News and Press Releases

Tennessee Man Pleads Guilty to Conspiring
to Commit Murders of African-Americans
Plot Included Then-Presidential Candidate Barack Obama

March 29, 2010

Washington - Daniel Cowart pleaded guilty today to eight counts in a federal indictment charging him with crimes related to a racially-motivated plot to murder dozens of people, the Justice Department announced.

Cowart, 21, of Bells, Tenn., admitted to conspiring with Paul Schlesselman of West Helena, Ark., to engage in a killing spree specifically targeting African-Americans.  He further acknowledged that he intended to culminate these attacks by assassinating President Obama, a U.S. Senator and a presidential candidate at the time of the planned attacks.

Cowart also admitted to shooting the window of the Allen Baptist Church in Brownsville, TN.  Under the plea agreement, Cowart faces a sentence of at least 10 years and could face up to 75 years in prison.

“Despite great civil rights progress, this unthinkable conspiracy serves as a reminder that hate-fueled violence remains all too common in our country,” said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division.  “Tragedy was averted thanks to the capable work of the Crockett County Sheriff’s Department and their willingness to work with the ATF, the Secret Service and the FBI.”
“Crimes committed against individuals because of their race will not be tolerated,” said Lawrence J. Laurenzi, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee.  “I commend the work of the investigative agencies in thwarting what could have been a series of tragic events.”

"The message in this case is simple, a plot was interrupted and as a result lives were saved," stated Special Agent in Charge James Cavanaugh of the ATF Nashville Field Division.

“This case is a great example of how well local and federal law enforcement work together to keep our nation’s leaders and the citizens of West Tennessee safe from harm,” said Richard Harlow, Special Agent in Charge of the US Secret Service.

"When the rights of any one of us are lost or taken, then the freedoms of all of us are diminished," said My Harrison, Special Agent in Charge of the Memphis Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.  "As the lead agency for investigating violations of federal civil rights laws, the FBI is proud to have worked alongside our partners to prevent these racially motivated hate crimes."                      

“As the Sheriff of Crockett County, Tennessee, I appreciated the cooperation of federal law enforcement in this case who worked together for the common good and safety of our citizens,” said Sheriff Troy Klyce.

Cowart pleaded guilty to threatening to kill and inflict bodily harm upon a major candidate for the office of President of the United States, conspiracy, interstate transportation of a short-barreled shotgun, interstate transportation of a firearm for the purpose of committing a felony, unlicensed transportation of an unauthorized short-barreled shotgun, possession of a short-barreled shotgun, intentional damage to religious real property, and discharge of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.

Schlesselman pleaded guilty on Jan. 14, 2010, to one count of conspiracy, one count of threatening to kill and inflict bodily harm upon a presidential candidate, and one count of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.  Schlesselman is scheduled to be sentenced on April 15, 2010, and faces 10 years in prison under the plea agreement.

The case was investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the U.S. Secret Service; the FBI; and the Crockett County, Tenn., Sheriff’s Office. The case is being prosecuted by U.S. Attorney Larry Laurenzi, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Powell and Civil Rights Division Trial Attorney Jonathan Skrmetti.

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