A former leader of a Neo-Nazi organization has pled guilty to conspiring to place hoax telephone calls targeting an African-American church in Virginia and others, including a former Trump administration official.
John C. Denton, a 26-year-old of Montgomery, Texas, faces as many as five years in prison after he entered a guilty plea Tuesday in federal court in Alexandria to conspiring to transmit threats, according to the Associated Press.
These included transmitting threats in 2018-2019 to Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, a historic African-American congregation, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and Old Dominion University in Norfolk.
Denton, who was a leader of a group known as the Atomwaffen Division, engaged in a practice known as “swatting,” which involved calling law enforcement to certain places falsely claiming that emergencies are occurring.
“Swatting is a dangerous act with potentially tragic consequences,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, whose office prosecuted the case, in a statement quoted by the AP.
“Sending law enforcement and emergency responders rushing to an individual’s home, business, or place of worship, in an effort to target individuals because of their race or religious affiliation or simply to create chaos shows both criminal behavior and a complete disregard for public safety.”
Denton was arrested in February for his actions. Kaleb Cole, a co-conspirator, remains in jail awaiting trial and former ODU student John William Kirby Kelley, another co-conspirator, is scheduled to enter a plea next week.
According to a Department of Justice statement from late February, Denton also targeted individuals connected to the news publication ProPublica.
"Denton allegedly stated that he used a voice changer when he made swatting calls, and allegedly admitted that he swatted the offices of ProPublica and the investigative journalist," stated the DOJ at the time.
"He also allegedly stated that it would be good if he was 'raided' for the swatting because it would be viewed as a top tier crime, and he felt that his arrest could benefit Atomwaffen Division."
Last November, a white teenager girl was arrested after she threatened to violently attack Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church of Hall County in Georgia, a predominantly African-American congregation.
Gainesville Police Chief Jay Parrish explained in a statement at the time that he believed the planned attack was racially motivated.
Our investigation indicated the church was targeted by the juvenile based on the racial demographic of the church members,” stated Parrish last year.
“The church was immediately notified of the incident by Gainesville police to ensure the safety of our community and the current threat was under control.”
Last month, a man named John Malcolm Bareswill was arrested and charged with threatening to burn down a historically African-American church after one of its pastors attended a vigil for George Floyd.
According to authorities, 63-year-old Bareswill allegedly placed an anonymous phone call threatening the Virginia Beach-based Baptist congregation on June 7.