June 13, 2020 / 2:39 AM / 2 months ago

Man charged with threatening to torch African American church in Virginia

(Reuters) - A man from North Carolina was arrested on Friday on a charge of threatening to torch a predominantly African American church in Virginia after one of its ministers took part in a local prayer vigil for George Floyd, federal court documents show.

John Malcolm Bareswill, 63, who is white and owns a package delivery service in Virginia Beach, is accused of threatening arson against a Baptist church in that resort city in an anonymous phone call placed to the congregation on June 7.

An FBI affidavit filed in the case said the caller uttered a racial slur and told those listening by speakerphone on the other end, including three young children, that they “need to shut up” before threatening to burn the church. The incident was reported to authorities, who later traced the call to Bareswill’s mobile phone, the FBI said.

Investigators, seizing the phone as evidence, found Bareswill had used it to search the internet for such phrases as “Who said all whites are racist” and “Black Lives Matter protest held in Virginia,” as well as for information about at least three predominantly African American religious institutions, including the church he allegedly threatened, according to the affidavit.

Bareswill, who lives in the neighboring state of North Carolina, is charged with making a telephonic threat to use fire to kill, injure or intimidate any individual or to damage or destroy any building. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison, federal prosecutors said in a statement.

Authorities said the threatening call came days after a church leader partook in a prayer vigil and peaceful rally that included a moment of silence for Floyd, the black man whose death under the knee of a white Minneapolis policeman sparked a storm of nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality.

It was not immediately known whether Bareswill had yet obtained legal representation. He made his initial court appearance on Friday but has entered no plea, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in eastern Virginia said.

Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Daniel Wallis

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