May 4 (UPI) -- A former leader of a neo-Nazi group was sentenced Tuesday to more than three years in prison for his role in a "swatting" scheme that targeted journalists who reported on his organization as well as a Virginia university, a historic African American church and others.
John Cameron Denton, 27, of Montgomery, Texas, was a leader of his state's Atomwaffen Division, which the Anti-Defamation League describes as a group whose members, some of who have been linked to murder cases and alleged plots to attack civilians, are preparing for a race war.
He was sentenced on Tuesday to 41 months imprisonment for his role in the conspiracy that conducted at least 134 swatting attacks across the United States between October 2018 to February 2019, the Justice Department said in a statement, which described swatting as a harassment tactic where the perpetrator convinces an emergency dispatcher to send police to a third party's address under the pretense that someone is in imminent danger of death or bodily harm.
Prosecutors said Denton along with other conspirators chose their swatting targets based on "racial animus."
"Denton's swatting activities were not harmless pranks; he carefully chose his targets to antagonize and harass religious and racial communities, journalists and others against whom he held a bias or grievance," said Timothy Thibault, acting special agent in charge of the FBI's Washington Field Office Criminal Division.
Denton, who went by the online aliases of Rape, Death and Tormentor, was arrested in February 2020 in connection to the conspiracy and pleaded guilty in July.
Court documents state that Denton chose at least two swatting targets: the New York City-office of the non-profit news organization ProPublica and a reporter because he was angry they published his identity and connection to Atomwaffen Division.
Prosecutors also said he participated in the swatting of a former cabinet official in Northern Virginia on Jan. 27, 2019; Old Dominion University on Nov. 29, 2018; and the Alfred Street Baptist Church on Nov. 3, 2018.
John William Kirby Kelley, a former university student, managed the chatroom where the swatting targets were discussed, and had asked conspirators to target Old Dominion University by calling in a bomb threat, which caused school officials to issue shelter-in-place orders amid a law enforcement search of the campus for the non-existent explosive device.
Kelley also pleaded guilty in July.
Prosecutors said Denton unknowingly met and told an undercover FBI special agent about his role in the swatting conspiracy, explaining how he used a voice changer when he called in the threats and that he swatted the news organization and its journalist.
He also told the agent that it would be good if he was "raided" by law enforcement over his actions as "it would be viewed as a top-tier crime," the charging document states.
"The reprehensible conduct in this case terrorized communities across our nation, as innocent Americans simply tried to attend school, practice their faith and exercise their first amendment rights," said Raj Parekh, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. "The defendants caused irreversible trauma to the victims of these hate-based crimes."
Denton's lawyer Andrew Stewart told The New York Times in a statement on Tuesday that their client takes full responsibility for his actions and is committed to change.
"He is deeply sorry to the victims of the two swatting calls that he suggested, their families and anyone else harmed by the conspiracy," Stewart said while describing Tuesday's sentence as "well-reasoned" by the court.