A North Carolina man who threatened to burn down a Black church in Virginia in a phone call after one of its leaders participated in a vigil for George Floyd has pleaded guilty. On June 7, John Malcolm Bareswill, 63, of Catawba, North Carolina, threatened the church in Virginia Beach, Virginia, court documents revealed.
In a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, Bareswill pleaded guilty to a telephonic threat to use fire to kill, injure or intimidate any individual, or unlawfully to damage or destroy a building.
An FBI agent wrote in an affidavit filed in the case that a church member told the police that they received an anonymous call from a person who has been identified as Bareswill on June 7, who called and “stated words to the effect of ‘you [racial slur] need to shut up’ and threatened to set fire to the church.”
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He, however, denied the allegations towards him initially, but records revealed that a call was made to the church from his cell phone, the affidavit confirmed.
Investigators’ reports say they allegedly found internet search records from Bareswill mobile phone like “Who said all whites are racist,” and “Who organized the protests from mount trashmore to town center.”
A “public prayer vigil and peaceful demonstration” for George Floyd, who was killed in the custody of Minneapolis police was held at Mount Trashmore Park where one of the leaders at the church who was threatened took part.
In an earlier statement, Zachary Terwilliger, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia said, “No one should be made to fear for their safety or the safety of their church for speaking out, and we will seek justices for victims of those who allegedly violate that right.”
Bareswill tried to obscure his identity and used a two-number prefix to block his number from being picked up by caller ID. Interestingly, court documents say phone records obtained by the police from the church’s phone line indicated the number belonged to the accused.
He was arrested on June 12 for charges that carry a maximum of 10 years in prison. Nonetheless prosecutors noted that such maximum sentences are usually not meted out and other factors such as sentencing guideline come into play during judgement by a federal-district court judge.
According to court records online, Bareswill will be sentenced on November 12.