ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Federal prosecutors in Virginia are seeking a five-year prison sentence for a former neo-Nazi group leader who pleaded guilty to conspiring with other far-right extremists to threaten dozens of targets, including a predominantly African American church, a sitting U.S. Cabinet member and journalists.
John Cameron Denton, of Montgomery, Texas, and others involved in the plot made at least 134 threats to injure people and institutions, often for racist reasons, Justice Department prosecutors wrote in a court filing last Wednesday. They said Denton participated in "the most far-reaching swatting conspiracy in our nation to date," referring to hoax calls made to fool emergency dispatchers into sending police to the addresses of unsuspecting victims.
U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady is scheduled to sentence Denton on Tuesday. Denton was 26 when he pleaded guilty in July 2020 to conspiring to transmit threats.
Prosecutors say Denton was a 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. Many have pleaded guilty and been sentenced already.
Atomwaffen has been linked to several killings, including the May 2017 shooting deaths of two men at an apartment in Tampa, Florida, and the January 2018 killing of a University of Pennsylvania student in California.
The charges against Denton and other Atomaffen members and associates centered on hoax “swatting” calls that they made to targets in 2018 and 2019, including the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and Old Dominion University in Norfolk, where one of Denton's associates attended college.
In court, a judge has 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. Prosecutors say Denton had a vendetta against the ProPublica journalist for reporting on his activities in Atomwaffen, including for a PBS Frontline documentary.
Prosecutors' filing says the reporter's young son has nightmares about neo-Nazis kidnapping his family and murdering his father, and the experience has prompted the Mexican American boy to ask, “Why do Nazis hate brown people like me?”
“It is simply heartbreaking that a young child is asking such questions and has been forced to flee his home with his parents because of fear of being violently attacked,” they wrote.
Denton admitted that he used the monikers “Rape” and “Tormentor” in an online forum that they used to coordinate the swatting calls.
"The conspirators also targeted individuals streaming live videos because the conspirators hoped to observe law enforcement responding to their calls," prosecutors wrote.
Another member of the swatting conspiracy, former ODU student John William Kirby Kelley, was sentenced in March to 33 months in prison for his role in making the swatting calls.
When Denton was arrested in February 2020, prosecutors in Seattle also announced charges against Denton’s roommate, Kaleb Cole, and others in a separate plot to harass journalists and Jewish activists in three states. Cole has pleaded not guilty and is due to face trial in September.
Prosecutors say they agree with the probation office's calculation that federal sentencing guidelines for Denton's case call for a prison term ranging from 51 to 60 months. The judge isn't bound by those recommendations.
“When Americans target other Americans based on race, religious beliefs, or other individual characteristics, we are all harmed,” prosecutors wrote. “Such actions, if left unpunished, signal an acceptance that such malevolent conduct is the norm and not the exception.”