ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A Vienna man pleaded guilty today to charges related to his role in a conspiracy that conducted multiple swatting events targeting journalists, a Virginia university, a historic Virginia church, and a former cabinet official.
According to court documents, John William Kirby Kelley, 19, 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 dispatchers into believing that a person or persons are in imminent danger of death or bodily harm and causing the dispatchers to send police and emergency services to an unwitting third party’s address.
Kelley managed the online chatroom where conspirators chose targets and orchestrated 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.
Kelley is a former student at Old Dominion University. In early November 2018, he asked conspirators to swat Old Dominion University, which conspirators did ultimately swat on Nov. 29 and Dec. 4, 2018. In response to the bomb threat on Nov. 29, 2018, university officials issued a shelter in place order and law enforcement were forced to search and clear every building on campus.
During the course of the conspiracy, members placed at least 134 swatting calls to jurisdictions across the country. In addition to the swatting calls against Old Dominion University, conspirators conducted two additional swatting calls in the Eastern District of Virginia, including a call to a former Cabinet official living in Northern Virginia in January 2019 and the Alfred Street Baptist Church in November 2018.
Kelley pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, interstate threats to injure. He faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison when sentenced on November 24. 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, and James A. Dawson, Special Agent in Charge, Criminal Division, FBI Washington Field Office, made the announcement after Senior U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady accepted the plea. Assistant U.S. Attorney Carina A. Cuellar 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. 1:20-cr-154.