A former Virginia college student has reached a plea agreement with federal prosecutors to resolve a charge that he coordinated with neo-Nazi group members to harass and endanger their targets by calling in bogus police emergencies.
John William Kirby Kelley, 19, has signed a plea agreement and has a plea hearing set for May 8, prosecutors said in a court filing Saturday. The filing doesn’t specify any terms of the deal.
Kelley was arrested in January on a charge of conspiring to make threats to injure. He hasn’t been indicted in connection with the alleged plot to make and videotape dozens of “swatting” calls to police to instigate an aggressive response by officers.
Prosecutors in a court filing called it “one of the most far-reaching and prolific swatting conspiracies known to law enforcement.” The swatting calls included a November 2018 bomb threat against a predominantly African American church in Alexandria, Virginia, according to an FBI agent’s affidavit. In response to another swatting call last November against a vape shop, law enforcement in New Hope, Pennsylvania, issued a “shelter in place” order for the small town.
Kelley and others involved in the alleged scheme were affiliated with or expressed sympathy for Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group linked to a string of recent arrests, according to the agent’s affidavit.
Kelley, who was a student at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, suggested the school as a potential swatting target, the affidavit said. Campus police confronted Kelley last November after he allegedly called in a threat that he was armed with a rifle and had placed pipe bombs in university buildings.
The university expelled Kelley after his arrest on state drug charges.
Other Atomwaffen Division members have been arrested on separate but related charges in Virginia and Seattle that they used an internet chat channel to coordinate at least 134 swatting calls across the country.
“The conspirators targeted people for different reasons,” prosecutors wrote. “For instance, some conspirators proposed swatting individuals who were live streaming their activities. These targets were chosen because conspirators wanted to watch the law enforcement response to the threatening phone calls.”
John Cameron Denton, a 26-year-old former group leader from Montgomery, Texas, was arrested in February. Denton is accused of participating in swatting calls against the New York offices of ProPublica, an online investigative news outlet, and a ProPublica journalist. Denton was angry at ProPublica and the journalist for exposing his role as an Atomwaffen leader, authorities said.
The group’s swatting targets also allegedly included an unidentified Cabinet official living in northern Virginia. Court records do not identify the Cabinet official, but public records show that then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was a victim of a swatting incident at her home in Alexandria in January 2019, when the alleged swatting conspiracy was active.
Associated Press reporter Matthew Barakat in Falls, Church, Virginia contributed to this story.