Extremist linked to Schenectady church threat, dozens of other threats elsewhere, sentenced

Police on the scene of the First Reformed Church Dec. 28, 2018

Police on the scene of the First Reformed Church Dec. 28, 2018

The former leader of a violent extremist group in Texas who federal authorities linked to a swatting incident at a Schenectady church in December 2018 was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison for his role in a conspiracy across the U.S.

John Cameron Denton, 27, of Montgomery, Texas, was sentenced for his participation in a conspiracy that conducted swatting attacks on at least 134 locations from October 2018 to February 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a statement Tuesday. 

Swatting is a harassment tactic that involves deceiving emergency dispatchers into believing a person or persons are in imminent danger of death or bodily harm.

Many of the conspirators, including Denton, chose targets because they were motivated by racial animus, the Department of Justice said.

The conspiracy targeted journalists, a Virginia university, a former U.S. Cabinet member, a historic African American Church, and an Islamic Center in Texas, and members of minority groups across the U.S.

In December 2018, a phone call threatening First Reformed Church of Schenectady appeared to be related to neo-Nazi arrests in the Virginia cases, and a string of similar threatening calls, according to filings in federal court in Virginia.

The Schenectady swatting incident happened at about 2 p.m. Dec. 28, 2018. A male caller claimed to police dispatchers there were multiple explosive devices inside the building at 8 N. Church St., police said.

The caller made reference to someone possibly in the building with weapons.

Officers responded and surrounded the church as they gathered further information. The department also reached out to surrounding agencies for additional K-9 officers and equipment. State police and officers from Troy and the Schenectady and Albany county sheriff departments assisted.

Members of the Schenectady Special Operations Squad eventually entered the church and searched the building, confirming no one was inside or no explosives or weapons present.

Schenectady Police Chief Eric Clifford spoke of how the incident raised concerns in the community and were a heavy draw on public safety resources.

“At a time where we need public safety resources, with something like this, it’s really concerning to me, and it should be concerning to our whole community,” the chief said. “So I’m very thankful that the Department of Justice pursued it and found the person guilty and sentenced him for doing this to our community.” 

Bill Levering, retired senior pastor at First Reformed Church of Schenectady, did not return a phone message seeking comment Tuesday.


Categories: News, Schenectady County

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