A Mississippi man could be headed to jail after he admitted to performing a cross burning outside the homes of African-American families in an effort to frighten and intimidate them.
Graham Williamson pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges Wednesday after admitting to one count of interference with housing rights, as well as one count of conspiring to use fire to commit a federal felony, the Department of Justice announced.
Authorities said Williamson, 38, admitted to carrying out a racially motivated cross burning in a mostly-Black residential area in Seminary, Mississippi, on Oct. 24, 2017, and was aided by a co-conspirator, Louis Bernard Revette. The suspect said he constructed the cross using materials from in and around Revette’s home, then set it ablaze near the homes of African-Americans in the area, including the home of a juvenile victim.
Williamson further admitted to committing the racist practice in order to “threaten, frighten and intimidate” local residents, and said he was well aware that ” burning crosses have historically been used to threaten, frighten, and intimidate African-Americans.” The racist practice has largely been associated with white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
Williamson now faces a 30-year prison sentence and $500,000 fine for his crimes.
“The defendant used a violent symbol of racial intimidation to threaten these victims and inspire fear, while they resided in the security of their own homes,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “The Department of Justice does not tolerate these hateful and historically egregious acts, and will continue to vigorously prosecute criminals who violate the civil rights of peaceful community members.”
Michelle A. Sutphin, FBI Jackson Division Special Agent in Charge, added: “Crimes motivated by hate are intended to intimidate their victims and spread fear in the community, undermining societal. The FBI will continue its aggressive investigations of acts like these in pursuit of justice for the victims and the integrity of civil rights for all.”
Williamson’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for Nov. 5.