A former Virginia college student the FBI says is affiliated with violent neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen has been charged with helping coordinate and make “swatting” phone calls around the country and the globe.
And one-time Old Dominion University student John William Kirby Kelley may have made the call that led to his own arrest.
The FBI arrested Kelley on Jan. 10. A judge ordered Kelley held without bail pending a trial.
U.S. Magistrate John F. Anderson cited the weight of the evidence against Kelley, a history of alcohol or substance abuse and a lack of stable employment as reasons for the decision.
A criminal complaint filed in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, spells out an alleged plot involving Kelley, using the pseudonym “carl,” and co-conspirators to place false emergency calls to police agencies in an effort to draw a large number of police officers to a location. This practice, known as “swatting,” has grown in popularity in recent years.
FBI Special Agent Jonathan Myles Lund said in the criminal complaint that Kelley and his co-conspirators “are affiliated with or have expressed sympathy for Atomwaffen Division,” a group with a history of violence.
Emerging in 2015, Atomwaffen Division members have since been associated with five murders nationwide. The group advocates for terrorism and mass shootings as a way to accelerate what they see as the collapse of modern civilization.
According to the criminal complaint, Kelley and his co-conspirators used an online chat to discuss swatting targets.
The group discussed making videos of police response to the swatting calls and sharing them, Lund wrote.
More than 130 law enforcement agencies received calls over 33 days in November and December 2018, Lund wrote.
Lund wrote that Kelley suggested his own school as a swatting target amid discussions of an upcoming court hearing for Atomwaffen member Sam Woodward. Woodward is charged with a hate crime in the death of a former high school classmate, Blaze Bernstein, who was gay and Jewish.
“Do my college tomorrow,” Kelley, posting as “carl,” wrote in the chat.
“Maybe,” one co-conspirator responded.
Kelley called in a bomb threat to Old Dominion University police on Nov. 28, 2019, Lund wrote. ODU police received another call on Dec. 4 about a gunman on campus.
“The caller either played a prerecorded swatting or played excerpts from the prior swatting call made to ODU on Nov. 28, 2018,” Lund wrote.
Kelley called Old Dominion police back a short time later, but failed to block his number, Lund said. Police determined the swatting call and the second call were likely made by the same person and used Kelley’s school records to match the phone number to him.
When officers asked Kelley on Nov. 28, 2019, if he had been involved in the swatting call earlier that day, Kelley replied, “I have been around for calls in the past.”
Kelley then stopped answering questions and asked for a lawyer.
Word of Kelley’s questioning by the police hit the chatrooms on Dec. 5, 2019, where the cybersecurity major became the subject of anger and ridicule.
“He steals mcdonalds wifi for internet now,” a chatroom user identified as “slimebox” posted.
Five days later, users of the chatroom harassed Kelley again for targeting Old Dominion University.
“First step, DON’T BOMB THREAT YOUR OWN SCHOOL,” a user named “Zim” wrote. “You hear that carl.”
Kelley is at least the 13th person affiliated with or with sympathies for Atomwaffen arrested in recent years. Along with Kelley, two other Atomwaffen members have been arrested in eastern Virginia by federal authorities in the last year.
Federal prosecutors in June charged Brian Baynes of Maryland with federal weapons violations after federal investigators obtained private chats that showed him talking about using illegal drugs while possessing guns.
He pleaded guilty in August to the charge and was sentenced in November to two years of probation plus 30 days in jail.
Three months later, federal authorities arrested Andrew Thomasberg of Virginia, a man whom Baynes had been chatting with in some of those conversations.
Thomasberg faced a similar weapons charge to the one Baynes did. Prosecutors also tacked on a charge that Thomasberg served as a straw purchaser of a gun for Baynes.
Thomasberg pleaded guilty to both counts in November. His sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 28.
Photo illustration by SPLC. (Booking photo from the Alexandria Sheriff’s Office)