A North Carolina man was sentenced Thursday to two years in prison for threatening to burn down a Black church in southeast Virginia, the U.S. Department of Justice said.
According to a news release, John Malcolm Bareswill, 63, of Catawba, North Carolina, called the church in Virginia Beach, made racially derogatory remarks and threatened to set the church on fire. Bareswill pleaded guilty in August.
Authorities said the threatening call was made on June 7, days after one of the church’s leaders took part in a public prayer vigil and peaceful demonstration for George Floyd, a Black man who died May 25 in police custody in Minnesota after a white police officer pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes. Floyd's death sparked global demonstrations against racism and police brutality.
“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," said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
The statement added: "Our community will not tolerate attempts to silence free speech or interfere with the free exercise of religion.”