Two suspected plots to assassinate Barack Obama were broken up in recent months. Authorities say that the arrests of five men probably averted major criminal violence.
Two suspected plots to assassinate Barack Obama were broken up in recent months, and although they frequently sounded cartoonish in their details, authorities say that the arrests of five men probably averted major criminal violence.
In late August, three men were arrested in the area of Denver, where Obama was attending the Democratic National Convention, with high-powered, scoped rifles, wigs, camouflage clothing, a bulletproof vest and 44 grams of crystal methamphetamine. Police initially reported that the three — Shawn Robert Adolf, 33, Tharin Robert Gartrell, 28, and Nathan Johnson, 28, had discussed plans to assassinate Obama from a "high vantage point" as he delivered his presidential nomination acceptance speech. But further investigation showed that the plot was little more than a drug-fueled fantasy, and the men were charged only with drug and federal weapons charges, not threatening a presidential candidate.
An apparently more serious plot came to light in late October, when agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) announced the arrest of two racist skinheads in Tennessee. Daniel Cowart, 20, and Paul Schlesselman, 18, sought to go on a "killing spree," according to documents filed by officials, culminating in the assassination of Obama. The men allegedly had taken several steps already in furtherance of their murder conspiracy.
According to a court complaint, the pair, who had met over the Internet a month earlier, planned to invade a black high school and kill students, shoot 88 African Americans, then behead another 14. (The numbers are neo-Nazi codes for, respectively, "Heil Hitler" and the so-called "14 Words" of the white supremacist movement: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White children.") Then they allegedly intended to dress in white tuxedoes and top hats, drive as fast as they could toward Obama, and kill him by shooting through their car windows. Officials said the two fully expected to die in the attempt.
The men were charged with possessing unregistered firearms, conspiring to steal firearms from a federally licensed gun dealer, and threatening the president. Federal officials said more charges were possible.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) identified one of the two men, Cowart, as a member of the Supreme White Alliance (SWA) and produced a photo of him attending an April birthday party for Adolf Hitler. The SWA, which some 70 people claim to belong to, is a group of violent skinheads led by Steven Edwards, the son of Ron Edwards, leader of the Imperial Klans of America. The SPLC earlier sued Ron Edwards and his group over the beating of a teenage boy; the lawsuit was scheduled to go to trial on Nov. 12.
Although few observers believed that Cowart and Schlesselman could have pulled off many of their plans, the men might easily have murdered school children before being arrested or killed. "They seemed determined to do it," said Jim Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of the ATF's Nashville field office. "Even if they were just to try it, it would be a trail of tears around the South."