Thursday, August 28, 2008

Barack Obama Assassination 'Plotters' Will Not Face Charges

From The Times

August 27, 2008

Barack Obama assassination 'plotters' will not face charges

Tim Reid and Tom Baldwin in Denver

Three white supremacists with a sniper rifle and high on drugs who were arrested near the Democratic convention in Denver will not face charges even though officials believe that they wanted to assassinate Barack Obama.

The FBI and the US Secret Service carried out an “intensive” investigation into the plot — in which the supremacists talked of shooting Mr Obama as he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination in an open-air sports stadium on Thursday night — but found insufficient evidence of a “true threat”.

One of the suspects, Shawn Adolph, 33, was connected to a high-velocity Ruger sniper rifle seized during a series of early morning arrests on Monday and had made clear threats and “racial slurs” against Mr Obama, Troy Eid, Denver’s US district attorney said.

The spectre of assassination arose in May when Hillary Clinton had to apologise after appearing to suggest that the assassination of Robert Kennedy in 1968 during his presidential campaign was a good reason for her staying in the race. Mr Obama=2 0is often compared to John F. Kennedy. But it is his skin colour that has added to concerns in a country that has more than 200 million legally held firearms and 30,000 gun deaths each year.

Mr Eid said: “It is a serious federal crime to make a threat against a presidential candidate.” But he added that the three men arrested in connection with the plot had been abusing the drug methamphetamine when they discussed the possibility of killing Mr Obama.

“From a legal standpoint, the law recognises a difference between a true threat and the racist rantings of drug abusers,” Mr Eid said. “The alleged threat does not warrant charges at this time but we are keeping an open mind.”

The three men — Mr Adolph, his cousin Tharin Gartrell, 28, and Nathan Johnson, 32, have long criminal records for illegal gun possession, drug dealing and theft. There were multiple outstanding warrants for their arrest and all three were being held on drug and firearms charges last night.

The alleged plot received serious attention after an extraordinary jail-cell interview with local television by Mr Johnson, who said that his associates had planned to assassinate Mr Obama as he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination in the 75,000-seat open air Invesco sports stadium on Thursday.

Mr Johnson also told police that the plan had been to shoot Mr Obama “f rom a high vantage point using a rifle sighted at 750 yards”.

The Democratic candidate has been under Secret Service protection since May last year after a series of credible death threats. The plot comes at a time of heightened security fears in Denver, and an unspoken fear inside the Obama campaign about the candidate’s safety.

A recent Gallup poll revealed that nearly two thirds of blacks in the US believe Mr Obama faces greater security risks than other candidates.

The suspects were seized in the early morning after police stopped Mr Gartrell, who had been driving a rented Dodge pick-up truck erratically. In the vehicle officers found two high-powered rifles, including one with telescopic sights, along with radios, wigs, a bullet-proof vest, a high-magnification spotting scope, three identifications not belonging to Mr Gartrell, and 44 grams of the stimulant methamphetamine. One rifle had a threaded barrel so that it could be fitted with a silencer.

Also found in their pick-up truck were three kits for the production of methamphetamine and the necessary ingredients.

Mr Johnson, an unemployed lorry driver, told CBS4, the Denver television station, from his cell that his friends had told him that they did not want Mr Obama to be president. “He don’t belong in political office — or blacks don’t belong in political office,” he said. “He gotta be shot.” Mr Johnson continued: “H e had said that, yes, it would be probably on the day of the acceptance speech.”

He was then asked: “So your friends were saying threatening things about Obama?”

“Yeah,” Mr Johnson replied.

“It sounded like they didn’t want him to be president?”

“Yeah,” Mr Johnson said.

“Do you think they were really plotting to kill Obama?”

Mr Johnson replied: “I don’t want to say yes. I don’t want to say no.”

He added that he had told the FBI about the plot during eight hours of interviews and a polygraph test. “I did say that it would be from a high vantage point and that it would be with the named rifle,” he said.

After Mr Gartrell’s arrest, officers accompanied him to a hotel, where they arrested Mr Johnson at 4.30am. Thirty minutes later police went to another hotel, where Mr Adolph, 33, wanted on a number of drug-related arrest warrants, jumped from a sixth-storey window and broke his ankle. He was said to be wearing a ring with a swastika.

The men were also reported to have possible ties to an outlaw motorcycle group called Sons of Silence. Mr Johnson’s girlfriend, Natasha Gromek, was also arrested on drug charges.

Mr Obama, who was given Secret Service protection earlier than any other presidential candidate, has played down fears about his safety. Yet a poll released in Michigan found that 57 per ce nt of respondents agreed that “there are people who want to hurt Barack Obama because of his race”.

He travels with a retinue of six Secret Service agents at all times. Security in Denver is intense, with nearly 1,500 police officers from across Colorado brought into supplement those from the city, as well as the Secret Service, the US Capitol Police and the National Guard.

Copyright 2008 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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