Five members of neo-Nazi group arrested for alleged targeted harassment of journalists
The FBI arrested five members of the neo-Nazi paramilitary group Atomwaffen in four states on Feb. 26, 2020, for allegedly participating in campaigns of targeted harassment of journalists and others using racist and anti-Semitic slurs.
Four men arrested and charged in U.S. District Court in Seattle with criminal conspiracy were Cameron Brandon Shea, 24, of Redmond, Washington; Kaleb James Cole, 24, of Montgomery, Texas; Taylor Ashley Parker-Dipeppe, 20, of Spring Hill, Florida, and Johnny Roman Garza, 20, of Queen Creek, Arizona.
“These defendants sought to spread fear and terror with threats delivered to the doorstep of those who are critical of their activities,” said U.S. Attorney Brian T. Moran for the Western District of Washington.
Collaborating via an encrypted messaging service, the men identified journalists and other targets — focusing their efforts on Jewish and other minority individuals — and created threatening posters covered in swastikas and containing the line "You have been visited by your local Nazis," which they then delivered or mailed to their homes, according to the criminal complaint. One member of the group suggested the men identify their targets using the Society of Professional Journalists' online freelance directory. Their targets included Jewish journalists and a leader of a black journalists association in the state of Arizona
"We will be postering journalists [sic] houses and media buildings to send a clear message that we too have leverage over them," Shea wrote in a chat message. The group coordinated to deliver all the posters on Jan. 25, 2020. Garza wrote that their goal was "a show of force, demonstrating we are capable of mass coordination."
A fifth man, John Cameron Denton, 26, of Montgomery, Texas, was arrested and charged separately in the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Virginia in a "swatting" conspiracy stretching from November 2018 to April 2019, allegedly targeting a ProPublica investigative journalist and the outlet's New York offices, as well as Old Dominion University, a historically black baptist church in Virginia, and a cabinet official of the Trump administration.
The Justice Department press release defined swatting as "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."
Denton unknowingly met with an undercover FBI agent and described his role in the swatting calls, according to an affidavit. He specifically targeted ProPublica and a journalist who worked there because he was furious that he had been identified as the leader of Atomwaffen in a story for the publication.
On Dec. 14, 2018, a dozen New York Police Department officers showed up at ProPublica's New York City offices after receiving a call from a man claiming to be an Atomwaffen member named James Mason, who claimed he had "multiple pipe bombs, an AR 15, one hostage, and a dead body." Only one employee was present in the office at time. "This employee was visibly shaken by the threat and police response," the affidavit said.
On Feb. 8, 2019, Denton and an unnamed co-conspirator swatted a ProPublica journalist, the affidavit alleges, placing a swatting call to the Richmond Police Department, in Northern California. On the call, the co-conspirator claimed to be the journalist, saying he had shot his wife with an M16 and threatening to shoot any officers who approached his home. Law enforcement officers went to the journalist's home, put him and his wife in separate police cars, where the journalist explained "he had been receiving threats because he was a journalist that wrote about white supremacists," according to the affidavit.
Following Denton’s February 2020 arrest, Magistrate Judge Nancy K. Johnson ordered him transferred to the Eastern District of Virginia, where he will be detained pending a hearing there.
Shea is currently detained in Federal Detention Center, SeaTac. He has a court hearing set for March 12, but on March 6 the chief judge for the U.S. District Court’s Western Washington District postponed all in-person hearings at the federal courthouses in Seattle and Tacoma until at least the end of the month due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. In criminal cases, “the time period of the continuances implemented by this general order will be excluded under the Speedy Trial Act, as the Court specifically finds that the ends of justice served by ordering the continuances outweigh the best interests of the public and any defendant’s right to a speedy trial,” Martinez wrote.
Garza, Cole, and Parker-Dipeppe will remain in federal custody pending transfer to the Western District of Washington. "There are no conditions of release that would reasonably protect the safety of the community," read a detention order signed by Magistrate Judge Thomas G. Wilson on March 2, regarding Parker-Dipeppe.
A spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service declined comment on the timing of this transfer, citing a policy of not discussing prisoner movements.
On July 14, 2020, a man identified as a former leader of white supremacist group Atomwaffen Division pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy and making interstate threats for his role in a harassment campaign that targeted ProPublica and multiple journalists, among others.
John Cameron Denton was arrested in February for his involvement in selecting targets for a “swatting” campaign, a tactic that involves deceiving dispatchers into sending law enforcement personnel to a third party’s address with the intention of causing property damage and physical or psychological harm.
“The FBI takes swatting seriously because it can have harmful consequences and puts innocent people and first responders at risk,” said James A. Dawson, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Washington Field Office Criminal Division, in a Justice Department press release.
Denton pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and interstate threats to injure, according to the press release. He is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 17 and faces up to five years in prison.