Social media helps investigators arrest potential Dylann Roof copycat

Updated: Feb. 17, 2017 at 9:02 PM EST
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CONWAY, SC (WMBF) – Twenty-nine-year-old Benjamin McDowell remains behind bars after the FBI discovered he may have been plotting an attack "in the spirit of Dylann Roof."

On Friday, an expert discussed how the FBI was able to pick up on those disturbing posts and messages from McDowell's Facebook page.

Joseph Fitsanakis, an assistant professor of intelligence and national security studies at Coastal Carolina University, said those who are planning acts of terrorism usually don't stay very quiet about their intentions.

"Most people who are involved in this kind of activity - terrorism or potential terrorism - are not very careful about what they say," Fitsanakis said.

He added that suspects like McDowell actually find a way to brag about it.

"Often, they want to post about this to their friends and family," Fitsanakis said. "If they are younger, as in this case of this recent individual, they tend to be very tempted to use social media to express some emotions of anger or potential rage and what have you. And that makes it a little easier to detect them."

While it is quite possible the FBI found McDowell's alleged messages and posts on its own, Fitsanakis said it's also likely others may have tipped off investigators.

"It could have been the case where someone who knew him on social media contacted authorities," he said.

While the posts were alarming, Fitsanakis said it's more likely the FBI had additional physical evidence.

"Every time you send an informant in a place like this, they always go wired as we call it," he said. "They have a microphone and all that kind of stuff, because that's evidence as well. They may have TV footage, surveillance footage, of him doing all kinds of things or stating all kinds of things. So it's not just the stuff he posts on social media. The FBI are typically very careful before they go to trial to have evidence together."

McDowell's next court appearance is Tuesday. The attorney general's office noted it is important to remember the suspect is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

He remains behind bars at the Florence County Detention Center.

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