A former Ku Klux Klan leader admitted in U.S. District Court in Montgomery, Ala., on Monday that he burned a cross in a predominantly black neighborhood in 2009 as a way to scare and intimidate residents.
Steven Joshua Dinkle, 28, of Ozark, Ala., also “admitted that he burned the cross because of the victims’ race and color and because they were occupying homes in that area,” senior Justice Department officials said Tuesday.
Dinkle pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate housing rights, one count of criminal interference with the right to fair housing, and two counts of obstruction of justice related to false statements.
He faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 maximum fine on the conspiracy and criminal interference counts and a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and a $500,000 maximum fine for obstructing justice by making false statements to both local investigators and federal agents. A sentencing date hasn’t been scheduled.
The 28-year-old former “exalted cyclops” of the Ozark, Ala., chapter of the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was arrested by FBI agents on Nov. 25 in Mississippi, four days after the arrest of his mother, Pamela Morris. The 45-year-old woman, who authorities say is the former secretary of the Klan chapter in Ozark, faces trial in U.S. District Court in April.
Court documents say Dinkle and one of his KKK recruits, Thomas Windell Smith, whose age wasn’t provided by authorities, met at Dinkle’s home on May 8, 2009, and decided to burn a cross in a nearby African-American neighborhood.
Dinkle constructed a 6-foot wooden cross, wrapped with jeans and a towel to make it more flammable, before loading it into Smith’s truck, investigators said.
About 8 p.m., Dinkle and Smith drove to the nearby black community and unloaded the cross at a roadway entrance. After Dinkle dug a hole in the ground and poured fuel on the cross, he set it on fire in view of several houses before fleeing with Smith.
When questioned by local investigators, Dinkle lied about his involvement in the cross burning and falsely claimed he had resigned from the Klan months earlier, investigators said.
Later, when questioned by FBI agents, Dinkle again lied and told a special agent that he had been at home with his girlfriend at the time. He further claimed that he didn’t know one of his superiors in the KKK at the time.
In December, Smith pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate housing rights and is awaiting sentencing.
“By targeting the victims with a blazing cross in the night, one of the most threatening racial symbols in our nation’s history, the defendant attempted to terrorize a neighborhood because of the color of the residents’ skin,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Prosecuting these racially motivated crimes will continue to be a priority for the Department of Justice.”
George L. Beck, Jr., the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, said: “As a society we hope to never see this type of hate. We will continue to prosecute those that commit these horrible acts of hate to the fullest extent of the law.”