A white Indiana man enraged by a black neighbor burned a cross next to the man’s fence and displayed a swastika toward his home, federal prosecutors allege.
Shepherd T. Hoehn, 50, of Lawrence, was angered by the removal of a tree on the man’s property on June 18, prompting him to take “several steps to intimidate” his neighbor and disrupt a construction crew, the US Justice Department announced Thursday.
Hoehn, who is white, proceeded to burn a cross above the fence line facing his neighbor’s home and put up a swastika on the outside of his fence, federal prosecutors said.
Hoehn was also accused of displaying a machete near a sign with anti-black racial slurs, throwing eggs at his neighbor’s home and repeatedly blaring the song “Dixie” as part of his threatening campaign of intimidation.
Hoehn later confessed to the allegations during interviews with investigators but insisted he was not racist, according to charging documents obtained by the Indianapolis Star.
Hoehn said he knew the racial connotations of his actions and hoped they would elicit an emotional response from his neighbor, charging documents show.
When asked why he loudly played “Dixie” — an 1859 song considered the unofficial anthem of the Confederacy during the Civil War — Hoehn told police he did so because his neighbor is a black man.
“And I wanted them to be pissed off because they think I’m a racist and I’m doing something stupid and ignorant,” Hoehn said.
Hoehn was also upset about Black Lives Matter protests and ongoing efforts to remove Confederate monuments across the country, court records show.
“Although the First Amendment protects hateful, ignorant and morally repugnant beliefs and speech, it does not protect those who choose to take criminal actions based on those beliefs,” US Attorney Josh Minkler said in a statement. “This office will continue to prosecute federal hate crimes to the fullest extent of the law.”
Hoehn, who was charged with a hate crime, was also charged with two counts of illegally possessing firearms. As a fugitive from a case in Missouri, Hoehn was barred from possessing firearms, federal prosecutors said.
If convicted, Hoehn faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each offense.