Federal officials said a Virginia man arrested Friday is linked to a string of fake bomb threats and “swatting” attacks on journalists, government officials and others as part of an international group sympathetic to neo-Nazi ideology.

John William Kirby Kelley had his first appearance in federal court in Alexandria on Friday; his public defender did not comment on the allegations but said his client has “very limited funds.” The charge against Kelley of conspiracy to make threats carries up to five years in prison.

Members of the group, which is unnamed, “all appeared to share racist views,” according to an affidavit from an FBI agent, “with particular disdain for African Americans and Jewish people.” They expressed affinity with the neo-Nazi Atomwaffen Division, the agent wrote.

The investigation began in November 2018, when Old Dominion University in Norfolk got a call claiming someone armed with an AR-15 had hidden pipe bombs around campus. The police got a call a couple hours later from someone with a similar voice who said he had dialed accidentally and apologized. That call came from Kelley’s number, listed in school records, according to the affidavit. Documents said Kelley was studying cybersecurity at the school until January. He was expelled facing state drug charges.

In chat logs among group members later accessed by law enforcement, the affidavit states, Kelley appeared to suggest the college as a target so he would not have to go to class.

“DON’T BOMB THREAT YOUR OWN SCHOOL,” another member later responded after Kelley had been interviewed by campus police.

Authorities said the Old Dominion University incident was linked to a November 2018 bomb threat at the historic and predominantly African American Alfred Street Baptist Church in Old Town Alexandria, which led to the evacuation and sweep of the church by police during evening worship.

Kelley engaged with the group online under the moniker “Carl,” officials allege in court papers, suggesting targets and sometimes recording swatting calls. Officials said he helped with technical issues during live video feeds of incidents.

False emergency calls are called “swatting” because practitioners hope to provoke an overwhelming SWAT team response.

Another false threat was called in to the Alexandria police last January; the caller claimed to have killed his girlfriend and taken her two children hostage. The address he gave was of a person protected by the U.S. Secret Service. A person familiar with the incident said it was resolved without fanfare after a call to the Secret Service.

The group maintained a website called DoxBin, according to prosecutors, that listed past and potential swatting targets. One victim on the list, according to independent journalist Brian Krebs, was Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. He was ordered out of his home and handcuffed by police after the false report made in June. Another was a Facebook executive.

Along with more prominent targets, the group is also accused of swatting a vape shop in a small town in Pennsylvania in 2018, leading to a “shelter in place” order for the whole community.

Altogether, 134 law enforcement agencies got calls from the group, according to the affidavit, including some in Canada and Britain.

A photo found on his phone showed Kelley and others in tactical gear holding assault rifles, along with pictures of Atomwaffen recruitment material and the neo-Nazi publication Siege, according to court papers.

One photo of a ballistic vest and helmet found in the search was also in the possession of Jeffrey Clark, a District resident who in 2018 admitted to becoming involved in the white nationalist movement.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020