NC man sentenced to 2 years in prison for threatening to burn down African American church in Virginia Beach

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NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A North Carolina man was sentenced Thursday to two years in prison for making a threat to burn down an African American church in Virginia Beach this summer.

According to court documents, 63-year-old John Malcolm Bareswill called a predominantly African American church in Virginia Beach and made racially derogatory remarks, and threatened to set the church on fire.

The threatening call to New Hope Baptist Church was placed on June 7, several days after one of the church’s leaders took part in a public prayer vigil and peaceful demonstration for George Floyd.

Federal authorities arrested Bareswill on June 12 and charged with making a telephonic threat to use fire to kill, injure, or intimidate any individual, or unlawfully to damage or destroy a building.

On Wednesday, August 5, Bareswill pleaded guilty to the charge of making the telephonic threat to the church.

“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. 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,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

“Bareswill’s threat 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,” he continued.

A copy of this press release is located on the website of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.


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