Two suspected skinheads have been charged in Tennessee with making threats against Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama as the finale of a planned “killing spree” that targeted 102 blacks, 14 of whom were to be beheaded, according to court records made public Monday.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) said Daniel Cowart, 20, of Bells, Tenn., and Paul Schlesselman, 18, of West Helena, Ark., were charged in a federal criminal complaint Friday in U.S. District Court in Memphis, Tenn., with the illegal possession of a sawed-off shotgun, conspiracy to rob a federal firearms licensee and making threats against a major candidate for the office of president.
An affidavit by ATF Special Agent Brian A. Weeks said both men “stated they would dress in all-white tuxedos and wear top hats during the assassination attempt,” both noting they “knew they would and were willing to die” in an attempt to kill Mr. Obama.
“The allegations set forth in this criminal complaint are serious and will be treated as such,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Lawrence J. Laurenzi. “The public can rest assured that federal, state and local law enforcement are diligently working together to investigate and prosecute the alleged activity.”
The Obama campaign had no immediate comment.
According to the complaint, Mr. Cowart and Mr. Schlesselman met last month over the Internet through a mutual friend and both claimed to have “very strong beliefs regarding ‘white power’ and the ‘skinhead’ philosophy.”
The complaint said they discussed going on a “killing spree” after robbing a gun shop to gather weapons and ammunition. They intended to kill 88 blacks and behead another 14. The numbers have meaning among white supremacists.
The number 14 stands for the “14 words” in an expression that has become the rallying slogan for the white supremacist movement: “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”
The number 88 represents H, the eighth letter of the alphabet, and eight two times signifies “HH, ” shorthand for the Nazi greeting “Heil Hitler.”
If elected, Mr. Obama would be the nation’s first black president.
The Tennessee arrests are not the first time law enforcement authorities have arrested men in a planned assassination of Mr. Obama. Three were arrested on the eve of the Democratic National Convention in Denver in August, although their scheme was described as “more aspirational than operational.”
Friday’s complaint said Mr. Cowart and Mr. Schlesselman already were in possession of a 12-gauge shotgun, a .308-caliber rifle, a .22-caliber pistol, a .25 caliber pistol that Mr. Cowart had stolen from his grandfather, and a .357-caliber Ruger revolver that Mr. Schlesselman had taken without permission from his father.
According to the complaint, Mr. Cowart traveled from Tennessee to Arkansas last week to pick up Mr. Schlesselman to carry out their plan. During the trip, they further discussed the killing spree to include targeting a predominantly black school and continue “until their final act of violence, which would be to attempt to assassinate presidential candidate Barack Obama.”
“The U.S. Secret Service takes all threats against presidential candidates seriously and is actively investigating the allegations,” said Richard Harlow, special agent in charge of the U.S. Secret Service field office in Memphis. “The Secret Service does not comment on this type of investigation.”
The complaint also noted that the two men had planned a home invasion on Oct. 21 after soliciting a friend to drive their car, but they were diverted when they arrived at the targeted house and observed a dog and two cars at the location.
It said they then dropped their friend off at her home and went to a local retail store and purchased nylon rope and two ski masks.
“It is critical that the alleged plot was interrupted,” said ATF Special Agent in Charge James Cavanaugh in Nashville, Tenn. “They said that would be their last, final act [-] that they would attempt to kill Senator Obama.”
The two men were arrested on Oct. 22 by the Crockett County Sheriff’s Office.