Steven Joshua Dinkle, 28, former Exalted Cyclops of the Ozark, Ala., chapter of the International Keystone Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), pleaded guilty in federal court today to hate crime and obstruction of justice charges for his role in a 2009 cross burning, the Justice Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Alabama announced.
According to documents filed with the court, Dinkle and one of his KKK recruits, Thomas Windell Smith, met at Dinkle’s home on May 8, 2009, and decided to burn a cross in a local African-American neighborhood.
Dinkle constructed a wooden cross about six feet tall, wrapped jeans and a towel around it to make it more flammable and loaded it into Smith’s truck. Around 8:00 p.m., Dinkle and Smith drove to an African-American neighborhood in Ozark. Dinkle unloaded the cross at the entrance to the community and dug a hole in the ground, then poured fuel on the cross, stood it up in the hole in view of several houses and set it on fire. Dinkle and Smith then drove away.
When questioned by local investigators, Dinkle falsely denied his involvement in the incident and stated that he had resigned his office and withdrawn from the KKK months before the cross burning. When approached by the FBI, Dinkle again lied and told a special agent that he had been at home with his girlfriend when the cross burning occurred. He further claimed that he did not know one of his superiors in the KKK at the time of the cross burning. During the plea hearing, Dinkle admitted that in burning the cross, he intended to scare and intimidate residents of the African-American community by threatening the use of force against them. He further admitted that he burned the cross because of the victims’ race and color and because they were occupying homes in that area.
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.
Dinkle faces a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 maximum fine on the conspiracy and criminal interference counts and a statutory 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. Sentencing for Dinkle has not yet been scheduled.
Dinkle’s co-conspirator, Smith, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to violate housing rights in December 2013. He is scheduled to be sentenced on March 11, 2014.
“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 for the Civil Rights Division. “Prosecuting these racially motivated crimes will continue to be a priority for the Department of Justice.”
“ As a society we hope to never see this type of hate,” said U.S. Attorney George L. Beck Jr. for the Middle District of Alabama. “We will continue to prosecute those that commit these horrible acts of hate to the fullest extent of the law.”
This case was investigated by the FBI, with the assistance of the Dale County Sheriff’s Office and the Ozark Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jerusha T. Adams of the Middle District of Alabama and Trial Attorney Chiraag Bains of the Civil Rights Division.