Federal authorities foiled an alleged assassination plot targeting Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama hatched by two men with reported links to the white supremacy movement, federal prosecutors said Monday.
The two suspects allegedly began discussing the plot a month ago in which they planned a "killing spree" first targeting a predominately African American school to murder 88 people, including the beheading of 14 black victims. The rampage was to include "a final act of violence" with the assassination of Obama, according to federal court documents.
Court documents identified the suspects as Daniel Cowart, 20, of Bells, Tenn., and Paul Schlesselman, 18, of West Helena, Ark. Both were charged with federal weapons violations and threatening a presidential candidate as part of a plan in which the suspects allegedly said that they would be "willing to die" during the assassination attempt.
Agents seized a rifle, a sawed-off shotgun and three pistols from the men when they were arrested. Authorities alleged the two men were preparing to break into a gun shop to steal more.
"The allegations set forth in this criminal complaint are serious and will be treated as such," said Tennessee U.S. Attorney Lawrence J. Laurenzi.
In court records unsealed Monday in U.S. District Court in Jackson, Tenn., federal agents said they disrupted plans to rob a gun store and target a predominantly African-American high school in a murder spree that was to begin in Tennessee. Agents said the skinheads did not identify the school by name.
Jim Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of ATF's Nashville field office, said the two men planned to kill 88 people, including 14 African-Americans by beheading. The numbers 88 and 14 are symbolic in the white supremacist community.
The men also sought to go on a national killing spree after the Tennessee murders, with Obama as its final target, Cavanaugh told The Associated Press.
"They said that would be their last, final act — that they would attempt to kill Sen. Obama," Cavanaugh said. "They didn't believe they would be able to do it, but that they would get killed trying."
An Obama spokeswoman traveling with the senator in Pennsylvania had no immediate comment.
The two men were arrested Oct. 22 by the Crockett County, Tenn., Sheriff's Office. "Once we arrested the defendants and suspected they had violated federal law, we immediately contacted federal authorities," said Crockett County Sheriff Troy Klyce.
Attorney Joe Byrd, who has been hired to represent Cowart, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Monday. Messages left on two phone numbers listed under Cowart's name were not immediately returned.
No telephone number for Schlesselman in Helena-West Helena could be found immediately.
Cowart and Schlesselman are charged with possessing an unregistered firearm, conspiring to steal firearms from a federally licensed gun dealer, and threatening a candidate for president.
The investigation is continuing, and more charges are possible, Cavanaugh said.
The court records say Cowart and Schlesselman also bought nylon rope and ski masks to use in a robbery or home invasion to fund their spree, during which they allegedly planned to go from state to state and kill people.
For the Obama plot, the legal documents show, Cowart and Schlesselman "planned to drive their vehicle as fast as they could toward Obama shooting at him from the windows."