May 4, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Ex-leader of neo-Nazi group sentenced to over 3 years for "swatting" attacks

A general view shows the Alfred Street Baptist Church where US President Barack Obama and family are attending Easter Service on March 27, 2016 in Alexandria, Virginia.

The Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

A former leader of the neo-Nazi Atomwaffen Division group was sentenced to 41 months in prison on Tuesday for his role in "swatting" attacks against "at least" 134 targets — including journalists, a historically Black church and a former Cabinet member.

Why it matters: John Cameron Denton, 27, of Montgomery, Texas, was involved in the swatting, calling emergency services to make bogus bomb reports and false reports of other acts of violence, from October 2018 to February 2019.

  • AWD calls for "acts of random violence in hopes of starting a race war" and has been connected with several killings since it was founded in 2015, according to the Washington Post.
  • Per a statement from Raj Parekh, acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Denton's conduct in the swatting caused "irreversible trauma to the victims of these hate-based crimes."

Details: The group "terrorized communities" across the U.S., swatting a "then-sitting U.S. Cabinet official living in northern Virginia;" the Old Dominion University; the Alfred Street Baptist Church, a historically Black church in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia; an Islamic Center in Arlington, Texas; ProPublica's New York City office and the home of a ProPublica journalist, according to the statement.

  • Members of the group called emergency dispatchers with "false claims of pipe bombs, hostage takings, or other violent activity occurring at the targeted locations" across the U.S., the Justice Department said.
  • Denton's lawyers argued at his sentencing in federal court in Alexandria that his actions shouldn't be considered a hate crime despite many targets being "chosen based on racial animus," AP notes.
  • They said the only target Denton picked was a ProPublica journalist who reported on his being an Atomwaffen Division leader and claimed he was "becoming disillusioned with Atomwaffen Division ideology" when he was arrested, both claims the prosecution rejected.

What they're saying: "The fear and anxiety you created in all these victims . . . will remain in their memory for far too long. All for you and this group to get your jollies off? It’s incomprehensible," U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady said at Denton's sentencing, per the WashPost.

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