Federal and state authorities arrested a North Carolina man Friday on charges of threatening to burn down a Black church in Virginia.
John Malcolm Bareswill, 63, of Catawba, North Carolina, telephoned the church in Virginia Beach, Virginia, on the morning of June 7, several days after one of the church leaders took part in a prayer vigil and demonstration related to the death of George Floyd, according to court documents.
Two people in the church who heard the call said the man told them, "you [racial slur] need to shut up” and threatened to set fire to the church.
Investigators checked phone records and discovered that the church received one call that morning and traced the number to a cellphone belonging to Bareswill, who works in Virginia Beach. He told them he did not call any churches that morning and that he was asleep at the time, they said.
But a review of the phone showed that Bareswill had searched for information about predominately Black churches in the area, including the one that received the call, according to the court documents. His cellphone data also revealed that a call to the church was placed the morning of June 7.
"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," said G. Zachary Terwilliger, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, where the charges were filed.