A KKK Cross Burning and Eventual Justice

Greg Gordon

It was a real-life remake of Mississippi burning, except it was in the state next door.

Steven Dinkle, Exalted Cyclops of the knights of the Ku Klux Klan chapter in the town of Ozark, Ala., met with a recruit in Dinkle’s home on May 8, 2009 and they decided to burn a cross in an African-American neighborhood, according to federal court papers.

So Dinkle and recruit Thomas Smith built a six-foot high wooden cross, and then wrapped jeans and a towel around it to make it flammable, the Justice Department charged. They allegedly loaded it into Smith’s truck, planted it in the entrance to the black neighborhood and set it on fire in full view of several homes.

Five years after that act of terror reminiscent of the Jim Crowe era, Dinkle, 28, was sentenced on May 15th to 24 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release.

There’s a reason that it took so long to bring Dinkle to justice: The coverup sounded like it came out of the movies, too.

In pleading guilty on Feb. 3 to hate crime and obstruction of justice charges related to the cross burning, Dinkle admitted that he lied not only to local investigators, but also to the FBI in denying his role in the scheme.

During his plea hearing, he admitted that he intended to scare and intimidate residents by threatening the use of force against them. He also admitted that he burned the cross because African-Americans were occupying homes in the area.

“He intended to intimidate the community’s residents in their own homes and neighborhood,” said acting chief Jocelyn Samuels of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “There is no place for such conduct in our society and the department will continue to prosecute these violent acts of hate.”

George Beck Jr., U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Alabama, lamented that “in this day and age, people aree still filled with such hate.”

“Prosecuting these type crimes will continue to be a priority of my office.”

Smith pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate housing rights in December 2013 and is due for sentencing on Aug. 19.

But that’s not the end of it.

Dinkle’s mother, Pamela Morris, faces trial on Aug. 4 on two counts of perjury for allegedly lying about the events surrounding the cross burning.

By Greg Gordon
McClatchy Washington Bureau