According to 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. The perpetrators did not identify the school by name, agents said.
Jim Cavanaugh, special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives field office in Nashville, said the two men planned to shoot 88 black people and decapitate another 14, according to news services. The numbers 88 and 14 are symbolic in the white supremacist community.
After the murders in Tennessee, the men also planned to embark on a national killing spree with Obama as their final target, Cavanaugh told the Associated Press.
“They said that would be their last, final act — that they would attempt to kill Sen. Obama,” he said. “They didn’t believe they would be able to do it, but that they would get killed trying.”
The suspects, Daniel Cowart, 20, of Bells, Tenn., and Paul Schlesselman, 18, of West Helena, Ark., are being held without bond. A rifle, a sawed-off shotgun and three pistols were seized from the men. Authorities alleged they were preparing to break into a gun shop to steal more weapons.
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.”
“Both individuals stated they would dress in all white tuxedos and wear top hats during the assassination attempt,” the court complaint states. “Both individuals further stated they knew they would and were willing to die during this attempt.”
Cavanaugh said there’s no evidence so far that anyone else was willing to assist the two suspects with the plot. He said authorities took the threats very seriously.
“They seemed determined to do it,” Cavanaugh said. “Even if they were just to try it, it would be a trail of tears around the South.”
An Obama spokeswoman traveling with the senator in Pennsylvania had no immediate comment on the plot.
“The United States 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.
Officials said Cowart and Schlesselman met on the Internet through a friend about a month ago and shared their interest in “White Power” and “Skinhead” philosophy, according to federal court documents, the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported. Last Monday, Cowart traveled from Tennessee to Arkansas to pick up Schlesselman to carry out the plan.
Cowart and Schlesselman had their initial appearances in federal court Monday and are scheduled to be back in court for a detention hearing on Thursday in Memphis.