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.
A member of the Neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge on Sept. 9, 2020, for his role in a harassment campaign that targeted multiple journalists and others.
Johnny Roman Garza was arrested in February for his involvement in a cyberstalking and harassment campaign. According to the criminal complaint, the campaign included sending threatening posters to the homes of journalists and an employee of the Anti-Defamation League, which were covered in swastikas and contained messages like "You have been visited by your local Nazis," “Your Actions have Consequences” and “We are Watching.”
The Associated Press reported that Garza admitted that he located the Phoenix apartment complex where a member of the Arizona Association of Black Journalists lived and went there in January with the intention of leaving threatening posters. Garza could not find a suitable place for the posters, the plea agreement claims, so he left and instead affixed a poster to the bedroom window of an editor for a local Jewish publication.
Garza pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to mail threatening communications, to commit cyberstalking and to interfere with a federally protected activity. He is scheduled to be sentenced in December and faces up to five years in prison.
Johnny Roman Garza, a member of the Neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division, was sentenced to 16 months in prison for his role in a harassment campaign that targeted multiple journalists and others, NPR reported on Dec. 9, 2020.
Garza was arrested in February for his involvement in the cyberstalking and harassment campaign that included sending threatening posters to the homes of journalists and others. In September, Garza pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to mail threatening communications, to commit cyberstalking and to interfere with a federally protected activity.
"While this defendant did not hatch this disturbing plot, he enthusiastically embraced it, researching addresses for journalists and those who oppose hate in our communities," Brian Moran, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington, said in a statement. "Ultimately in the dark of night he delivered a hateful, threatening poster — spreading fear and anxiety. Such conduct has no place in our community."
Garza was one of four members of Atomwaffen charged in February with the harassment campaign. According to NPR, Taylor Ashley Parker-Dipeppe pleaded guilty in September to related charges and will be sentenced in February 2021, while trials for Cameron Brandon Shea and Kaleb Cole are scheduled to begin in March of next year.
A fifth man, John Cameron Denton, was described as the leader of the group, and was arrested and charged separately. He pleaded guilty in July 2020 to conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and interstate threats to injure. Denton was originally scheduled to be sentenced in November, but that sentencing was rescheduled to Jan. 21, 2021, according to the case docket.
John Cameron Denton, a former leader of the Neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division, was sentenced on May 4, 2021, to three and a half years in prison for his role in a “swatting” conspiracy that targeted journalists and others, The New York Times reported.
Denton was arrested in February 2020 for his involvement in the harassment campaign. In July, Denton pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit an offense against the United States and interstate threats to injure.
“The defendants caused irreversible trauma to the victims of these hate-based crimes,” Raj Parekh, the acting U.S. attorney for Virginia’s Eastern District, said in a statement to The Times. “This case sends an unmistakable message that those who target individuals because of their race, religion or any other form of bias will be identified, apprehended and brought to justice.”
Denton was charged separately from four other members of Atomwaffen, who were arrested and charged with a harassment campaign that included sending threatening posters to the homes of journalists and others. According to the Associated Press, Taylor Ashley Parker-Dipeppe, who pleaded guilty in September to related charges, was sentenced to time served on March 31. Johnny Roman Garza was sentenced to 16 months in prison for conspiracy to mail threatening communications, to commit cyberstalking and to interfere with a federally protected activity.
Cameron Brandon Shea pleaded guilty to federal hate crime and conspiracy charges on April 7, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington. Shea, who faces a maximum of 15 years in prison, will be sentenced on June 28.
Kaleb Cole has pleaded not guilty and is due to face trial in September.
Kaleb Cole, described as a former leader of the Neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division, was convicted in federal court on Sept. 29, 2021 in Seattle, Washington, after a two-day trial for leading a campaign to threaten and harass journalists and others.
Cole was arrested in February 2020 and charged with five federal felonies. Prosecutors stated Cole was behind a plot to intimidate Jewish and journalists of color by mailing, and in one case, gluing posters that read “you have been visited by your local Nazis” to their homes.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Woods told the jury in his closing statement that Cole “was not simply sending a message of hate, he was sending a statement of terror.”
“All of the images (in the posters) were selected by Kaleb Cole to send one message ‘We can get you in your home.’ Cole wanted to terrorize them with threats of physical harm,” Assistant U.S. Seth Wilkerson said.
During the trial, victims of Cole’s targeted harassment testified on the impact of receiving the posters, the U.S. attorney’s office said in a statement. Some temporarily left their homes, while one bought a firearm and another left her job as a journalist.
Cole is scheduled to be sentenced in January 2022 and faces up to 20 years in prison.