A plot by far-right extremists to assassinate Barack Obama and kill and decapitate dozens of other black Americans at a school has been broken up, US officials claimed yesterday.
Somewhat farcically, the alleged plotters planned to dress in white tuxedos and top hats and drive their car at high speed towards the presidential candidate while shooting at him. They expected to die in the attempt, the authorities said.
The possibility of assassination has hung over Mr Obama since he became a candidate two years ago but this is the first time federal agents say they have unravelled a plot. Jim Cavanaugh, head of the Nashville office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said two skinheads planned to shoot 88 black people and decapitate another 14. The numbers 88 and 14 are symbolic among white supremacists.
"They said that would be their final act – that they would attempt to kill Senator Obama," Mr Cavanaugh said. "They didn't believe they would be able to do it but they would get killed trying."
The investigation is continuing and further charges are possible, Mr Cavanaugh said. Court papers unsealed yesterday described a plot, as well as the illegal possession of a sawn-off shotgun and a conspiracy to rob a gun store. There were few other details and it is not known how far advanced the alleged conspiracy was.
Daniel Cowart, 20, of Tennessee, and Paul Schlesselman, 18, from Arkansas, were charged last Friday. One of the men apparently revealed the plans to assassinate the first black presidential candidate while being questioned after he was arrested on other charges. The pair discussed robbing a gun shop in order to gather enough weapons and ammunition to carry out a "killing spree".
Both Cowart and Schlesselman also bought nylon rope and ski masks to use in robberies and allegedly planned to go from state to state killing people. To kill Mr Obama, the two suspects "planned to drive their vehicle as fast as they could toward Mr Obama, shooting at him from the windows", according to the court documents.
Both men said 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." Mr Cavanaugh said there was no evidence so far that others conspired with Cowart and Schlesselman in the alleged plot. "They seemed determined to do it," Mr Cavanaugh said. "Even if they were just to try it, it would be a trail of tears around the South."