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2 Houston-area Neo-Nazi leaders arrested for targeting journalists, churches and activists

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(AP) – Leaders of a neo-Nazi group have been arrested and charged in a pair of federal investigations. They are accused of conspiring to harass journalists, churches and a former Cabinet official, among others, with phony bomb threats and other forms of intimidation.

Two of the men charged in the conspiracies are 26-year-old John C. Denton and 24-year-old Kaleb Cole, both of Montgomery, Texas.

Denton, a former leader of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division, was arrested Wednesday and charged with a series of phony bomb threats made in Virginia and across multiple countries.

Cole, an alleged Atomwaffen Division member, was arrested Wednesday and charged with a conspiracy to threaten and intimidated journalists and activists, according to the Department of Justice.

He was charged along with three other alleged Atomwaffen members for cyber-stalking and mailing threatening communications in a campaign against journalists with Swastika-laden posters telling them “You have been visited by your local Nazis,” the prosecutors announced in Seattle Wednesday.

Denton faced an initial appearance Wednesday afternoon in federal court in Houston.

Prosecutors in Alexandria, Virginia say the targets of the bogus bomb threats included a predominantly African American church in Alexandria, an unidentified Cabinet official living in northern Virginia, and Old Dominion University in Norfolk.

Court records do not identify the Cabinet official, but public records show that then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was a victim of a swatting incident at her home in Alexandria in January 2019, when the alleged swatting conspiracy was active.

The Seattle case charges four alleged Atomwaffen Division members, including Cole, for their roles in a plot they dubbed Operation Erste Saule. Authorities say in court papers that journalists and an employee of the Anti-Defamation league received posters in the mail with warnings “Your Actions have Consequences” and “We are Watching.”

The other three racially motivated violent extremists charged in Seattle include Cameron Brandon Shea, 24, of Redmond, Washington, Taylor Ashley Parker-Dipeppe, 20, of Spring Hill, Florida, and Johnny Roman Garza, 20 of Queen Creek, Arizona, according to a release for the Department of Justice.

Denton has been identified as a former leader of a group called Atomwaffen Division, which has been linked to multiple killings. Authorities say the group is seeking to incite a race war.

He is one of several alleged Atomwaffen Division members to face federal charges in recent months and is the second person charged in Alexandria in relation to the swatting calls in Virginia.

According to an affidavit unsealed Wednesday, Denton specifically chose two targets in the swatting scheme: the New York offices of ProPublica, an online investigative news outlet, and a ProPublica journalist. The affidavit states Denton was angry at ProPublica and the journalist for exposing his role as an Atomwaffen leader.

Denton admitted to an undercover FBI agent that he participated in the swatting calls to ProPublica and the ProPublica journalist, and used a voice changer when he made calls, according to the affidavit.

In the swatting call targeting the ProPublica journalist, a conspirator pretending to be the reporter called police in Richmond, California, and told 911 that he had killed his wife and would shoot any officers who came to the home. Police who responded to the home placed the reporter and his wife in separate police cruisers while the couple's young son was in the home before the hoax was sorted out.

The swatting calls occurred in 2018 and 2019. Members of the conspiracy conducted more than 100 swatting calls throughout the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit describes Denton as a founding member of the Atomwaffen Division who used the names “Rape” and “Tormentor” in online conversations while holding a day job as a mortuary worker.

Earlier this year, former Old Dominion University student John William Kirby Kelley was charged in the swatting scheme. The affidavit unsealed Wednesday indicates Denton became concerned that Kelley had too easily drawn law-enforcement attention when he called in a swatting call to his own school.

On Friday, another alleged Atomwaffen member, Andrew Thomasberg, faces sentencing in Alexandria for unrelated weapons crimes.

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Associated Press writers Gene Johnson in Seattle and Michael Kunzelman in College Park, Maryland, contributed to this report.

KPRC 2 digital content producer Tierra Smith contributed to this report.