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Virginia man charged in alleged swatting ring targeting African Americans and Jewish people

Alexandria Sheriff's Office

The Justice Department has charged a Virginia man with conspiracy to make threats over “swatting” calls he made as part of an online network that targeted African Americans and Jewish people, according to an FBI affidavit.

“Swatting” is a prank call made to authorities with the express purpose of luring them to a location — usually a home — where they are led to believe a horrific crime has been committed or is in progress. It leads to a forceful response from local police or SWAT teams, who have no way to know the call is a hoax.

According to court records, John William Kirby Kelley, 19, was arrested and charged on Friday with conspiracy to send threats by interstate commerce.

Authorities began investigating Kelley in November 2018 when, as a student at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, he anonymously called campus police saying someone armed with an AR-15 had hidden pipe bombs on campus, the affidavit says.

According to the affidavit, Kelley later called police saying he had accidentally dialed their number. ODU police identified Kelley as the caller.

The investigation connected that call to several other swatting calls.

Kelley’s public defender, Cadence Mertz, could not be reached Tuesday for comment.

The online network Kelley was a part of made hundreds of calls across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. The network shared “racist views, with particular disdain for African Americans and Jewish people,” the affidavit says.

The Alfred Street Baptist Church, a well-known black church in Alexandria, Virginia, was among the network’s targets, the affidavit says. A caller called a police non-emergency line on November 2018 to say he had put three pipe bombs at the church and was going “to blow it up,” and kill everyone there, the affidavit says.

One of Kelley’s co-conspirators “explained that he and the other co-conspirators are white supremacist and are sympathetic to the neo-Nazi movement,” the affidavit says. The network maintained a dark web site known as DoxBin that targeted executives, journalists and government officials, the affidavit says.

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