A South Carolina man with white supremacist connections and an apparent admiration for Charleston, S.C., church shooter Dylann Roof was arrested Wednesday and accused of plotting an attack, not knowing he was describing his plans to an undercover FBI employee.
Benjamin Thomas Samuel McDowell, 29, told the FBI employee he wanted to do something on a “big scale” and then write on the building he had targeted, “In the spirit of Dylann Roof.”
“I seen what Dylann Roof did and in my heart I reckon I got a little bit of hatred and I … I want to do that s—,” McDowell told the undercover employee, according to a criminal complaint. “Like, I got desire … not for nobody else … it just … I want something where I can say, ‘I f—— did that’ … me personally.”
According to the complaint, Horry County, S.C., police knew McDowell as someone who had made white supremacist connections while serving prison sentences for various criminal offenses. He posted rambling, expletive-filled white supremacist rants on Facebook, and in early January, requested an “iron” — or gun — from someone through Facebook instant messenger, according to the complaint. Less than a week later, he was in touch with an undercover FBI employee whom McDowell believed handled problems for the Aryan Nations, a group that espouses racist and anti-Semitic beliefs.
McDowell’s case is somewhat similar to Roof’s in that Roof, too, expressed frustration that, in his view, white supremacists were not taking enough action. Roof, who was sentenced to death last month for shooting and killing nine black parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, wrote in a journal that he “would rather live imprisoned knowing I took action for my race than to live with the torture of sitting idle” and suggested he hoped others might follow suit.
“It isn’t up to me anymore,” Roof said. “I did what I could do. I’ve done all I can do. I did what I thought would make the biggest wave, and now the fate of our race sits in the hands of my brothers who continue to live freely.”
McDowell did not seem to have chosen a specific plan of attack. He told the undercover FBI employee he wanted to target nonwhites at a county outside the one where he lived, and he did not want to get caught. “I got the heart to do this,” he said, according to the criminal complaint.
McDowell asked the undercover employee to buy him a handgun, which would ultimately serve as the basis for the criminal charge against him — being a felon in possession of a firearm. The two talked on the phone on Feb. 11, though McDowell insisted they meet in person, as he had no more minutes on his cellphone, his mom would not let him use her cellphone and he was uncomfortable speaking on the landline in his mom’s house. They eventually hatched a plan where the employee would pick McDowell up from his mom’s house, then drive to McDowell’s grandfather’s house, so McDowell could get money from his grandfather to pay for the gun and ammunition.
The two met as planned Wednesday, and McDowell bought a .40-caliber handgun, the firing pin of which had been shaved down, for $109. Agents then arrested McDowell.
Efforts to reach relatives and an attorney for McDowell were not immediately successful Thursday.