ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – A Texas man accused of being the former leader of a neo-Nazi terrorist group was arrested Wednesday on charges of making fake emergency calls targeting elected officials, minorities and journalists.
Prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia said Wednesday morning that John Cameron Denton, 26, of Montgomery, Texas, allegedly ran a local branch of the Atomwaffen Division, an international white supremacist group linked to arms dealing, murder and other crimes.
Denton’s conspiracy charges, however, are linked his alleged “swatting” – the practice of calling in fake bomb or active shooter threats with the hopes of SWAT teams taking extreme action against the targets of the scheme.
According to prosecutors, among those who were targeted by Denton and others were staff at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, in addition to an unnamed cabinet member and a majority-black Baptist church, both located outside Washington, D.C.
An affidavit from an FBI agent details an alleged conspiracy that dates back to 2018 and involves multiple co-conspirators from across the country.
It started with a private dark web chat channel that prosecutors say was maintained by John William Kirby Kelley. Kelley and Denton, along with other chat channel members, often planned, carried out and bragged about their crimes online, prosecutors say. Racial slurs were also used in the chat groups.
Court documents say the group participated in hundreds of swatting incidents in late 2018.
Denton, who used the handle “rape” and “tormentor” in the chat groups, allegedly identified targets for harassment.
The affidavit also details how the group would target people who had live-streaming cameras nearby so they could watch the chaos unfold in real time.
While a specific journalist isn’t named, charging documents say Denton expressed a hatred for stories about neo-Nazis published by the nonprofit investigative group ProPublica.
Virginia-based antiracism activist Goad Gatsby pointed to a November 2018 joint documentary produced by ProPublica and PBS Frontline that featured ProPublica journalist A.C. Thompson trying to interview Denton, who was identified in the video as “rape.”
ProPublica’s New York office was then allegedly targeted by Denton and others the following month. While the group successfully called in an active shooter threat and NYPD responded with about a dozen officers, authorities quickly found the threat not credible and limited their response, according to prosecutors.
The swatting scheme started to unravel last month, when Denton unknowingly agreed to meet with an FBI agent and discussed his history of swatting and involvement in previous plots.
In a statement sent to Courthouse News, a ProPublica spokesperson said the outlet is “grateful to all the law enforcement authorities who took this matter so seriously and have worked to bring those involved to justice.”
Gatsby, meanwhile, offered a warning.
“Just like with the Base, these men were arrested because of their incompetence,” the activist said in a text message, referencing a Pennsylvania group whose members were arrested after threatening violence at a pro-gun rally in Richmond earlier this year.
“[Denton] got caught because he bragged to undercover law enforcement about committing federal crimes,” Gatsby added. “God help us if neo-Nazi terrorist cells know what they are doing.”
Denton was arrested Wednesday morning in Montgomery, Texas, and will go before a federal judge in Houston later this afternoon.
Kelley was arrested in January on swatting charges and is currently in federal custody in Virginia.