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Former leader of neo-Nazi group pleads guilty to ‘swatting’

ALEXANDRIA (AP) A founder and former leader of a neo-Nazi group has pleaded guilty to conspiring to place hoax phone calls targeting an African American church, a Cabinet official, journalists and others.

John C. Denton, 26, of Montgomery, Texas, faces up to five years in prison after entering a guilty plea July 14 in federal court in Alexandria to conspiring to transmit threats.

Prosecutors say Denton was leader of a group called Atomwaffen Division. More than a dozen people linked to Atomwaffen Division or an offshoot called Feuerkrieg Division have been charged with crimes in federal court since the group’s formation in 2016.

Denton and his conspirators’ targets in 2018 and 2019 included the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, then-Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and Old Dominion University in Norfolk, where one of the members of the swatting conspiracy attended college.

In court, the judge noted that the U.S. Secret Service waved local police away from mobilizing to Nielsen’s home in Alexandria in January 2019 after a member of the conspiracy called, claiming hostages were being taken there.

Denton also placed swatting calls to the New York City offices of news outlet ProPublica, and to a ProPublica reporter in Richmond, California. ProPublica articles had identified Denton as an Atomwaffen leader.

Denton admitted that he used the online moniker “Rape” in online discussions on a forum called Graveyard to discuss possible swatting targets, and that some of the targets were chosen on the basis of racial animus.

His lawyer declined comment after the plea hearing.

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