FALLS CHURCH, Va. – A former neo-Nazi leader was sentenced to more than 3 years in prison Tuesday for his role in a conspiracy to target a Black church, a Cabinet member and more than 100 others with bogus bomb threats and 911 calls.
U.S. District Judge Liam O’Grady imposed the 41-month sentence after ruling 27-year-old John Cameron Denton’s actions should be considered a hate crime.
The sentence was less than the 5-year term sought by prosecutors but more than the 18-month sentence sought by Denton’s attorney.
Denton’s lawyers argued at Tuesday’s sentencing that the conviction should not be considered a hate crime. While defense lawyer Andrew Stewart acknowledged that numerous swatting targets were chosen based on racial animus, he claimed Denton never did so. The only target Denton specifically selected was a ProPublica journalist who had exposed him as an Atomwaffen Division leader in a news article.
Those swatting calls targeted a ProPublica office in New York and the journalist’s home in Richmond, California. The journalist’s wife and child were home in February 2019 when police showed up in force in response to a bogus call from a man claiming he had killed his wife and would shoot any officers who responded to the home.
In court Tuesday, prosecutor Carina Cuellar said the raid prompted the couple’s child to ask, “Why do Nazis hate me because I’m brown?”
In court papers, the defense argued Denton was becoming disillusioned with Atomwaffen Division ideology and was trying to distance himself from the group at the time of his arrest last year, but that he found it difficult to do so because his roommate and many of his friends were group members.
Cuellar said at Tuesday’s hearing that she was “baffled” by the defense argument that the conduct should not be considered a hate crime. She said he knowingly participated in the swatting conspiracy, and that he can’t absolve himself by saying others chose the specific targets.