After a night of drinking at the Sigma Phi Epsilon house, the three fraternity brothers at the University of Mississippi hatched a plan. They would put a rope around the neck of a statue depicting the school’s first African American student and drape it with an old version of the Georgia state flag, which contained the Confederate battle flag.
“It’s James Meredith,” one of the brothers said. “People will go crazy.”
The stir they caused might not have been quite what they were hoping for. On Thursday, one of the men pleaded guilty to a federal civil rights crime, admitting that he helped carry out the February 2014 scheme. Another had already admitted his involvement in the case and is now serving a six-month sentence in federal prison in North Carolina, records show.
“The Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that our universities and our workplaces are free from threats of racial violence,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, who heads the department’s Civil Rights Division, said in a statement. “We will hold accountable those who attempt to turn places of learning into places of intimidation and fear.”
A July 21 sentencing date was set for 21-year-old Austin Reed Edenfield, according to The Oxford Eagle. He pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of using a threat of force to intimidate African-American students and employees because of their race. The Kennesaw, Ga., man, who has since withdrawn from the University of Mississippi, admitted in an agreement with prosecutors that he agreed to help a fraternity brother, Graeme Harris, put the rope and flag on the James Meredith statue after a night of drinking at the Sigma Phi Epsilon house. Edenfield’s attorney did not immediately return a message seeking comment.
Sigma Phil Epsilon has since shuttered its University of Mississippi chapter, and Harris, also 21, pleaded guilty to the same charge in June and was sentenced to six months in prison. Court documents seem to suggest Harris took a more active role role in the incident, using racist language as he talked about his plan to create a stir on campus.
Edenfield and another person, who does not appear to have been charged, helped Harris execute the plan, and when Edenfield and Harris returned to the statue the next morning to see their handiwork in daylight, Harris raised a fist at a university maintenance worker and yelled “white power,” according to a statement of facts provided by prosecutors.
This post has been updated.