In a throwback to times when Blacks were under constant terror from southern white supremacists, a white man has admitted in a federal courtroom to burning a cross to intimidate Black families in a small Mississippi town.
Graham Williamson, 38, pleaded guilty to conspiring to use fire to commit a felony and interfering with housing rights in U.S. District Court at Hattiesburg.
“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,” said Eric Dreiband, Assistant Attorney General with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division. “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.”
Williamson did not act alone, prosecutors say. He was joined by Louie Bernard Revette, 37, in the October 2017 cross burning which took place in Seminary, Miss. Revette also pleaded guilty to similar charges back in April. The burned cross was created with items found in the homes of both men.
WDAM in Moselle, Miss., reports Williamson is now facing 30 years in prison and a $500,000 fine for the crimes and will face sentencing on Nov. 5. Revette is expected to be sentenced two months earlier, on Sept. 5.
Williamson also admitted knowing the historical context of burning a cross, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
“Those who commit criminal acts based on race to intimidate and scare our fellow citizens will face swift and certain justice from this U.S. attorney’s office. These types of hateful actions have no place in our communities, and we will continue to fight for and uphold the civil rights of all throughout our state,” said Mike Hurst, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Mississippi.
The case received assistance in prosecution from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Right Division. Dreiband said the incident “serves as a stark reminder that discrimination continues to be a reality for many people.”
“Williamson acknowledged that he knew burning crosses have historically been used to threaten, frighten, and intimidate African Americans,” the DOJ said in a statement.
The scare tactic toward Black families is commonly associated with the presence of Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacy groups since the Reconstruction period after the Civil War.
“While wounds are still healing from Mississippi’s past, incidents such as this only serve as setbacks and should be fully condemned in every community,” Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Mississippi Christopher Freeze in a statement.