations of destroying a Christian symbol) to rally their supporters, and to terrorize Blacl communities across the South and beyond. “So widely associated with racial intimidation that most criminal cross-burning incidents do not actually have a connection to a Ku Klux Klan group,” the ADL says in the entry for cross- burning in their symbols database. “The symbol of the burning cross has also transcended the borders of the United States, as tattoo images of Klansmen standing in front of burning crosses are not uncommon among European and other white supremacists.”