A skinhead plot to kill Obama?

The ATF arrests two men in an alleged plan to assassinate Barack Obama and 102 other African-Americans, but the allegations seem overblown.

Published October 27, 2008 10:10PM (EDT)

It seemed for a few minutes like the big news of the afternoon might not be Sen. Ted Stevens' conviction after all, but the disruption of an alleged skinhead plot to kill Barack Obama and more than 100 other African-Americans. The news even merited a brief siren on the Drudge Report. But the allegations seem to be much ado about not all that much, and the plan itself reads like something even Wile E. Coyote would have dismissed as doomed to failure.

Obviously, threats to the lives of the presidential candidates have to be taken seriously, and that's all the truer given the potential that Obama will be elected as the country's first black president. But even a cursory reading of an affidavit filed in the case shows that this particular allegation is more Seas of David than John Wilkes Booth.

Charged in the case are Daniel Cowart, 20, and Paul Schlesselman, 18. The two men met on the Internet through a mutual friend about a month ago, the affidavit says. The two allegedly discussed their mutual belief in white power, as well as the possibility of going on a "killing spree" that would involve targeting 88 people for death and an additional 14 African-Americans for beheading. (The two numbers are significant to the neo-Nazi and white power movements, respectively.) The spree was to end with Obama's assassination, Brian A. Weaks, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, says in the affidavit. The two men allegedly planned to finance this by robbing homes, and though they had five guns between them at the time of their arrest, they also allegedly wanted to rob a gun store to obtain more weapons.

But there are some telling details in the affidavit that seem to indicate Cowart and Schlesselman were less than truly credible threats to Obama's life. From the affidavit, here's Weaks' description of how they planned to carry out the assassination:

Schlesselman stated that they 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.

And then there's the matter of their actions, as described by Weaks, during the time leading up to their arrest. First Cowart, while driving, allegedly shot out a church window. Later, Weaks says, "they purchased window chalk and wrote numerous racially motivated words and symbols on the exterior of Cowart's vehicle. This included a Swastika and the numbers 14 and 88 on the hood."

Not exactly the best way to stay under the radar as you plot the assassination of a major presidential candidate.

An agent with the ATF's Nashville field office who is handling press inquiries about the case has not yet responded to Salon's request for comment.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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