Two former Ku Klux Klansmen pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to burning two black churches last summer.
Gary C. Cox, 22, and Timothy A. Welch, 24, could get up to 55 years in prison. No sentencing date has been set.
Cox and Welch admitted burning the Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeleyville, S.C., and the century-old Macedonia Baptist Church in Bloomville, S.C., the next day.
The men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate civil rights and using fire in violation of civil rights. They also agreed to plead guilty to state charges of stabbing a black man. State arson charges will be dropped.
Both men admitted they were KKK members at the time of the fires. Their lawyers said Welch and Cox have since renounced their membership.
Macedonia Baptist, with the help of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., is suing the Christian Knights, charging that it had incited the pair to burn black churches.
The lawsuit accuses the Christian Knights of holding rallies near the churches shortly before the fires to inspire members to attack black churches and black people.
Welch and Cox attended those rallies at which KKK leaders told members that the churches “promote the interests of black persons to the detriment of white persons,” said agent Scott Etheridge of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.