A Marion, Virginia, man has pleaded guilty to burning a cross in a Black neighbor’s yard last year, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
James Brown, 41, pleaded guilty to using force or the threat of force to interfere with federally protected housing rights based on the race of color of the victims. Brown burned a cross on the front yard of his neighbor's home on June 14, 2020. One of the family members had organized a civil rights protest the day before in Marion.
Brown admitted to burning the cross to two witnesses and also was known to use racial epithets when referring to the Black family, prosecutors said.
“I did it,” Brown told two witnesses, according to FBI Special Agent Chad Potter.
Brown has lived on Pearl Avenue in Marion near the property where a cross was found ablaze early on June 14, 2020, officials said. Pieces of wood, assembled to look like a cross, had been placed in a burn barrel, according to a criminal affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Abingdon.
Potter spoke to several witnesses in the days following the blaze, which took place at the home of teen Travon Brown, who led a Black Lives Matter rally in Marion. The two individuals are not related, authorities note.
During a preliminary hearing, Potter said James Brown, who had also been observed by nearby witnesses, returned home following the blaze. There, two men said he admitted to burning the cross, Potter said.
James Brown had an ongoing conflict with Travon Brown’s family, Potter said.
During an interview, James Brown denied being involved in the fire, according to court records.
Potter informed the court that detectives found shirts, staples, a staple gun and tiki fuel during a search at James Brown’s home. The fuel is believed to have been used as an accelerant. The shirts were similar to shirts used to assemble the cross, Potter added. The burn barrel and cross were last known to be obtained by the Marion Police Department, which assisted with the investigation.
“Acts of hatred, intimidation and the threat of force, carried out by the racially motivated cross burning in this case, illegally interfered with their federally protected housing rights,” Acting U.S. Attorney Daniel Bubar said in a news release. “This illegal, divisive behavior destroys communities and will not be tolerated. I’m proud of the work of the FBI and our state partners, who brought James Brown to justice.”