Neo-Nazis Arrested in Plot to Kill Obama

The ATF has disrupted the plot of two neo-nazis to kill 88 black people, decaptitating 14 of them, and ending their killing spree with the assassination of Barack Obama. The numbers 88 and 14 hold significance within white supremacist movement rhetoric, “88” stands for “Heil Hitler,” (H is the eigth letter of the alphabet) and “14” represents the “14 word” slogan of white supremacists (“we must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children”).

The two men, Daniel Cowart, 20, of Bells, Tennessee (picture here in an undated MySpace photo picked by the AP), and Paul Schlesselman 18, of West Helena, Arkansas, are being held without bond.

This news story, like the one of the failed hoax by Ashley Todd who claimed she was assaulted by a black man, will no doubt get filed away and dismissed for most Americans as the behavior of a “few nutcases.” But, I want to suggest that interpreting this sort of behavior through a mental health lens is another way of using the white racial frame to interpret events that obfuscates a larger pattern. While it’s true, as Adia points out, that whites are supporting Obama in record numbers, it’s also the case that there is a centuries-long history of this sort of racist activity in the U.S. For example, at one time another white supremacist group, the Ku Klux Klan, included 4 million members nationally. Of course, their numbers are nowhere near that level today (the SPLC estimates there are probably 800 groups nationally). But that doesn’t mean white supremacists are not a threat. It simply means they are a different kind of threat. They are not likely to draw large numbers to their ranks, but those that are in the groups are potentially very dangerous, as is evident in the arrest of Cowan and Schlesselman.

The problem with interpreting the actions (or planned actions) of individuals like Cowart and Schlesselman merely as “nutcases” is that such an interpretation blinds us to the fact that white supremacist groups have been a consistent presence in this country since 1866. And, each time their numbers fall, whites who are not members of these groups, claim that these groups “are dead.” Unfortunately, this is wishful thinking more than accurate observation.


  1. jwbe

    >They are not likely to draw large numbers to their ranks

    What makes you convident to make this claim?
    Right-wing extremism is going mainstream, in Europe as well as America. They infiltrate organizations, political parties and try to get political power.

  2. What bothered me in the coverage of this story (on Chris Matthews) was that he was quick to dismiss them as not having the wherewithal to pull this off. He was intimating that it wasn’t much of a story. Well ok, compare this kind of coverage to the black “homegrown terrorists” who were going to bring down the sears tower. Despite their complete inability to take down the tower (my recollection was they had never been to chicago nor had the funds nor the brains to carry out such a mission) they were regarded “as part of an al-Qa’ida-inspired mission to “wage war against the United States government” and taken extraordinarily serious by authorities.

  3. Jessie Author

    If I recall correctly, Will, this is the second plot that has been stopped and made it to the press. jwbe, let me be clear: I’m fairly confident that neo-nazis (and other white supremacists) are not likely to draw large numbers (by that I mean tens of millions) to their ranks in the U.S. and become a viable political party based on a number of years of research into these groups (my own and others). That said, at least one white supremacist online forum that I have studied has 125,000+ registered members. I tend to think that the arm-chair, Internet-based version of white supremacy is more appealing to most in the U.S. rather than the actively violent kind that these two are accused of planning. Mordy, I couldn’t agree more about the way this is being reported. Lots of emphasis on the “bumbling,” very little on the fact that these guys are actual terrorists.

    What makes you convident to make this claim?

  4. Nquest

    “whites are supporting Obama in record numbers…”

    Contrast that idea with the 527 video with Rev. Wright as the centerpiece and you have to question what the support is about, what the support is for in terms of the country’s centuries-long-racist-history.

    Ironic how the smear-of-the-weak is to paint Obama as a “wealth redistribution” socialist who laments the Supreme Court for not redistributing wealth as a way to achieve economic justice in the Civil Rights Era.

  5. jwbe

    >I’m fairly confident that neo-nazis (and other white supremacists) are not likely to draw large numbers (by that I mean tens of millions) to their ranks in the U.S. and become a viable political party based on a number of years of research into these groups (my own and others). That said, at least one white supremacist online forum that I have studied has 125,000+ registered members.

    I didn’t talk about a party which could be elected. I am convinced that white supremacists infiltrate already existing organizations and political parties. Regardless how many whites will vote for Obama, this isn’t any indication of “less racism” in the USA or real progress.
    The entire campaign and whites reactions indicate the very real danger of “racism running amok”.

  6. Jessie Author

    Perhaps we’re talking past each other, jwbe. I’m not sure what you mean by The entire campaign and whites reactions indicate the very real danger of “racism running amok”. Care to elaborate?

  7. jwbe

    Jessie, I just mean that there is no reason to celebrate any progress, when this illusion of progress mostly just exists in white people’s brain who want to celebrate that they are able to vote for somebody with a different skin-color, which doesn’t mean that they support Black people.
    Racism running amok – read your history to understand what I mean. Most of all in a time like this, a shrinking economy.
    There is no reason to celebrate when somebody Black like Obama has to walk on egg-shells through a white dominated world and still gets death threats just because he is Black, there is no progress when whites continue with their legacy of Black Church burnings, in a different way, and threaten also the life of Rev. Wright.
    There is no progress when whites and also many white anti-racists tend to down-play racism to a few “crazy people” without understanding that throughout the entire white history (not only in America) white people can quickly turn into a killing mob.

  8. Melissa

    I’ve been saying something like this would happen. I went to school with people like this. They still exist.

    jwbe: I think the fact that we can vote for a Black candidate of a major political party isn’t just an illusion of progress in this country. I think it is progress. I’m White and I do recognize that racism hasn’t ended, but I think it’s going to take a long time to undo the hundreds of years of racist thinking that is ingrained in so many people’s minds. I still hear racist things said by people I know. I think that maybe discussing these things and not ignoring the history of it, which happens in schools, would help people realize racism still exists. I do know I also can’t understand what it’s like to question the motives behind what someone says or does to a Black person because I’m not Black.

    And could someone please correct the misspelling of the last name one of these men in the final paragraph of the post? Having it spelled Cowan is freaking me out. I don’t like my last name being associated with anyone like this.

  9. jwbe

    Melissa, I have another point of view. Yes I agree, in a historical context a possible Black president is progress. That he receives death threats because of his color of his skin is the other reality which demonstrates, that America didn’t make real progress.
    Perhaps somebody must watch from outside and not from inside what this campaign has been in terms of racism, American history visible for all who want to see it.
    There is no progress in a country which still has the highest incarceration rate, a country which incarcerates non-white citizens in just insane numbers. There is no progress in a country with death penalty, there is no progress when innocent people will be executed, unarmed Black men shot by police out of the blue, racially profiled, discriminated in every aspect of life: housing, health care, education, jobs, travelling.
    Obama won’t change the reality for PoC and most of all Black people in America, but whites can celebrate their own illusion of becoming a better country.
    A country which interferes in foreign politics, which invades other nations based on lies, America with her arrogance to bomb other countries to “bring democracy” while America as an example for a democracy is a hoax.
    How do you measure progress? What is your definition of progress in terms of real life experience of real non-white people?

  10. M.

    What seems bizarre about this plot to me was the plan of these TWO guys “kill 88 black people, decaptitating 14 of them, and ending their killing spree with the assassination of Barack Obama.” Didn’t it occur to them that they might have trouble getting to Obama when he’s surrounded by the secret service after they’ve just gone a horrific killing spree (complete with “decapitations”?) I’m not saying they were not serious or dangerous, but this doesn’t seem like the plan of a pair of criminal masterminds. How did the ATF catch them, anyway?

  11. Melissa

    jwbe: I agree with all those points on the everyday life of non-Whites and the arrogance and hypocrisy American displays, having someone running for President who will likely win that mere decades ago would have experienced segreagation and vote suppression is a kind of progress. I don’t know what can change the rest of racism that Blacks experience. I know reading blogs like this and comments from the people reading them makes me question things more. Perhaps talking about these things will help start some progress? I know I wonder about where I work. Most of the hourly workforce in the plant is Black, yet not one of the Supervisors is Black. Very odd. Since I’m the administrative assistant and have no input into, well, anything, I can’t do anything to change it. Many of the hourly employees have been here for years, yet none have been promoted to a management position in the 4 years I have worked here.

    Also, and please don’t take this the wrong way, why do you capitalize Black and not White? The reason I asked is that I learned from a poster on another blog that it’s polite and respectful to capitalize both and have made it a point to do so.

  12. jwbe

    history tells us that only political pressure could change systems. History also tells us that every system also had its oponents, the problem was/is, that those who worked against were often too small in numbers.
    Anti-racism is political work and this includes to work on different topics, one thought: The education system must change, democracies can only work with mature people who are able to make decisions based on knowledge and not emotions or propaganda.
    And to answer your other question, there is no particular reason. I am German and when I first joined the internet the first Black Americans I met online wrote it that way and I just did the same, today it’s a habit.
    In German Schwarz (black), some capitalize it when it refers to Black people but also don’t capitalize weiß (white). The German explanation for capitalizing Schwarz/Black, it describes a political reality and identity.

  13. Melissa

    jwbe:Thanks for answering and interesting tidbit about the German. I think the person who pointed out on another blog (Jezebel) was American so it may be a cultural difference. My German ancestors have been in this country long enough that none of them that I’ve known speak German.

    The more I read and the more I question, I wonder what to do to change the way things are. Yes, education has to change. So many things go into the oppression of Blacks in this country it’s hard to know where do you start to help change things. Racism leads to people of certain races grouping together and also to not hiring minorities or not paying them as well. That leads to areas with minorities not having as much funding for education, which leads to less employment opportunities for them and just starts the cycle over.

  14. Jane and I'm white

    Well! Racism is either an acknowledgement of the difference between races OR an acknowledgement of the difference between races with a concurrent belief that one’s own is superior. I think we are all racists in the former sense although very soon, with all the inter-racial breeding you can kiss this lovely diversity goodbye. Good or bad thing? You decide.
    Just make sure it’s your own honest decision and not the PC choice.

  15. Seattle in Texas

    While slightly off topic from the main post above–apologies beforehand, here’s an article that I wanted to post somewhere, but wasn’t quite sure where…. It’s on, well, a person who was an SS guard in WWII, is residing in the U.S., and Germany is trying to get returned as there is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity and genocide (here it is for anybody interested that may not have seen it or heard about elsewhere):

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