A man from Mississippi has pleaded guilty to federal charges after admitting that he took part in a cross burning in a bid to threaten a Black family.

Graham 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, according to the Department of Justice.

Williamson admitted that he and a co-conspirator planned and carried out a racially motivated cross-burning in a predominantly Black area of Seminary, Mississippi. 

Williamson admitted that they constructed a cross using materials from in and around the co-conspirator’s residence, placed the cross near the home of Black residents of that area and lit the cross on fire. 

He did so to intimidate a minor, identified by the initials M.H. along with other Black residents based solely on their race and the color of their skin.

Williamson used the cross-burning because they have historically been used to threaten, frighten, and intimidate Black.

“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.”

“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.

“Crimes motivated by hate are intended to intimidate their victims and spread fear in the community, undermining societal values,” said FBI Jackson Division Special Agent in Charge Michelle A. Sutphin. “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.”

If charged, 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.