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Mississippi man sentenced to prison for cross burning

A Mississippi man was sentenced to 42 months in prison for intimidating his Black neighbors by burning a cross in their front yard, according to the Department of Justice.

Axel Cox, 24, was sentenced on Thursday, after pleading guilty to a federal hate crime and violating the Fair Housing Act in December, according to the Department of Justice. 

Cox said he built the cross to intimidate his Black neighbors and force them to move out of the neighborhood, the feds said. He built the cross by wedging two pieces of wood together, doused it in oil, and lit it in clear view of his neighbors while using threatening and racially derogatory language, said the Department of Justice.

Cross burning is "one of the most potent hate symbols in the United States, popularized as a terror image by the Ku Klux Klan since the early 1900s," according to the Anti-Defamation League.  Although cross burnings aren't as numerous as they were during the civil rights years, in recent times the Department of Justice has prosecuted or investigated a handful of cross-burning cases.

In 2019, Louis Revette was sentenced to 11 years for burning a cross in Seminary, Mississippi. Revette admitted he went to place the cross in what he knew was a predominately Black neighborhood, according to court records.  In 2021, James Brown was sentenced to 18 months in prison for burning a cross in the front yard of a Black family in the early morning hours, according to the Department of Justice. The family had participated in a civil rights protest the day before in Marion, Virginia, the feds said.

The Feds investigated a cross burning outside the home of a Black family in the prosperous, majority white California coastal community of Arroyo Grande near San Luis Obispo.

Cox's prison term will be followed by three years of supervised release and he has to pay restitution in the amount of $7,810, according to the Department of Justice.

"No one should endure such hatred and intimidation because of the color of his skin," said U.S. Attorney Darren LaMarca for the Southern District of Mississippi in a Department of Justice statement. "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."

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