Almost five years ago, a former KKK leader in Alabama and another person allegedly erected a cross and burned it in a predominately black neighborhood. Now that leader and his mother have been arrested and charged with perjury and obstruction of justice in the case.
Steven Joshua Dinkle, former Exalted Cyclops of a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in Ozark, Ala., was arrested on Wednesday, Nov. 27, in Mississippi for burning a cross at the entrance to a predominantly African-American neighborhood and for obstructing the investigation into the offense. Pamela Morris, Dinkle’s mother and the former secretary of the KKK chapter, was arrested on Nov. 21, 2013, for committing perjury before the grand jury investigating the cross burning.
Dinkle, 28, was charged in a five-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Middle District of Alabama that was unsealed on Nov. 27. The indictment charges him with one count of conspiracy to violate housing rights, one count of criminal interference with the right to fair housing, one count of using fire to commit a federal felony and two counts of obstruction of justice.
The indictment alleges that on May 8, 2009, Dinkle conspired with another person to burn a cross in an African-American neighborhood to threaten and intimidate residents of that neighborhood and thereby interfere with their federally protected housing rights. Dinkle allegedly constructed a six-foot cross, wrapping jeans and a towel around it. He and his co-conspirator drove the cross to an African-American community near Johntown Road in Ozark where Dinkle poured fuel on the cross, erected it in the ground and set it on fire. The indictment further contends that Dinkle obstructed justice by lying to local investigators in 2009, and federal investigators in 2012. Dinkle claimed he had withdrawn from the KKK months before the cross burning, provided a false alibi and denied knowing a person who was, in fact, his superior in the KKK.
The grand jury returned a separate indictment against Morris, 45, charging her with two counts of perjury. The indictment alleges that Morris made multiple false statements to the grand jury investigating the cross burning when she denied her own involvement in the KKK and knowing that Dinkle was also involved.
If convicted, Dinkle could face a maximum statutory sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine on the conspiracy and criminal-interference counts; sentence maximum of 10 years in prison for the use-of-fire; a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for obstructing justice by making false statements to local investigators; and a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for making false statements to the FBI.
It will be interesting if they can make the charge of violating housing rights stick. In 1992, the Supreme Court ruled in R.A.V. v St. Paul that burning a cross cannot be punished in and of itself because it is protected expression. You can be punished for trespassing, for violating fire codes, for endangering lives, etc, but not for the act itself. And in this case, even if they can’t make the burning of the cross itself stick, they should be able to make the other charges stick.
And seriously, how can you take someone seriously who refers to himself as the “Exalted Cyclops”?