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Press Release

Man Sentenced 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 sentenced today to two years in prison for making a 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, several days after one of the church’s leaders took part in a public prayer vigil and peaceful demonstration for George Floyd.

“John Malcolm Bareswill reacted to a prayer vigil and rally held in memory of George Floyd by threatening to burn down an African American church,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Answering the exercise of constitutional freedoms with threats of violence—especially threats that tap into a long and shameful history of racially-motivated violence against houses of worship—requires swift and certain justice. Bareswill’s threat terrified the adult Sunday school teachers who heard it and affected the entire church community. While this sentence cannot undo that harm, it sends an important message: Our community will not tolerate attempts to silence free speech or interfere with the free exercise of religion.”

G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Karl Schumann, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Field Office; Paul Neudigate, Chief of the Virginia Beach Police Department; and David Hutcheson, Chief of the Virginia Beach Fire Department, made the announcement after sentencing by U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Bosse prosecuted 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 November 12, 2020

Civil Rights