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Press Release

Man Pleads Guilty to 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 pleaded guilty today to making a telephonic threat to burn down an African American church in Virginia Beach.

According to court documents, John Malcolm Bareswill, 63, 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, 2020, several days after one of the church’s leaders took part in a public prayer vigil and peaceful demonstration for George Floyd.

Bareswill pleaded guilty to a criminal information charging a telephonic threat to use fire to kill, injure, or intimidate any individual, or unlawfully to damage or destroy a building. He faces a maximum penalty of ten years in prison when sentenced on Nov. 12. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Martin Culbreth, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office; Anthony F. Zucaro, Jr., Interim Chief of Virginia Beach Police; and David Hutcheson, Chief of the Virginia Beach Fire Department, made the announcement after U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson accepted the plea. Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Bosse is prosecuting the case. Trial Attorney Kathryn Gilbert of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division provided significant assistance on 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-cr-61.


Joshua Stueve
Director of Public Affairs

Updated August 5, 2020

Civil Rights
Hate Crimes