Federal and state authorities have arrested a North Carolina man after he allegedly called and threatened to burn down a predominantly black church in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
What We Know:
- John Malcolm Bareswill, 63, of Catawba, North Carolina called a baptist church located in Virginia Beach on the morning of June 7th. The call came several days after one of the church leaders took part in a prayer vigil and demonstration related to the death of George Floyd, according to court documents.
- Bareswill’s call was placed on speakerphone in the church, allowing his message to be heard by two parishioners and several children. Bareswill told church members, “You (racial slur) need to shut up,” before threatening to set fire to the church.
- According to prosecutors, Bareswill initially stated that he had not made a phone call to any religious institution on Sunday, claiming to have been asleep, but investigators checked phone records and discovered that the church received one call that morning and traced the number to a cellphone belonging to Bareswill.
- After a review of his phone, investigators found recent internet searches including, “Who said all whites are racist,” “Black Lives Matter protest held in Virginia,” “Who organized the protests from Mount Trashmore to Town Center” and information about multiple predominantly black churches in the area, including that church. His cellphone data also revealed that a call to the church was placed on the morning of June 7th.
- One of the church members reported the alleged call by Bareswill to the City of Virginia Beach Police Department, according to court documents. The police department informed the FBI, which opened an investigation into the incident on Monday.
- “Threats meant to silence or intimidate people because of their race or religion, like the one allegedly made here, have our highest priority,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, where the charges were filed. “No one should be made to fear for their safety or the safety of their church for speaking out, and we will seek justice for victims of those who allegedly violate that right.”
- Bareswill made an initial appearance in Virginia federal court Friday afternoon and is now in custody, Joshua Stueve, a spokesman for the Eastern District of Virginia, told CNN. Bareswill is “scheduled for preliminary and detention hearings on June 17,” Stueve advised.
Bareswill is charged with making a telephonic threat to use fire to kill, injure, or intimidate any individual or to unlawfully damage or destroy a building. If convicted, Bareswill faces up to 10 years in prison.