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Teen charged in online SWATing ring feds link to neo-Nazis

The Justice Department has charged a former Virginia college student with calling in fake emergencies to prompt law enforcement responses, in coordination with a group the FBI labelled as sympathetic to neo-Nazi ideology. John William Kirby Kelley, 19, was charged last week with conspiracy to make threats. He's accused of being part of a network that "shared racist views" and had a "particular disdain for African Americans and Jewish people," targeting such individuals in so-called "SWATing" attacks coordinated in online chat rooms, according to an FBI affidavit unsealed Friday. 

 John William Kirby Kelley WTVR

SWATing is a practice in which fake emergencies are called in to authorities to draw a large law enforcement response. 

An investigation into Kelley began in November 2018, when Old Dominion University in Norfolk received a call that someone armed with an AR-15 had hidden pipe bombs on campus. Police received a call hours later from someone with a similar voice who said he had dialed accidentally. The threats drew a heavy police response and prompted school officials to cancel classes before the calls were determined to be a hoax, the Virginian-Pilot reported.

Police and FBI investigators compared the voices on both calls and investigators matched email accounts and phone numbers connecting the calls to Kelley, a student there, the documents said.

Kelley was expelled from Old Dominion about a year after the call was placed as he faced unrelated state drug charges.

The group Kelley is accused of being a part of is linked to hundreds of similar calls targeting sites across the U.S., United Kingdom and Canada, the documents allege. The group allegedly used dark web chat rooms to communicate about the SWATing incidents, posting live video and using racist language, the affidavit said. The group also maintained another dark web site called DoxBin to track personal information of potential SWATing targets, including government officials, executives and journalists, the affidavit said.  

Kelley, using the moniker "Carl," allegedly identified SWATing targets for the group and conducted research to determine the targets' physical location.

Authorities later linked the group to another November 2018 bomb threat, this time at the predominantly African American Alfred Street Baptist Church in Old Town Alexandria. The caller claimed he had planted three pipe bombs at the church and threatened to "blow it up," mentioned the word "shooting" and threatened to kill everyone there, the affidavit said. 

The church was evacuated by police during evening services and swept for explosives before the call was determined to be a hoax, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit also described an interview with an unnamed co-conspirator who allegedly admitted to calling in the church threat. The person allegedly said he chose the location because it was an African-American church and said that he and other group members "are white supremacists and are sympathetic to the neo-Nazi movement," according to the affidavit.

A forensic review of Kelley's iPhone uncovered photos of Kelley and others dressed in tactical gear and holding assault-style rifles, as well as photos of bumper stickers glorifying school shootings and recruiting material for white supremacist groups, the affidavit said. The Anti-Defamation League, which said its Center on Extremism partnered with law enforcement to review Kelley's online activity, said it uncovered multiple social media posts from accounts apparently linked to Kelley that espoused racist and anti-Semitic beliefs.

The affidavit lists 134 law enforcement agencies that allegedly received the hoax calls in a span of 33 days between November and December 2018.

During a court appearance Friday, Kelley's public defender didn't comment on the allegations, The Washington Post reported. The Virginian-Pilot reported he's being held in federal custody at a jail in Alexandria and is scheduled for a detention hearing Wednesday.

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