The former leader of Atomwaffen Division, the infamous neo-Nazi terrorist organization that helped establish a hyper-violent brand of extremism around the world, was sentenced today to 41 months in prison for his role in a national swatting campaign that targeted a historically Black church, journalists, a university, and a former member of the Trump administration.
In January 2020, John Cameron Denton, 24 and a Texas native, was arrested in a countrywide crackdown, stemming from a campaign of death threats and hate crimes, that netted a total of five members of the group. For his part, Denton had coordinated a swatting operation against former Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, ProPublica (apparently out of revenge for exposing his role in the group), Old Dominion University, and the Alfred Street Baptist Church, a historically Black church in Alexandria, Virginia.
Denton, who unknowingly divulged and admitted to masterminding the whole plot to an FBI undercover agent—even bragging that if he were to be raided for the crime it would be good for legitimizing Atomwaffen—pleaded guilty in July 2020.
Raj Parekh, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, where Denton was facing charges, said the former leader “terrorized communities” all over the U.S. and that the latest sentencing sends a clear message to similar extremists.
“The defendants caused irreversible trauma to the victims of these hate-based crimes,” said Parekh in a statement. “This case sends an unmistakable message that those who target individuals because of their race, religion, or any other form of bias, will be identified, apprehended, and brought to justice.”
It was well-known that Denton went by the online alias “Rape” when interacting with other members of Atowmaffen. During his tenure as leader, the group released several propaganda videos showing masked men firing an assortment of firearms and threatening an insurgency against world governments. In a documentary for PBS’s Frontline, ProPublica journalist A.C. Thompson personally confronted Denton at a metal concert, asking questions about the group, but Denton, who appeared with a short, wiry physique, didn’t reply.
Denton is the fourth of those five Atomwaffen arrestees to plead guilty since the February 2020 FBI raids. Only Kaleb Cole, 24, from Washington State, who was considered one of the ringleaders who planned the national postering and threats campaign, elected to go to trial and is set to appear in September.
While Atomwaffen announced its demise in March 2020, in large part to avoid a further government crackdown, there’s no denying the group's influence on a particularly violent brand of neo-Nazi extremism. In particular, it established a cult following for Siege, an insurgency manual penned in the 1980s and worshipped by the group as the blueprint for war against the U.S. government. The book and its teachings, along with the model of Atomwaffen, went on to inspire several other terror groups, namely the Base, which still exists and is under an intense FBI crackdown.
Although Atomwaffen nominally no longer exists in name inside the U.S.—a German and a Russian cell do exist but aren’t affiliated with the original stateside group—some of its former cell leaders founded a new organization in summer 2020: The National Socialist Order (NSO). It’s unclear how big or influential the NSO is, but it has similarly released threatening propaganda and continues to promote Siege.