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A former leader of an extremist group was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on Tuesday for his role in a “swatting” scheme whose targets included journalists, a sitting secretary and a predominantly black church, the officials said. federal prosecutors.

John Cameron Denton, 27, of Montgomery, Texas, who the Justice Department identified as a former head of the Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi paramilitary group, was sentenced to 41 months in prison for his role in a crushing conspiracy in which he and others brought false allegations of “homemade bombs, hostage-taking or other violent activities” to authorities in the hope of attracting a forceful police response at the front door of the city. ‘an involuntary third party.

Their efforts led to attacks on 134 sites across the country from October 2018 to February 2019, according to the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Prosecutors said Mr. Denton and many of his co-conspirators “chose targets because they were motivated by racial animosity.”

“The defendants have caused irreversible trauma to the victims of these heinous crimes,” Raj Parekh, acting US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement. “This case sends an unmistakable message that those who target individuals because of their race, religion or any other form of bias will be identified, apprehended and brought to justice.”

In February 2020, charges were first laid against Mr Denton and other associates in the Atomwaffen division, accused of intimidating and harassing journalists and activists.

After his arrest, Mr Denton signed a plea agreement in July, pleading guilty to making interstate threats to injure.

Authorities say Mr Denton’s co-conspirators included two foreign nationals and another man, John William Kirby Kelley, sentenced in March to more than two years in prison.

In an affidavit with the criminal complaint against Mr. Denton, authorities detailed multiple crush attacks on places such as Alfred Street Baptist Church, a predominantly black church in Virginia; Old Dominion University, which Mr. Kelley attended; and the ProPublica New York office as well as the home of a ProPublica reporter – two targets that Mr. Denton personally identified as being crushed.

The affidavit did not identify the “US cabinet official” who was targeted in one of the massive attacks, but last year a person with knowledge of the investigation who was not authorized to speak publicly said Kirstjen Nielsen, homeland security secretary during the Trump administration, was the cabinet official targeted by Atomwaffen.

On Tuesday, Andrew Stewart, a lawyer representing Denton, said in a statement that his client had “full responsibility for his actions and their consequences.”

“He has embarked on a process of real change and the well-reasoned sentence in court today is the next step,” said Mr. Stewart. “He is deeply sorry for the victims of the two phone calls he suggested, their families and anyone else aggrieved by the plot.”

According to the affidavit, Mr. Denton unknowingly met an undercover FBI agent in January 2020 at his home, where he admitted to using a voice changer to make overwhelming calls and targeting reporters who reported him. had reported and its affiliation with the Atomwaffen Division.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that monitors hate groups, the group is known for its neo-Nazi and “accelerationist” beliefs, which means it seeks a collapse of society to make way for an exclusively ethnic state. White. In July 2020, the group announced that it had reorganized as a National Socialist Order.

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