In a hearing that took little more than a minute, Benjamin Thomas Samuel McDowell – accused of purchasing a gun from an undercover agent for an attack “in the spirit of Dylann Roof,” waived his right to a preliminary hearing.
He delayed the matter of his bond.
“He looked real good. He looked real strong,” McDowell’s mother, Joanne Clewis, said Tuesday as she left a small federal courtroom in Florence where her son had his first appearance before a federal judge on his federal weapons violation.
Moments earlier, McDowell had entered the small courtroom where his family filled the front row. Dressed in an orange jumpsuit, his wrists shackled to a chain around his waist, McDowell scanned the crowd, settling on the supportive gaze of his family. Sniffles escaped from his mother as Clewis dabbed the tears from her eyes.
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He mouthed the words “I love you” in her direction, then gave a sheepish smile before his face sank briefly into sadness.
“Thank you for coming,” he mouthed to his family.
Clewis said this was the first time seeing her son after he was arrested by federal agents Wednesday in the parking lot of a Hampton Inn in Myrtle Beach.
Officers say the 29-year-old Conway man was carrying a red duffel bag containing the 40-caliber Glock and hollow point ammunition he had just purchased from an undercover agent in Myrtle Beach.
McDowell was charged as being a felon in possession of a firearm or ammunition after the purchase, according to a federal complaint.
Roof was sentenced to death last month for the execution-style killings of nine African-American worshipers at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015.
Documents filed in McDowell’s case say he became affiliated with white supremacists while serving prison sentences in South Carolina and has tattoos indicating his ties.
He also has a history of making racial comments on Facebook, according to an affidavit filed in the case. One post, with the words: “I love love to act what u think” was linked to the Temple Emanu-El Myrtle Beach Conservative Synagogue, the document says.
The matter of McDowell’s bond can be scheduled at a later date, McDowell’s attorney, Bill Nettles, said after the hearing.
Wiping away tears, Clewis says she was happy to see her son.
“I love him,” she said. “He’s a good kid. ... It’s totally shocking.”
According to the affidavit, McDowell met with an undercover FBI agent who he “believed handled problems for the Aryan Nations” on Jan. 12. At a hotel in Myrtle Beach, McDowell voiced “frustration with other white supremacists, stating that screaming ‘white power’ was not getting the job done,” according to court records.
The affidavit says McDowell “indicated he sought a way to conduct an attack on non-whites without getting caught” but admitted “he had not decided on a place or time to conduct an attack.”
The affidavit says McDowell asked the undercover agent to procure a gun and hollow point ammunition for him, which the court record says he purchased from the agent at a Myrtle Beach hotel on Wednesday. He told the agent he “wanted to conduct an attack on an unknown location outside the county where he resided,” the document says.
The defense’s next step is to look into the case and the charges brought against McDowell.
“We’ll have an investigation into the facts of the case and see where it goes from there,” Nettles said.