One of the bomb threats against more than a dozen historically Black colleges and universities this week was made by a person who claimed to be part of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division, a police chief said Wednesday.
The news comes as the FBI announced it had opened a hate crime and violent extremism investigation into the threats, some of which coincided with the first day of Black History Month. No explosives were found on any of the campuses that were threatened, but canceled classes and lockdowns have left some students on edge.
Bethune-Cookman University in Florida received a 20-minute-long phone call at 4:35 a.m. Monday, in which the caller said he placed several explosives in duffel bags around the perimeter of the university, Daytona Beach Police Chief Jakari Young told reporters. The caller also said there would be an active shooter at 12:30 p.m. that day.
"From what we can tell, it is a neo-Nazi organization going by the name of Atomwaffen," Young said.
Over Monday and Tuesday, bomb threats were received around the country by more than a dozen HBCUs: Jackson State University, Coppin State University, Mississippi Valley State University, Morgan State University, Alcorn State University, Tougaloo College, Kentucky State University, Fort Valley State University, Xavier University of Louisiana, University of the District of Columbia, Spelman College, Edward Waters University, Howard University, and Southern University and A&M College.
On Wednesday, Young said police will have an "increased presence" on the Bethune-Cookman campus. He added he did not know how the threat might be connected to those made to other HBCUs.
"We left no stone unturned to ensure the safety of the campus," he said.
According to NBC News and the Associated Press, authorities have identified at least five people as persons of interest. An official described them to NBC News as "tech savvy" juveniles, and the threats appeared to be racially motivated. The AP reported that investigators believe the callers used spoofed phone numbers to make the threats.
In a statement to BuzzFeed News, the FBI did not confirm that reporting but said its Joint Terrorism Task Forces are leading the investigation.
“Although at this time no explosive devices have been found at any of the locations, the FBI takes all threats with the utmost seriousness and we are committed to thoroughly and aggressively investigating these threats," the statement said.
Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia reached out to federal law enforcement agencies and asked them to "prioritize" their investigation into the threats.
"These recent threats are terrifying for Georgians," Warnock said in a previous statement to BuzzFeed News. "It is painful to see, particularly on the first day of Black History Month, our Historically Black College and University students being terrorized by threats of violence. I will not stop until these hateful threats are fully investigated and Georgians at our HBCUs feel safe."
According to the Anti-Defamation League, an anti-hate organization, members of Iron March, a white supremacist discussion forum, created Atomwaffen Division in 2016. Since then, its members have been involved in white supremacist events and linked to violence, and several of its leaders have been convicted of federal crimes. The group claimed to disband in 2020, though ADL said its leadership remained active in a new hate group.
It wasn't clear on Wednesday if the caller who threatened Bethune-Cookman had ties to the group or was simply using its name as a way to make a racist threat.
This isn't the first time threats have been made to HBCUs. On Jan. 5, seven HBCUs entered lockdown after similar threats were made to Howard University, Norfolk State University, the University of Arkansas, Florida Memorial University, North Carolina Central University, Xavier University, and Prairie View A&M University, according to Yahoo News.
Jada Nelson, a sophomore at Bethune-Cookman, told BuzzFeed News on Monday that she first saw the messages about the threat from classmates.
"I thought, This is a prank," she said. Then she saw news reports that five other HBCUs had been put on lockdown as well. "Then I thought, Oh, this is really serious, it's not just one but multiple."