Man sentenced to 2 years for threat to burn down Virginia Beach church after George Floyd demonstration

Jessica Nolte, The Virginian-Pilot
·2 min read

A North Carolina man was sentenced to two years in prison Thursday after he threatened to burn down a predominantly Black church in Virginia Beach this summer.

John Malcolm Bareswill, 63, pleaded guilty in August in U.S. District Court in Norfolk to one count of making a telephonic threat to use fire to kill, injure or intimidate any individual or unlawfully damage or destroy a building.

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

Court documents say Bareswill called a Baptist church on its landline and said something to the effect of “You (n-words) need to shut the ... up,” and threatened to burn the church.

The call was on speakerphone and another adult and three children heard the threat.

Terwilliger said the phone call terrified the adult Sunday School volunteers and affected the whole church community.

The threat was made June 7 — five days after a leader at the church participated in a prayer vigil and demonstration for George Floyd in the Mount Trashmore area of Virginia Beach. The vigil was one of several demonstrations across the region and the nation after Floyd was killed during an arrest in Minneapolis.

Bareswill searched the internet with several racist phrases including “why are (n-word) protesting and looting” and “kkk stickers," according to court documents. He also searched for Black Lives Matter protests in Virginia and looked for the organizers of the Mount Trashmore demonstration.

Bareswill called at least one other predominantly Black church in the area, but no one answered.

Bareswill could have faced up to 10 years in prison, but as in most cases, the actual sentence was less than the maximum penalty.

“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," Terwilliger said.

Jessica Nolte, 757-247-4513, jnolte@dailypress.com

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