Would-be Dylann Roof copycat sentenced to prison

A South Carolina man faces 33 months in prison for his involvement in a copycat plan to emulate Dylann Roof who carried out a murderous gun rampage in 2015 at a Charleston church.

Benjamin Thomas Samuel McDowell, who was arrested in February 2017, was sentenced Wednesday in U.S. District Court after previously pleading guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm.

McDowell, of Conway, South Carolina, threatened to carry out a Roof-style massacre at a Jewish synagogue and made other racist comments on Facebook. His plan was foiled when the 30-year-old would-be killer was arrested in an FBI sting operation.

An undercover FBI agent befriended McDowell after law enforcement officers spotted his hate-filled social media postings. McDowell, a felon would couldn’t legally possess firearms, was arrested after he bought a .40-caliber Glock with a filed-down firing pin and hollow-point ammunition. 

Charging documents say McDowell intended to use the firearm in an attack on Temple Emanu-El Conservative Synagogue in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. McDowell planned to spray paint “in the spirit of Dylann Roof” on the synagogue after his rampage.

In one Facebook posting, federal court documents say McDowell expressed admiration for Roof and disdain for other “white warriors” who are only active on social media.

“I wish the day we all get off Facebook and white Warriors like we was born to be like Dylan Roof but we gotta do it in a smart way and it takes a team it takes no drugs and party and more planning for the real Victory and not just saying it but should want Bloodshet [sic] 2 crave it and be a fanatic for your white race,” McDowell said in one posting.

Roof, awaiting execution for his crime, was found guilty by a jury in December 2016 of 33 charges, including federal hate crimes, for killing nine black worshippers at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church on June 17, 2015. The horrific rampage, Roof hoped, would start a race war.

It was after that high-profile case that McDowell became a Roof-admirer. 

McDowell reportedly became influenced by white supremacists and the Ku Klux Klan while previously serving an 18-month prison term for burglary.

Family members told the court that they do not believe McDowell is truly prejudiced and said the sentence is appropriate considering his mental capacity, WMBF-TV reported.

“He’s no Dylann Roof,” said Nancy Clewis, one of McDowell’s grandmothers. “He was raised up with blacks, they are his friends, he’s not no prejudice boy,” she said, according to the television news report.

U.S. District Judge Bryan Harwell said he could not ignore McDowell’s desire to carry out violence against Jews, non-whites and minorities. The judge also ordered McDowell to undergo mandatory drug testing, mental health counseling and vocational training.

The 33-month term is at the maximum suggested range under federal sentencing guidelines which are optional for federal judges. The firearms charge carries a possible maximum prison term of 10 years, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release.

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