Virginia man charged in connection with cross burning

MARION, Va. (AP) — A Virginia man was charged in federal court this week in connection with the burning of a cross on the front lawn a Black teenager who had recently organized a civil rights protest.

U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen's office announced the arrest Friday afternoon of 40-year-old James Brown of Marion, who was charged with lying to federal agents and criminal interference with fair housing based on the victim’s race. The charged were filed following an investigation into the June 14 overnight cross burning in Marion, a small town in southwest Virginia.

According to an affidavit filed by an FBI special agent, a Black woman flagged down a police officer who was responding to a report of a possible gunshot and told him someone had put a burning cross in her yard. The woman's son was an organizer of a protest in Marion the day before, the affidavit said.

A police officer extinguished a “significant” fire inside a barrel and recovered a wooden cross propped against the barrel, according to the affidavit. The cross had cloth attached that had a sweet smell, indicative of a propellant being used.

The affidavit said when Brown was questioned about whether he was involved, he told investigators he was not. But witnesses interviewed said Brown admitted to the cross-burning and used racial epithets when referring to the family, Cullen's office said in a news release.

Brown is described in the affidavit as both white in appearance and believed to be of Puerto Rican descent. His home is across the street from the victims', the affidavit said.

Court records show Brown made a brief initial appearance in court Friday. They say he was to be held in custody until a detention hearing set for Tuesday.

The Associated Press sent an inquiry to his attorney seeking comment.

“The frightening act at the center of today’s complaint—a racially motivated cross burning—interfered with the victim’s federally protected right to fair housing,” Cullen, who is the U.S. attorney for the western district of Virginia, said in a statement. “Acts of violence, threats, and other forms of intimidation prompted by racial animus are serious federal crimes, and we will continue to work closely with the FBI to hold offenders accountable.”