Man who threatened to burn down Black church sentenced to two years

A North Carolina man was sentenced this week to two years in prison for making a threat to burn down a predominately African American church in Virginia after a church leader took part in a vigil following the death of George Floyd.  

John Malcolm Bareswill, 63, pleaded guilty earlier this year for making the June 7 phone call, during which he “made racially derogatory remarks, and threatened to set the church on fire,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Virginia said in a statement.

Bareswill made the phone call to the church in Virginia Beach several days after one of the church’s leaders “took part in a public prayer vigil and peaceful demonstration” over the death of Floyd, a Black man who died earlier this year after a former Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes during an arrest. 

Floyd’s death sparked nationwide protests calling for widespread police reforms and racial justice.

The Virginia Beach church was New Hope Baptist Church, The Washington Post reported. Although Bareswill is from North Carolina, he operated a package delivery business in Virginia Beach.

He said in court filings that he worried about the impact of the demonstrations on his business, the Post noted. Some speakers at the vigil following Floyd’s death called for a boycott of local businesses.

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Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in the Thursday statement, “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.”

“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.

Tags George Floyd protests

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