A 51-year-old Ku Klux Klansman - described by his lawyer as “a follower, not a leader” - followed his Klan leader into federal prison Monday.
Hubert “Herbert” Rowell was sentenced to a 15-year term for conspiring to burn a rural black church and a migrant labor camp near Bloomville, S.C., about 80 miles north of Charleston. His Klan leader, Arthur A. Haley, entered a federal prison Aug. 1 under a 21-year sentence on similar charges. Both had pleaded guilty.
“I don’t believe you’re a racist,” Federal Judge David Norton told Rowell at his sentencing in Charleston. “But I believe you were led to do a racist act.”
Rowell and Haley admitted conspiring in the 1995 arson cases at the century-old Macedonia Baptist Church and at a migrant labor camp, both in Clarendon County. Defense attorney Frank Cornley told the judge that Rowell has a learning disability and has never learned to read and write. “Herbert has been for his entire life what most people would call a follower, not a leader,” Cornley said.
Prosecutors said Haley provided flammable liquids for the fires and Rowell mixed them and told two other Klansmen - Gary Christopher Cox and Timothy Adron Welch - how to use them. Cox and Welch, charged with actually setting the fires, also have pleaded guilty. Cox was sentenced to 19 years in federal prison and Welch to 18 years.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Hendricks said the sentence “should send a clear message to any cowards out there” who would terrorize other people. But Hendricks said Rowell gave substantial help to federal agents and prosecutors and appears to be “genuinely remorseful.”
FBI and Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents have launched 429 church-arson investigations nationwide since the beginning of 1995.