University student sentenced for swatting conspiracy, court applied hate crime among motives for judgment

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Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia (EDVA), Raj Parekh, and other officials announced March 15, 2021, a 33-month sentence in the case of a Virginia man 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.

Senior U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady sentenced John William Kirby Kelley, 20, who, according to the press release, 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.

During the March 15 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, the press release said.

“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,” Parekh is quoted saying in the March 15, 2021 press release. “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 quoted from in the press release, 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, the press release said.

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.

 

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