Skinheads held over plot to kill Obama

WASHINGTON Tue Oct 28, 2008 8:23am EDT

1 of 8. Daniel Gregory Cowart (L) and Paul Michael Schlesselman, are seen in this booking picture taken by Crockett County Sheriff's Department in Tennessee, on October 22, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Crockett County Sheriff's Department/Handout

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two white supremacist skinheads were arrested in Tennessee over plans to go on a killing spree and eventually shoot Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, court documents showed on Monday.

Daniel Cowart and Paul Schlesselman were charged in a criminal complaint with making threats against a presidential candidate, illegal possession of a sawed-off shotgun and conspiracy to rob a gun dealer.

The plot did not appear to be very advanced or sophisticated, the court documents showed.

"We're unsure of their ability or if they have the wherewithal to carry out any of their threats," said a source close to the investigation.

Obama would be the first black president in U.S. history if he defeats Republican John McCain in the November 4 election. Concerns about Obama's safety led the Secret Service to provide round-the-clock protection from early in his campaign.

The suspects met over the Internet about a month ago, said an affidavit filed by Brian Weaks, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"The individuals began discussing going on a 'killing spree' that included killing 88 people and beheading 14 African Americans," Weaks said in the affidavit.

The men stole guns from family members and also had a sawed-off shotgun. They planned to target a predominately black school, going state to state while robbing individuals and continuing to kill people, Weaks said in the affidavit.

"They further stated that their final act of violence would be to attempt to kill/assassinate presidential candidate Barack Obama," he said.

TOP HATS AND SWASTIKA

The men planned to wear white tuxedos and top hats during the assassination attempt, which would have involved driving as fast as they could toward Obama and shooting him from the windows of the car.

They planned their first house robbery for last Wednesday but ended up leaving without breaking in. Instead they bought ski masks, food and rope to use in their robbery attempts.

Cowart and Schlesselman were arrested later that day in Crockett County in western Tennessee and made initial appearances in federal court in Memphis on Monday.

They remain in custody and are scheduled to return to court on Thursday for a detention hearing, the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper reported on its website.

They wrote racially motivated words and symbols on the exterior of Cowart's vehicle, including a swastika and the numbers "14" and "88" on the hood of the car.

ATF special agent in charge James Cavanaugh said "H" is the eighth letter of the alphabet and 88 stood for "Heil Hitler."

"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 Secret Service-Memphis Field Office. "The Secret Service does not comment on this type of investigation."

(Editing by John O'Callaghan )

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