ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A man who used to be a student at Old Dominion University was sentenced Monday to 33 months in prison for his role in a conspiracy that involved multiple swatting attacks.
According to court documents, 20-year-old John William Kirby Kelley of Vienna conspired with John Cameron Denton, a former leader of the white supremacist group Atomwaffen Division in Texas, and others to conduct “swatting” calls. Swatting involves deceiving emergency dispatchers into believing that someone is in imminent danger of death or bodily harm, causing the dispatchers to send police and emergency services to an unwitting third party’s address.
The attacks targeted ODU, journalists, an historic Virginia church, an Islamic Center in Arlington, Texas, and a former U.S. Cabinet member.
Records say Kelley managed the online chat room 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 racist slurs.
In early November 2018, officials say he asked conspirators to swat ODU, which conspirators ultimately did on November 29 and December 4 of that year. 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. In addition to the swatting calls against ODU, conspirators conducted two additional swatting calls in the Eastern District of Virginia, including a call to the Alfred Street Baptist Church in November 2018, and to a former U.S. Cabinet member living in northern Virginia in January 2019.
During Monday's 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 people because of their race or status as government officials.
Kelley pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States, interstate threats to injure in July 2020 and faced a maximum of five years in prison.
“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,” said Raj Parekh, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “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.”