FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) – The man who reportedly purchased a gun and planned to commit an attack "in the spirit of Dylann Roof" pled guilty to one charge of felon in possession of a firearm in federal court Monday, according to court documents.
Benjamin Thomas Samuel McDowell was arrested last February on a weapons charge after allegedly posting to Facebook an anti-Semitic screed referencing Dylann Roof, which included the statement: "they should be Feasting on the enemy that stole their Heritage and their bloodline and trying to run us off of this Earth you can post pictures of f****** Viking and swords all the s*** you want to post if you ain't got the heart to fight for Yahweh like dylann roof did you need to shut the f*** up…"
Horry County police indicated to the FBI that McDowell had established white supremacy extremist connections while serving in prison in South Carolina for various criminal offenses, including tattoos indicating an affiliation with these groups.
Criminal defense attorney Greg McCollum, with the Complete Legal Defense Team, said the big question is if McDowell was going to act upon an attack or if he was just going to talk about it online. However, since he took the step of obtaining a weapon, an undercover FBI agent was able to arrest him.
"They had strong evidence and a strong case that he attempted to buy the gun illegally; that's what I would tend to conclude," McCollum said. "Given the nature of how things are now and certainly the sensitivity that people have, I would think if there was any way to charge him or bring other kind of charges or even go to trial, that they would have done everything possible to do that. I tend to think that probably wasn't there and that's why the government entered into the plea with him for the felony possession of a firearm."
Due to mass shootings and threats being a big concern in society, McCollum said it was fortunate the FBI acted upon this particular threat.
"Obviously if some terrible crime were thwarted, then that's one of the things we want the government to do, or police and FBI agents to do," he said. "Clearly, the question in this case is was he ever going to do anything? I don't know if anyone knows the answer to that. I would think if there was evidence that he planned to carry this out, I would think if there were more charges that would be brought, the government would have brought them."
McCollum added a crime or criminal attempt is the will to break the law, accompanied by an overt act.
"In other words if we sit in our living room and just rail on society and just say things that we never act on, well that's probably protected under the First Amendment." he said, "Much of this has changed since we have social media, because before we would say things to our neighbors or over the phone, but really the phone usually does constitute a crime. So we all have the right to express ourselves, but at the same time society is extremely concerned about people committing serious crimes such as mass shootings and terrorist acts."
McDowell faces a maximum term of 10 years in prison, and must serve 85 percent of the sentence, a maximum fine of $250,000, a maximum period of supervised release of three years and a special assessment of $100.