The Crockett County, Tennessee, Sheriff's Office, along with federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) have uncovered and prevented what could have been the deadliest extremist shooting spree in years.
According to court documents, Crockett County officers and the ATF opened an investigation after evidence of firearms violations were found by officers responding to a call. The investigation resulted in the arrest on October 22, 2008, of two suspects, Daniel Cowart, 21, of Bells, Tennessee, and Paul Schlesselman, 18, of West Helena, Arkansas.
Cowart and Schlesselman were arrested on suspicion of possessing an unregistered firearm, conspiring to steal firearms from a federally licensed gun dealer, and threats against a major candidate for the office of president.
Schlesselman and Cowart allegedly informed officers they were planning a "killing spree" that would involve killing 88 people and beheading 14 African-Americans. Both numbers have symbolic significance to white supremacists. The number "88" is code for "Heil Hitler," while "14” is a reference to the "14" Words," a white supremacist slogan: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children."
Court documents indicate the two suspects discussed a multi-state killing and robbing spree, to include targeting a predominantly African-American school. The murder spree would allegedly end with an attempt to assassinate presidential candidate Barack Obama with a high powered rifle.
According to the ATF, Schlesselman and Cowart discussed robbing a gun dealer to get weapons and ammunition for their planned actions. Cowart allegedly took photographs and drew a diagram of a specific federal gun dealer in Jackson, Tennessee, and sent the images to Schlesselman to review. Schlesselman allegedly created an illegal sawed off shotgun, according to court documents, to "make it easier to maneuver" during the "killing spree," and both of them brought other weapons. They also reportedly cased houses to rob to fund their killing spree, and purchased nylon rope and ski masks.
Agents seized a sawed-off shotgun, a rifle, and three pistols from the men during the arrest. None of the firearms recovered were registered to Cowart or Schlesselman.
Though the two suspects had only known each other for about a month after meeting online, both suspects were known to experts at the Anti-Defamation League's Center on Extremism, which had been tracking their white supremacist activities, since 2006. Cowart had recently been involved with Supreme White Alliance, a hardcore racist skinhead group with members from several states, mostly in the Midwest. In April, Cowart even attended a Hitler's Birthday celebration held by the group in Cincinatti. The previous month he handed out racist flyers in front of a local Wal-Mart.
Upon request, the Anti-Defamation League provided information to the ATF on the two suspects, their associates and contacts, and on the Supreme White Alliance and its membership.
The investigation is ongoing.