Besides threatening to burn down the New Hope Baptist Church during the call, John Malcolm Bareswill – a navy veteran – also hurled a racial slur at the assistant minister and his three grandchildren, and told them to “shut . . . up”, according to The Washington Post. Bareswill, who called the church during a Bible study in June, was put on loudspeaker after the assistant minister answered the call.
Per court documents, Bareswill called the church to issue out the threat after one of its pastors partook in a local vigil and protest in honor of George Floyd, the Black man whose death in the hands of a Minneapolis cop in May triggered nationwide protests against police brutality and racial discrimination. Bareswill also tried contacting another church that participated in the vigil but that call went unanswered.
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“John Malcolm Bareswill reacted to a prayer vigil and rally held in memory of George Floyd by threatening to burn down an African American church,” G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement.
“Answering the exercise of constitutional freedoms with threats of violence—especially threats that tap into a long and shameful history of racially-motivated violence against houses of worship—requires swift and certain justice.” Bareswill’s threat, according to the statement, terrified the adult Sunday school teachers who heard it and affected the entire church community. “While this sentence cannot undo that harm, it sends an important message: Our community will not tolerate attempts to silence free speech or interfere with the free exercise of religion,” the statement said.
During the hearing, Bareswill’s lawyer appealed for a lighter sentence, arguing that what the vet did was “an aberration in an otherwise law-abiding life”, though he takes full responsibility for his actions, NBC News reported.
“The mere minutes that it took for Mr. Bareswill to commit this heinous act are but a tiny fraction of the life of an otherwise honorable and decent man,” his attorney, James Broccoletti, wrote in court filings, according to The Washington Post.
Bareswill also said his reaction was triggered by the fear of his package delivery business taking a nosedive as a result of the protests as some people who attended the vigil called for local businesses to be boycotted.
Prosecutors wanted a 12 to an 18-month prison sentence for the accused, but the judge ultimately settled on two years.