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Press Release

Former Old Dominion University Student Sentenced for Swatting Conspiracy

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Virginia
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A Vienna man was sentenced today to 33 months in prison for his role in a conspiracy that involved multiple swatting attacks targeting journalists, a Virginia university, a historic Virginia church, an Islamic Center in Arlington, Texas, and a former U.S. Cabinet member.

“Swatting attacks are serious crimes that disrupt the operations of local emergency agencies, take first responders away from real emergencies, and place victims, community members, and law enforcement officers in grave danger,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “EDVA will continue to bring to justice those who threaten public safety with these menacing hoaxes, especially when those threats are motivated by racial or religious animus, which are intolerable and have no place in our society.”

According to court documents, John William Kirby Kelley, 20, conspired with John Cameron Denton, a former leader of the Atomwaffen Division in Texas, and others to conduct “swatting” calls. Swatting is a harassment tactic that involves deceiving emergency dispatchers into believing that a person or persons are in imminent danger of death or bodily harm, thus causing the dispatchers to send police and emergency services to an unwitting third party’s address.

“Swatting is not only harassment, but these calls also waste resources and put innocent people and first responders in danger,” said James A. Dawson, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office Criminal Division. “The FBI and our law enforcement partners take all threats seriously and investigate instances of swatting. Law enforcement and first responders put their lives at risk every day, and swatting instances which increase that risk will not be tolerated.”

Kelley managed the online chatroom where conspirators chose targets and regularly coordinated the swatting calls. Many of the conspirators held white supremacist views and targeted individuals because they were motivated by racial animus. Kelley communicated with these white supremacists and used racial epithets.

Kelley is a former student at Old Dominion University. In early November 2018, he asked conspirators to swat Old Dominion University, which conspirators ultimately did on November 29 and December 4, 2018. In response to the bomb threat on November 29, 2018, university officials issued a shelter-in-place order and law enforcement officers were forced to search and clear every building on campus.

During the conspiracy, members placed at least 134 swatting calls to jurisdictions across the country. In addition to the swatting calls against Old Dominion University, conspirators conducted two additional swatting calls in the Eastern District of Virginia, including a call to the Alfred Street Baptist Church in November 2018, and to a former U.S. Cabinet member living in northern Virginia in January 2019.

During today’s sentencing, the Court applied both a hate crime and an official victim enhancement after finding that Kelley participated in a conspiracy that, in part, targeted individuals because of their race or status as government officials.

Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, and James A. Dawson, Special Agent in Charge, Criminal Division, FBI Washington Field Office, made the announcement after sentencing by Senior U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Carina A. Cuellar prosecuted the case. FBI’s Memphis Field Office provided significant assistance investigating this case.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Related court documents and information are located on the website of the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia or on PACER by searching for Case No. 1:20-cr-82.

Updated March 15, 2021

Hate Crimes