Swastika-Branding Case First To Be Charged Under New Hate Crimes Law

Prosecutors in Farmington, NM have said that after three men finished their shifts working at a local McDonald’s this past April, they “shaped a coat hanger into a swastika, placed it on a heated stove and branded the symbol on the arm of the mentally disabled Navajo man.” They also allegedly “shaved a swastika on the back of the 22-year-old victim’s head and used markers to scrawl messages and images on his body, including ‘KKK,’ ‘White Power,’ a pentagram and a graphic image of a penis.” The AP reports that the three men have become the first in the nation to be charged under the new hate crimes law President Obama signed last year. While the new law expanded the federal definition of violent hate crimes to include those committed because of a person’s sexual orientation, it also made it easier to charge attacks similar to the one that occurred in Farmington as hate crimes:

The defendants are accused of violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and could face 10 years in prison if convicted. The sentences could be extended to life if the government proves kidnapping occurred. […]

Federal prosecutors say they were able to bring the case because the 2009 law eliminated a requirement that a victim must be engaged in a federally protected activity, such as voting or attending school, for hate crime charges to be leveled.

The defendants have pleaded not guilty.