White couple accused of stalking and yelling racial slurs at Black neighbours

Worden Butler, 28, and Alexis Hartnett, 27, under federal civil rights probe after allegedly burning cross in their backyard at Thanksgiving

Bevan Hurley
Thursday 21 December 2023 18:26 GMT
FBI Searches Home of Couple Accused of Burning Cross in SC

FBI agents raided the home of a white South Carolina couple accused of terrorising their Black neighbours by hurling racist abuse and burning a cross in their backyard at Thanksgiving.

Worden Butler, 28, and Alexis Hartnett, 27, were arrested on 30 November and charged with second-degree harassment for allegedly stalking the neighbours with “racially motivated words and actions,” in Conway, Horry County.

According to a police report, the couple erected a cross and set it alight on 24 November, and Ms Harett allegedly directed a racist slur at a neighbour while being interviewed by police.

Mr Butler also allegedly shared a picture of the victims' mailbox showing their address on Facebook, and wrote he was “summoning the devil's army and I don't care if they and I both go down in the same boat,” according to the Horry County Police Department.

Worden Butler, 28, and Alexis Hartnett, 27, allegedly ‘harassed and stalked the victims with racially motivated words and actions’ (Horry County Sheriff’s Office)

On Wednesday, federal civil rights investigators searched the couple's home in Corbett Drive, around 10 miles west of Myrtle Beach.

“This action is related to an ongoing criminal civil rights investigation involving allegations of racial discrimination,” FBI special agent Steve Jensen said in a statement.

“We are working jointly with the US Attorney's Office, as well as our local and state partners, to thoroughly examine this matter, and we're dedicated to ensuring equality and fairness within our communities,” he said.

Ms Barnett has also been charged with third-degree assault and battery. The couple have been released from custody.

Shawn and Monica Williams, the neighbours, told WMBF-TV their lives had become a “living nightmare” since moving to the area to retire two years ago.

Ms Williams told the news site that the alleged stalkers had chased away surveyors and officials from the water and sewer department before allegedly lighting the cross last month.

“So now, what are we to do? Still live next to a cross-burning racist who’s threatened to cause us bodily harm?” Ms Williams said.

Horry County Police Department Chief Joseph Hill called the couple’s actions “appalling 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 have caused the victims and the greater Horry County community,” Mr Hill said in a statement last week.

Since the couple’s arrest, the NAACP has called for a new hate crime 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 decision written by the late Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, according to the Associated Press.

The justices ruled that the First Amendment allows bans on cross burnings only when they are intended to intimidate because the action “is a particularly virulent form of intimidation.”

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