FBI agents arrested a suspected white supremacist from Texas Wednesday, accusing him of making hoax calls to local law enforcement to summon a police response — a practice known as swatting. Authorities said one potential victim was former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, but the effort was unsuccessful.
The Justice Department said John Cameron Denton, 26, and his fellow members of Atomwaffen, a global white supremacist organization, made more than 100 swatting calls affecting 33 states.
Denton and another man, John William Kirby Kelley, who faces similar charges filed last month, are accused of making or inspiring dozens of calls, including one to Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, where Kelley was a student.
That call, on Nov. 29, 2018, caused the university to shut down and issue a shelter-in-place alert. Local police painstakingly searched and cleared every building on campus.
Prosecutors said the investigation of the swatting conspiracy began in January 2019, when a caller, speaking in a muffled voice and sounding out of breath, claimed to have shot and killed his girlfriend, tied up her two children, and was prepared to set off a bomb. He gave the Alexandria, Virginia address of a member of President Trump's cabinet.
Court documents say the police never responded, however, because the Secret Service immediately realized the call was a hoax. The cabinet member was not identified in court documents, but law enforcement officials said it was Nielsen, who at the time was Homeland Security Secretary.
Nielsen could not immediately be reached.
Denton, who authorities described as a former leader of the Texas chapter of Atomwaffen, was also accused of participating in swatting calls to a church in Alexandria and the New York City office of ProPublica, a non-profit news organization.
The FBI said Denton met with a person in January who he thought was like minded but who turned out to be undercover FBI agent. He discussed his role in making the swatting calls and said he wanted to target journalists who wrote about white supremacists, according to the charges.
Officials said other members of Atomwaffen have been arrested for posting personal information about their victims online, known as "doxing." Those charges were expected to be announced later Wednesday.