A member of a white supremacist group accused of targeting journalists, activists and politicians for harassment and threats of violence admitted to his involvement in federal court in Alexandria, Va., Tuesday, and investigators found that the whole thing may have started with a white student trying to get out of going to class.
The Washington Post reports that 19-year-old John William Kirby Kelley, who was arrested in January, said in court that he is part of the group Atomwaffen Division and that they have engaged in a form of harassment called “swatting”—calling in false threats to law enforcement so that police respond with force.
In February, The Root reported that James Cameron Denton, the man identified as the leader of Atomwaffen Division—which the American Defamation League said has been linked to several killings—was arrested in connection with Kelley and charged with making over 134 fake phone calls to law enforcement. Denton was charged with conspiracy to intimidate along with four other members of the group. He pleaded guilty to those charges last week, the Post reports.
The group reportedly targeted mainly Black and Hispanic communities as well as activists and journalists who have reported on the far right. Their targets included an unnamed member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet, an investigative journalist for ProPublica and Alfred Street Baptist Church, a predominantly black church in Alexandria.
From the Post:
Both Kelley and Denton could face up to five years in prison for conspiracy to make interstate threats. Both have agreed to pay restitution to the police departments involved. Both admitted that they had used racial slurs, and Kelley acknowledged that he was aware of his co-conspirators’ involvement in neo-Nazism.
Kelley will be sentenced Nov. 24.
In late 2018, Kelley suggested that the group take aim at Old Dominion University, where he was a student.
“I don’t want to go to class on Wed,” he said in a group chat.
The call came from a blocked number, claiming an armed man had placed multiple pipe bombs on campus, according to court records. An apparently accidental call then came to campus police from the number listed under Kelley’s name in the school directory, a move that led police to focus on him after the report was determined to be false.
The same Google Voice number used to target ODU was used in swatting calls that brought police to a historically black church in Alexandria; the home of then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen in the same city; and the New York office of ProPublica, which had reported on Denton and Atomwaffen.
According to court records viewed by the Post, Kelly was interviewed by ODU campus police and Denton worried he would be arrested—which he was, but not for swatting. Around the time the Secret Service began investigating the threat called in at Nielsen’s home, Kelly had been arrested on drug charges and kicked off of ODU campus. He wasn’t arrested for his swatting involvement until January.
On Tuesday, Kelly admitted to being an admin for a website called Doxbin, which U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady described as a repository of information on potential swatting targets that mainly includes “government officials, journalists, executives, and celebrities.”
It’s worth mentioning that Atomwaffen is much more than a group of idiots running around calling in fake threats. It’s a multi-national white supremacist group that was founded in the U.S. but has expanded into the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and Estonia. In March, the State Department was looking to have the group designated as a foreign terrorist organization, which would have made it the first white supremacist group in U.S. history to be classified as such. (That never actually happened with Atomwaffen, but the Russian Imperial Movement did become the first neo-Nazi group classified as foreign terrorists by the State Department on April 6.)
Court records state that Atomwaffen—which is the German phrase for “atomic weapons,” according to he American Defamation League—holds “hate camps” abroad where they “practice for combat,” the Post reports.