A North Carolina man was taken into custody for allegedly threatening to burn down a predominantly African American church according to the Department of Justice.
John Malcolm Bareswill, 63, of Catawba, North Carolina, called a church in Virginia Beach and allegedly made racially derogatory remarks and threatened to set the church on fire.
The call was made several days after the church’s leaders took part in a public prayer vigil and peaceful demonstrations for George Floyd.
“Our office takes seriously any threat to the lives and well-being of our fellow citizens,” said G.Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Threats meant to silence or intimidate people because of their race or religion, like the one allegedly made here, have our highest priority. No one should be made to fear for their safety or the safety of their church forspeaking out, and we will seek justice for victims of those who allegedly violate that right.”
A member of the congregation answered the church’s landline on June 7, between 10 - 11:30 a.m. when a male caller was placed on speakerphone, according to witnesses. The caller was overheard using words to the effect of “you [racial slur] need to shut up”, after which the caller then threatened to set fire to the church.
Adults and children were present at the time the alleged call was made, according to a news release from the Department of Justice.
“The FBI’s highest priority is protecting the communities we serve,” said Martin Culbreth, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Norfolk Division. “We take all threats of violence seriously and will respond quickly to intervene, working with our law enforcement partners to keep Hampton Roads safe. As always, we encourage the public to remain vigilant and report threats or suspicious activities immediately to the FBI by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI or online at tips.fbi.gov.”
Bareswill is charged with making a telephonic threat to use fire to kill, injure, or intimidate any individual, or unlawfully to damage or destroy a building. If convicted, Bareswill faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties.
Tensions were high in cities around the globe, nearly three weeks after Floyd, a black man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee to his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds. Protesters sought to express solidarity against police brutality and racism in the U.S. and to confront bias in their own countries.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.