Christopher Beckham, 35, of Nashville, Tennessee, pleaded guilty Friday in U.S. District Court to violating the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Beckham was indicted in April 2018 after an investigation into an incident that occurred on Oct. 24, 2017.
“The defendant confronted two young girls who were walking home from school and violently attacked their father because of how they worship,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Pamela S. Karlan for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “An attack upon the free exercise of any person’s religious beliefs is an attack on that person’s civil rights. The Department of Justice will continue to vigorously prosecute such violent acts motivated by hate.”
“The cowardly and unprovoked attack and display of hate-filled aggression by this defendant toward two innocent young girls and their father is despicable,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Mary Jane Stewart of the Middle District of Tennessee. “I commend the work of the FBI and our prosecutors in bringing this individual to justice.”
“Hate crimes are the highest priority of the FBI’s Civil Rights program due to the devastating impact they have on families and communities,” said Special Agent in Charge Douglas M. Korneski of the FBI Memphis Field Office. “The FBI is committed to protecting the civil rights of all people, and we will aggressively pursue those who commit criminal offenses based on bias.”
Beckham admitted that on Oct. 24, 2017, he saw two teenage girls wearing hijabs and yelled, “Allahu Akbar!” and “Go back to your country!” When the girls’ father arrived to pick up his daughters from the school bus stop to take them home, Beckham attacked the girls’ father by swinging a knife and punching at him. This attack injured the father. When the girls’ mother arrived on the scene with her young child in her car, Beckham, with his knife still drawn, chased after them. After the police took Beckham into custody at the scene, he called the family “terrorists,” made other derogatory comments about the family, and pledged to kill them when the police released him. Beckham further admitted that he carried out this assault because of the actual and perceived religion and national origin of the victims, namely that he perceived them to be Muslim and of a nationality other than American.
In September 2019, this case was tried by a jury in U.S. District Court. The trial ended in a hung jury.
Beckham will be sentenced on Oct. 7, 2021.