Washington — Federal authorities have charged the former leader of a white supremacist group for his alleged involvement in "swatting" calls targeting victims in Virginia, including an unnamed member of President Trump's Cabinet and an investigative journalist.
John Cameron Denton, 26, was arrested in Texas and will appear in federal court later on Wednesday. In a criminal complaint, federal prosecutors from the Eastern District of Virginia accused him of conspiring with another alleged member of the group, John William Kirby Kelley, and others to target numerous victims. Kelley was and charged with making 134 fake calls to law enforcement.
Prosecutors said both men are members the Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group that grew out of a white supremacist forum in 2016, according to the Anti-Defamation League, or ADL. Atomwaffen is German for "atomic weapons," and the ADL says its members have been linked to several murders over the past few years.
The criminal complaint alleges Denton was the leader of the Atomwaffen Division in Texas and participated in a chat room run by Kelley for planning swatting calls under the monikers "Rape" and "Tormentor." Swatting involves calling in fake emergencies to authorities with the goal of provoking a large law enforcement response.
Prosecutors said Denton, Kelley and several unnamed co-conspirators targeted victims between November 2018 and April 2019, including a Cabinet official living in northern Virginia, Old Dominion University and Alfred Street Baptist Church, an African American church in Alexandria.
The identity of the Cabinet official was not immediately clear. The complaint said the official was under Secret Service protection at the time of the swatting in January 2019.
Denton separately swatted the New York office of ProPublica, the nonprofit investigative journalism outlet, as well as one of its reporters, known in court papers as "the Victim." Jonathan Lund, an FBI special agent, wrote in his affidavit that Denton "was furious with ProPublica and the Victim because they published his true identity and discussed his role in Atomwaffen," an apparent reference to a story ProPublica published in 2018.
As retaliation, Denton allegedly tracked down the journalist and called the police pretending to be the reporter, telling law enforcement that he had shot his wife with a M16 rifle and would "shoot any officers that approached the residence, and then himself." When police arrived they found the journalist, his wife, his son and another relative in the house, who were "shaken" by what happened, according to the affidavit. The reporter informed the responding officers that he had been receiving threats due to his work covering white supremacists.
After Kelley's arrest in January, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia G. Zachary Terwilligerthat swatting creates incredibly dangerous situations for the victims.
"You have individuals showing up in a fast-paced manner, thinking they're showing up at the next potential mass shooter event. Imagine the chaos, cost and diversion of resources that that causes," Terwilliger said.
Denton is charged with conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, interstate threats to injure, the U.S. Attorney's Office said. The charge carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison. It was not immediately clear whether he has an attorney.