Civil rights

Virginia Man Accused of Burning Cross on Lawn of Black Teen Protest Organizer

A Black mother flagged down police and said someone had burned a cross in her yard. Her teen son had organized a protest in their small town the previous day

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A Virginia man faces federal charges after officials say he burned a cross on the front lawn of a Black teenager who organized a civil rights protest the previous day. 

James Brown was charged with lying to federal agents and criminal interference with fair housing based on the victim’s race, a U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen's office announced Friday.

The charges against the 40-year-old were filed following an investigation into the June 14 overnight cross burning in Marion, a town of about 4,000 near Virginia's borders with North Carolina and Tennessee.

Racist intimidation must be punished, said Thomas Cullen, the U.S. attorney for the western district of Virginia.

“The frightening act at the center of today’s complaint — a racially motivated cross burning — interfered with the victim’s federally protected right to fair housing,” he said in a statement. “Acts of violence, threats, and other forms of intimidation prompted by racial animus are serious federal crimes, and we will continue to work closely with the FBI to hold offenders accountable.”

According to an affidavit filed by an FBI special agent, a Black woman flagged down a police officer who was responding to a report of a possible gunshot and told him someone had put a burning cross in her yard. The woman's son was an organizer of a protest in Marion the day before, the affidavit said.

A police officer extinguished a “significant” fire inside a barrel and recovered a wooden cross propped against the barrel, according to the affidavit. The cross had cloth attached that had a sweet smell, indicative of a propellant being used.

The affidavit said when Brown was questioned about whether he was involved, he told investigators he was not. But witnesses interviewed said Brown admitted to the cross-burning and used racial epithets when referring to the African-American family, Cullen's office said in a news release.

Brown is described in the affidavit as both white in appearance and believed to be of Puerto Rican descent. His home is across the street from the victims', the affidavit said.

A Black Lives Matter protest and counter-protest were held in the town of Marion on June 13, SWVA Today reported. The police department said on social media that they were committed to protecting the constitutional rights of all. 

Court records show Brown made a brief initial appearance in court Friday. He was to be held in custody until a detention hearing set for Tuesday.

The Associated Press sent an inquiry to his attorney seeking comment.

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