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‘Violent extremists’ targeting journalists, activists charged in Seattle court

(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

SEATTLE — Leaders of a neo-Nazi group have been arrested and charged in a pair of federal investigations with conspiring to harass journalists, churches and a former Cabinet official, among others, with phony bomb threats and other forms of intimidation.

John C. Denton, 26, of Montgomery, Texas, a former leader of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division, was arrested Wednesday and charged with a series of phony bomb threats made in Virginia and across multiple countries. Denton faced an initial appearance Wednesday afternoon in federal court in Houston.

In Seattle, prosecutors announced charges against a group of alleged Atomwaffen members for cyber-stalking and mailing threatening communications in a campaign against journalists with Swastika-laden posters telling them “You have been visited by your local Nazis.”

“These defendants sought to spread fear and terror with threats delivered to the doorstep of those who are critical of their activities,” said U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran for the Western District of Washington.  “As Attorney General William Barr has made clear, rooting out anti-Semitic hate and threats of violence and vigorously prosecuting those responsible are top priorities for the Department of Justice.”

The Seattle case charges four alleged Atomwaffen Division members for their roles in a plot they dubbed Operation Erste Saule.

Authorities say in court papers that journalists and an employee of the Anti-Defamation league received posters in the mail with warnings “Your Actions have Consequences” and “We are Watching.”

The four charged in Seattle are:

  • Cameron Brandon Shea, 24, of Redmond, Washington
  • Kaleb Cole, 24, of Montgomery, Texas
  • Taylor Ashley Parker-Dipeppe, 20, of Spring Hill, Florida
  • Johnny Roman Garza, 20, of Queen Creek, Arizona

“Today’s announcement serves as a warning to anyone who intends to use violence as intimidation or coercion to further their ideology that the FBI remains steadfast in our commitment to protect Americans from domestic terrorism,” said Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Jill Sanborn.

Prosecutors in Alexandria say the targets of the bogus bomb threats included a predominantly African American church in Alexandria, an unidentified Cabinet official living in northern Virginia, and Old Dominion University in Norfolk.

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.

Denton has been identified as a former leader of a group called Atomwaffen Division, which has been linked to multiple killings. Authorities say the group is seeking to incite a race war.

He is one of several alleged Atomwaffen Division members to face federal charges in recent months and is the second person charged in Alexandria in relation to the swatting calls in Virginia.

According to an affidavit unsealed Wednesday, Denton specifically chose two targets in the swatting scheme: the New York offices of ProPublica, an online investigative news outlet, and a ProPublica journalist. The affidavit states Denton was angry at ProPublica and the journalist for exposing his role as an Atomwaffen leader.

Denton admitted to an undercover FBI agent that he participated in the swatting calls to ProPublica and the ProPublica journalist, and used a voice changer when he made calls, according to the affidavit.

In the swatting call targeting the ProPublica journalist, a conspirator pretending to be the reporter called police in Richmond, California, and told 911 that he had killed his wife and would shoot any officers who came to the home. Police who responded to the home placed the reporter and his wife in separate police cruisers while the couple’s young son was in the home before the hoax was sorted out.

The swatting calls occurred in 2018 and 2019. Members of the conspiracy conducted more than 100 swatting calls throughout the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit describes Denton as a founding member of Atomwaffen Division who used the names “Rape” and “Tormentor” in online conversations while holding a day job as a mortuary worker.

Earlier this year, former Old Dominion University student John William Kirby Kelley was charged in the swatting scheme. The affidavit unsealed Wednesday indicates Denton became concerned that Kelley had too easily drawn law-enforcement attention when he called in a swatting call to his own school.

On Friday, another alleged Atomwaffen member, Andrew Thomasberg, faces sentencing in Alexandria for unrelated weapons crimes.

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