Virginia man accused of burning cross at Black neighbors' home

Dennis Romero

A Virginia man has been accused by federal authorities of burning a cross on the front lawn of a Black neighbor's home, authorities said this week.

James Michael Brown, 40, who is white, was in custody Friday in connection with the June 14 cross burning, according to inmate records.

Witnesses told police they saw an "intense fire" coming from a barrel in front of the home in Marion, Virginia, and when officers arrived they found "wood that appeared to be in the shape of a cross," the Marion Police Department said in a statement.

The case was handed over to the FBI, which arrested Brown on Friday.

He was charged by the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia with "lying to federal agents about his involvement in the burning of a cross on the front lawn of an African-American woman’s home and criminal interference with fair housing based upon the victim’s race," it said in a statement.

It was unclear if Brown has an attorney, and a federal public defender's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. attorney's office said a resident of the home had organized a civil rights protest the day before the burning.

"Witnesses interviewed during the investigation stated that Brown admitted to the cross burning and used racial epithets when referring to the African American family," it said.

NBC Washington reported the suspect lives across the street from the victim.

"The FBI is committed to protecting all citizens, and will aggressively investigate acts of intimidation or violence against anyone based on race or ethnicity," FBI Special Agent Neil L. Mathison said in a statement,

Marion is in Smyth County in the southwest corner of Virginia bordering North Carolina and Tennessee.