Tuesday, July 14, 2020 3:11 PM EST
By MATTHEW BARAKAT, AP
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — A founder and former leader of a neo-Nazi group has pleaded guilty to conspiring to place hoax phone calls targeting an African American church, a Cabinet official, journalists and others.
John C. Denton, 26, of Montgomery, Texas, faces up to five years in prison after entering a guilty plea Tuesday in federal court in Alexandria to conspiring to transmit threats.
Prosecutors say Denton was leader of a group called Atomwaffen Division. More than a dozen people linked to Atomwaffen Division or an offshoot called Feuerkrieg Division have been charged with federal crimes since the group’s formation in 2016.
Denton and his conspirators' targets in 2018 and 2019 included the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and Old Dominion University in Norfolk, where one of the members of the swatting conspiracy attended college.
In court, the judge noted that the U.S. Secret Service waved local police away from mobilizing to Nielsen's home in Alexandria in January 2019 after a member of the conspiracy called, claiming hostages were being taken there.
Denton also placed swatting calls to the New York City offices of news outlet ProPublica, and to a ProPublica reporter in Richmond, California. ProPublica articles had identified Denton as an Atomwaffen leader.
Denton admitted that he used the online moniker “Rape" in online discussions on a forum called Graveyard to discuss possible swatting targets, and that some of the targets were chosen on the basis of racial animus.
Denton told an undercover officer he used a voice changer when he made the ProPublica calls, and that it would be good if he was targeted in the swatting investigation because it would be viewed as a top-tier crime and benefit Atomwaffen's reputation, prosecutors said.
His lawyer declined comment after Tuesday's hearing.
“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. “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."
Another member of the swatting conspiracy, former ODU student John William Kirby Kelley, is scheduled to enter a plea next week.
When Denton was arrested in February, prosecutors in Seattle also announced charges against Denton's roommate, Kaleb Cole, and others in a separate conspiracy. Prosecutors accused members of Kole's conspiracy with cyberstalking and sending Swastika-laden posters to journalists and an employee of the Anti-Defamation League, telling them, “You have been visited by your local Nazis,” “Your Actions have Consequences,” and, “We are Watching.”
Cole remains jailed awaiting trial.