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Press Release

Man Arrested for Threatening to Burn Down African American Church

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Virginia

NORFOLK, Va. – A North Carolina man was arrested today on a charge related to his alleged threat to burn down an African American church in Virginia Beach.

John Malcolm Bareswill, 63, who lives in Catawba, North Carolina, and works in Virginia Beach, is scheduled to make his initial appearance in federal court today in Norfolk at 2 p.m.

According to court documents, Bareswill allegedly called a Virginia Beach church with a predominantly African American congregation, made racially derogatory remarks, and threatened to set the church on fire. The threatening call was placed on June 7, several days after one of the church’s leaders took part in a public prayer vigil and peaceful demonstration for George Floyd.

“Our office takes seriously any threat to the lives and well-being of our fellow citizens,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Threats meant to silence or intimidate people because of their race or religion, like the one allegedly made here, have our highest priority. “No one should be made to fear for their safety or the safety of their church for speaking out, and we will seek justice for victims of those who allegedly violate that right.”

According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, on June 7, a church member informed the Virginia Beach Police Department that between approximately 10:00 a.m. and 11:30 a.m, a male caller had called the church’s land line telephone. According to witnesses, the call was placed on speakerphone and overheard by two adult members of the church and also several children. The caller stated words to the effect of “you [racial slur] need to shut up”, and threatened to set fire to the church.

“The FBI’s highest priority is protecting the communities we serve,” said Martin Culbreth, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Division. “We take all threats of violence seriously and will respond quickly to intervene, working with our law enforcement partners to keep Hampton Roads safe. As always, we encourage the public to remain vigilant and report threats or suspicious activities immediately to the FBI by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI or online at” 

Bareswill is charged with making a telephonic threat to use fire to kill, injure, or intimidate any individual, or unlawfully to damage or destroy a building. If convicted, Bareswill faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, Martin Culbreth, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Division, Tony Zucaro, Jr., Acting Chief of the Virginia Beach Police Department, and David Hutcheson, Chief of the Virginia Beach Fire Department, made the announcement. Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Bosse is prosecuting the 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. 2:20-mj-230.

A criminal complaint is merely an accusation. The defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.


Joshua Stueve
Director of Public Affairs

Updated April 6, 2022

Violent Crime