Axel Charles Cox, 23, “burned a cross in his front yard, and used threatening and racially derogatory remarks towards” five Black neighbors in Harrison County, an indictment unveiled on Sept. 20, 2022, before a federal court sitting in Gulfport, Miss., said. Cox is white.
Cross-burning has long been an expression of white supremacy used at lynchings and, more generally, to terrorize African Americans including out of white spaces and communities. “As the Klan declined in the late 1920s and 1930s, intimidation became the primary but not exclusive use of the cross,” a Middle Tennessee State University report stated. “In addition, people with no Klan affiliation have burned crosses on the lawns of African Americans moving into all white neighborhoods.”
Harrison County has a 67% white and a 27% Black population. The indictment alleged that Cox burned the cross because of his neighbors’ “race and color and because they are renting and occupying a dwelling” near the defendant’s house, and thereby “did, by force and threat of force, willfully intimidate and interfere with, and attempt to intimidate and interfere with, his Black neighbors,” the indictment continues.
At his initial arraignment on Sept. 23, 2022, before U.S. Southern District of Mississippi Magistrate Robert P. Myers Jr. in Gulfport, Miss., Cox pleaded not guilty to the two-count charge for the alleged incident that occurred in December 2020. The judge remanded him in the custody of the U.S. Marshal after he waived detention hearing, court documents reveal.
The Associated Press first reported the indictment on Sept. 23, 2022, explaining that federal prosecutors said that Cox “violated his neighbors’ housing rights,” the outlet said. “The statute Cox is accused of violating falls under the Civil Rights Act of 1968.”
“The law says it is illegal for an individual to interfere with any person’s housing rights based on race,” the AP continued.
In a statement made available to the Mississippi Free Press, Council on American-Islamic Relations National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper said the organization welcomes the charge in a statement. The group described the accusation as an “alleged act of racist intimidation and believe(s) (the case) will send a message to others who may contemplate turning their bigoted views into threatening actions,” Hooper said.
Mississippi Center for Justice President Vangela M. Wade told AP that the incident “is another stark reminder of how bigotry, racism, and hate-fueled violence are alive and well in our country. Mississippi is no exception,” Wade said.
“The fight to dismantle Mississippi’s deeply entrenched culture of injustice and a better tomorrow continues,” she added. “We are thankful for the courage of the members of the federal grand jury to indict this hate crime.”
At the time of his indictment, Cox was serving eight years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections for two counts of receiving stolen property and possession of a controlled substance, offenses committed in Harrison County. He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted in the latest indictment.
At his arraignment on Friday, Cox told Judge Myers that his education level was eighth grade and that he has been to welding school, according to the audio recording of the event.
“This matter is set before District Judge Halil S. Ozerden for the four-week criminal calendar commencing November 7 2022,” Myers announced.
“Mr. Cox, you’re hereby detained without benefit of bond pending further order by the court,” the judge added at the end of the proceeding after Cox waived his right to a detention hearing. “Please go with the Marshal, sir, and good luck to you, Mr. Cox.”
The court-assigned defender, John William Weber, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea C. Jones, who is prosecuting the case, did not immediately reply to the Mississippi Free Press request for comments on the story on Sept. 26, 2022. Both were present with FBI case agent Drew Robinson at the initial hearing.
After the publication of this piece, a U.S. Southern District of Mississippi District Attorney spokesperson sent an email to the Mississippi Free Press on Sept. 27, 2022, and stated that “we can’t comment beyond the court records at this time.”