A man loosely linked to violent neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen has been charged with participating in a swatting ring that hit hundreds of targets, potentially including journalists and a Facebook executive. John William Kirby Kelley supposedly picked targets for swatting calls in an IRC channel, then helped record the hoax calls for an audience of white supremacists. He was allegedly caught after making a bomb threat to get out of classes.
The Justice Department unsealed the case against Kelley late last week, and he was arrested and appeared in court on January 10th. He’s charged with conspiracy to transmit a threat, which carries up to five years in prison. The Washington Post writes that his attorney didn’t comment on the allegations.
According to an affidavit, the FBI started investigating Kelley in late 2018, after Old Dominion University in Virginia received an anonymous bomb and shooting threat. They linked the call to numerous other swatting incidents and a chat channel called Deadnet IRC where participants openly discussed coordinating them. The affidavit also links Kelley to Doxbin, a site that hosts the sensitive personal information of journalists, federal judges, company executives, and other potential swatting victims.
As Krebs previously reported, the group behind Doxbin and Deadnet IRC have claimed responsibility for swatting a Facebook executive last year. Krebs, who has been swatted multiple times, says he was targeted after appearing on Doxbin, as was Pulitzer-winning columnist Leonard G. Pitts Jr., who was labeled on Doxbin as “anti-white race.”
Krebs apparently also reviewed some Deadnet logs, revealing other details not directly connected with Kelley’s case. He writes that one member admitted to making a bomb threat around a university speech by former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, hoping to “frame feminists at the school for acts of terrorism.” Another member supposedly maintains a site for followers of the neo-Nazi James Mason who has advised Atomwaffen and posed with members of the group. Three Atomwaffen members are currently on trial for five murders.
Swatting hoaxes — where a perpetrator makes a fake threat to draw an extreme police response — can be highly difficult to trace. It’s easy to make anonymous phone calls online, and the results of a SWAT raid can be deadly; police have repeatedly killed innocent residents during them, including one swatting victim. Many swatters are never found, although the serial offender behind that death was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
In this case, Kelley seems to have been remarkably careless. He called the police later from his own university-registered phone number, allowing officers to match his voice with the anonymous caller. When confronted, he apparently admitted to being interested in swatting. Soon after, he logged on to Deadnet IRC and discussed new targets, while other members explicitly confirmed the bomb threat to his school. He also apparently kept Deadnet IRC logs and swatting videos on thumb drives, which police seized in a search of his dorm room.
Meanwhile, an FBI search of Kelley’s phone reportedly revealed violent neo-Nazi sympathies. It contained pictures of Kelley and others “dressed in tactical gear holding assault-style rifles” alongside “recruiting materials” for Atomwaffen. Another member of Deadnet IRC apparently agreed to inform on the group after being arrested separately, and he told the FBI that he and fellow swatters were white supremacists “sympathetic to the neo-Nazi movement.” Deadnet itself was filled with racist invective, and among other swatting victims, it targeted the historically black Alfred Street Baptist Church in Virginia.