Marion Police, Smyth County Sheriff's Office investigate burning cross in Marion family’s yard

The area where a burning barrel containing what appeared to be a cross was located is taped off during a joint investigation between the Marion Police Department and the Smyth County Sheriff’s Office.

A Marion, Virginia, man faces federal charges after authorities said he lied to them about a burning cross found at a Black resident’s property.

James Brown, 40, was arrested Friday and charged with lying to federal agents about his involvement in the cross burning on the front lawn of a neighbor. He also has been charged with criminal interference with fair housing based upon the victim’s race, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

“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,” U.S. Attorney Thomas Cullen said Friday in a news release.

“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.”

Brown and the victim have the same last name but are not related, according to the Marion police chief. They reside across the street from each other, court documents show.

According to court documents, on June 14, just before 1 a.m., the Marion Police Department received a report of a burning cross in the front yard of a Black family, one of whom had organized a civil rights protest the day before. In the following days, working with the FBI, investigators learned of the involvement of Brown, the release states.

Authorities said video evidence from a neighbor’s home shows a fire erupting into a large fireball that burned for several seconds, which was indicative of the use of a propellant. No vehicles were seen traveling to or from the area, a complaint states.

One witness told authorities that they saw the fire in front of the home, according to the complaint, written by FBI Agent Chad Potter. The witness walked toward the fire and saw a “white, skinny man” walking away from the victim’s home on Pearl Avenue. The person was seen walking across the street to a peach-colored home, which is the residence of Brown, the complaint states. In addition, Potter said Brown matches the description of the “white, skinny man.”

Another witness said Brown laughed about the burning when asked about it and added an expletive. Brown also told the witness, “Hey, have you burnt any crosses lately?” the complaint states. A third witness heard a bang and saw Brown, who said, “I did it,” the complaint adds.

When asked by the FBI if he had anything to do with the cross burning, Brown said, “no,” the complaint states.

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