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Man accused of threatening to burn down Black church in Virginia pleads guilty

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A North Carolina man who phoned in a threat to burn down a Black church in Virginia after one of its leaders took part in a vigil for George Floyd pleaded guilty Wednesday, prosecutors said.

John Malcolm Bareswill, 63, of Catawba, North Carolina, made the threat June 7 to a house of worship in Virginia Beach, Virginia, according to court documents.

Bareswill pleaded guilty to a telephonic threat to use fire to kill, injure or intimidate any individual, or unlawfully to damage or destroy a building, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia said in a statement.

That charge carries a maximum of 10 years in prison, but prosecutors noted that sentences are usually not the maximum allowed and that factors like sentencing guidelines will be taken into account.

Bareswill was arrested June 12. Sentencing is set for Nov. 12, according to online court records.

An emailed request for comment from an attorney listed as representing him was not immediately returned Wednesday night.

A church member told police that on the morning of June 7, a person, later identified as Bareswill, called and “stated words to the effect of ‘you [racial slur] need to shut up’ and threatened to set fire to the church,” an FBI agent wrote in an affidavit filed in the case.

While Bareswill denied to police that he made the call, but records showed a call was made to the church from his mobile phone, according to the affidavit.

Investigators also allegedly found records of internet searches from his mobile phone like “Who said all whites are racist,” and “Who organized the protests from mount trashmore to town center.”

Mount Trashmore Park is where one of the church’s leaders had taken part in a prayer vigil and demonstration for Floyd, the Black man who died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck in Minneapolis on May 25, according to the court documents.

Bareswill used a two-number prefix to block his number from being recognized by caller ID, but police obtained records from the church’s phone line that revealed the number, according to court documents.

The death of Floyd in Minneapolis sparked protests and demonstrations across the country, calling for racial justice and police reform.

G. Zachary Terwilliger, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, has previously said in a statement that: “No one should be made to fear for their safety or the safety of their church for speaking out, and we will seek justices for victims of those who allegedly violate that right.”

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