FBI agents raided the home of a white South Carolina couple accused of terrorizing their black neighbors by hurling racial slurs and burning a cross in their backyard on Thanksgiving.
Worden Butler, 28, and Alexis Hartnett, 27, were arrested Nov. 30 and charged with second-degree harassment for allegedly harassing neighbors with “racially motivated words and actions” in Conway, Horry County.
According to a police report, the couple erected a cross and lit it on November 24, and Ms Harrett allegedly directed a racial slur at a neighbor while being interviewed by police.
Mr Butler also allegedly shared a photo of the victims' letterbox showing their address on Facebook and wrote that he was “calling the devil's army and I don't care if we both end up in the same boat”, according to Horry. District Police Station.
On Wednesday, federal civil rights investigators searched the couple's home on Corbett Drive, about 10 miles west of Myrtle Beach.
“This action is related to an ongoing civil rights criminal investigation involving allegations of racial discrimination,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Steve Jensen.
“We are working together with the U.S. Attorney's Office, as well as our local and state partners, to thoroughly investigate this matter and are committed to ensuring equity and justice in our communities,” he said.
Ms. Barnett has also been charged with third-degree assault and battery. The pair were released from custody.
Shawn and Monica Williams, the neighbors, told WMBF-TV that their lives had become a “living nightmare” since they moved to the area to retire two years ago.
Ms Williams told the news website that the alleged stalkers had chased away inspectors and officials from the water and sanitation department before they allegedly set fire to the cross last month.
“So now, what do we do? Do you still live next door to a racist who has threatened to do us bodily harm?' said Mrs. Williams.
Horry County Sheriff Joseph Hill called the couple's actions “abhorrent and unacceptable.”
“Such hate and harassment will not be tolerated in Horry County. The individuals responsible will be held accountable for their actions and the hurt they caused the victims and the greater Horry County community,” Hill said in a statement last week.
Since the couple's arrest, the NAACP has called for a new hate crimes bill in South Carolina.
Cross burnings are considered “symbols of hate” that “are inextricably intertwined with the history of the Ku Klux Klan,” according to a 2003 Supreme Court ruling written by the late Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, according to the Associated Press.
The justices ruled that the First Amendment permits cross-burning bans only when they are intended to intimidate, because the act “is a particularly aggressive form of intimidation.”