The Department of Justice announced that Graham Williamson pleaded guilty yesterday to federal charges related to the commission of a cross burning on Oct. 24, 2017, in Seminary, Mississippi.
Williamson, 38, pleaded guilty to one count of interference with housing rights, a federal civil rights violation, and one count of conspiring to use fire to commit a federal felony.
In his plea, Williamson admitted that he and a co-conspirator planned and carried out a racially motivated cross burning in a predominantly African-American residential area of Seminary, Mississippi. Specifically, Williamson admitted that he and the co-conspirator constructed a cross using materials from in and around the co-conspirator’s residence, placed the cross near the home of African-American residents of that area, including the home of a juvenile victim identified as M.H., and lit the cross on fire.
Williamson further admitted that he built and burned the cross to threaten, frighten, and intimidate M.H. and other African-American residents because of their race and color of their skin and because those individuals lived in the Keys Hill area of Seminary, Mississippi. Williamson acknowledged that he knew burning crosses have historically been used to threaten, frighten, and intimidate African-Americans.
“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 Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the 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 faces a maximum total sentence of 30 years in prison and a $500,000 fine on the two charges. Sentencing has been scheduled for Nov. 5.
“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.
This case was investigated by the FBI Jackson Division’s Hattiesburg Resident Agency. Assistant U.S. Attorney Candace Gregory Mayberry for the Southern District of Mississippi and Trial Attorney Julia Gegenheimer from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division are prosecuting the case.
“Crimes motivated by hate are intended to intimidate their victims and spread fear in the community, undermining societal values,” said FBI Jackson Division Acting Special Agent in Charge Steven Jensen. “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.”