A South Carolina man with white supremacy connections was charged Wednesday after buying a gun from an undercover agent with the intention to carry out an attack “in the spirit of Dylann Roof.”
Benjamin Thomas Samuel McDowell, 29, from Conway, was arrested Wednesday afternoon by FBI agents, according to Horry County jail records. According to federal court records, he is charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm or ammunition. There was no immediate word on additional charges.
When reached by phone, McDowell’s mother, Joanne Clewis, said she did not want to talk about her son’s arrest.
“All I have to say is that I love my son, and I don’t have any comments,” Clewis said.
McDowell had been corresponding with an undercover FBI agent about buying a firearm, according to the criminal complaint against him. During a conversation last week, the agent agreed to pick up the 29-year-old from his mother’s house in Conway and then travel to the home of McDowell’s grandfather a mile away. McDowell planned to get money from his grandfather to buy the gun and ammo.
The two then planned to meet at a restaurant for lunch and to discuss McDowell’s plans for the attack, agents said.
FBI agents had disabled the Glock without McDowell’s knowledge by shaving down the firing pin, according to the complaint. He was arrested Wednesday in the parking lot of a Myrtle Beach hotel. Agents say he was holding a red bag that contained the gun and ammo.
The complaint said he radicalized while in prison.
McDowell on Dec. 26 posted a message to Facebook that said, “I love love to act what u think,” followed by a link to the Temple Emanu-El Conservative Synagogue in Myrtle Beach, according to the complaint. Horry County police told federal investigators that McDowell had “established connections” to white supremacy extremists while serving time in a South Carolina prison and that he also has tattoos indicating affiliations with these groups.
The fact that McDowell had connections to white supremacy extremists in prison comes as no surprise to Heidi Beirich, an expert in extremism, including white supremacist movements, at the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Beirich said domestic terrorism attacks have been growing in recent years, while many policymakers and law enforcement officials have focused on Islamic terrorism. There’s just an “inability to conceive of the fact that there is so much terrorism coming from white people,” Beirich said.
“That’s not to say that Islamic extremism isn’t important,” Beirich said. “But the fact of the matter is that 85 percent of domestic terrorist attacks in recent years have been committed by people with beliefs like (McDowell’s).”
A records check by the State Law Enforcement Division indicates McDowell has more than a dozen tattoos on his chest, shoulders and extremities. Details about the tattoos weren’t available.
Federal investigators cited a series of social media postings laced with profanity and anti-Semitic sentiments that McDowell made in December and January, many of which referenced – and even praised – convicted mass killer Dylann Roof.
Roof, an avowed white supremacist from the Columbia area, was sentenced to death last month after a federal jury convicted him of the execution-style killings of nine African-American worshipers at Charleston’s Emanuel AME Church in June 2015.
“Dylann roof did what these tattoos wearing so badass is supposed to be doing they don’t give a (expletive) about their white race,” McDowell wrote on Facebook on Jan. 5, according to the complaint. “All they wanne do is stay loaded on drugs the Jews put here to destory white man and they feast on the drugs. they should be Feasting on the enemy that stole their Heritage and their bloodline and trying to run us off of this Earth.”
In the same post, McDowell went on to say, “if you ain’t got the heart to fight for Yahweh like dylann roof did you need to shut the (expletive) up,” according to the complaint.
A review of Facebook instant messenger revealed that the following day, McDowell requested an “iron,” which is a code word for gun, the complaint states.
McDowell first met with an undercover FBI agent Jan. 12, believing the agent “handled problems for the Aryan Nations,” according to the complaint. They met at a Myrtle Beach hotel and discussed getting a gun, with McDowell saying he didn’t want it traced back to him.
During the same meeting, McDowell “further voiced apparent frustration with other white supremacists, stating that screaming ‘white power’ was not getting the job done,” the complaint states.
“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 (expletive),” McDowell said, according to the complaint. He continued: “If I could do something on a (expletive) big scale and write on the (expletive) building or whatever, ‘In the spirit of Dylann Roof.’”
McDowell told the officer he had not decided on a place or time to conduct the attack, but he apparently wanted to carry out the attack outside Horry County. He requested either a .38- or .40-caliber weapon, and it was agreed that the undercover agent would get McDowell a .40-caliber Glock. McDowell also said he would like hollow-point ammunition.
“I just be plotting it out,” McDowell said during a Jan. 26 conversation with the agent. “Like, I mean you just run up there on them if they back there partying and all with a (expletive) AK and rip them (expletive) down, and throw a (expletive) something at them.”
McDowell’s criminal record extends to 2006 and includes multiple convictions for burglary and assault and battery as well as assault and battery of a high and aggravated nature, according to SLED. Most recently, McDowell was convicted in September 2013 on charges of third-degree assault and battery and malicious injury to property.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said McDowell appeared before a federal magistrate Thursday morning and is expected at a preliminary hearing and a detention hearing in Florence on Tuesday afternoon. He remains in the Florence County Detention Center.