Family says man sentenced to prison for planning 'Dylann Roof-style' attack is not prejudiced
FLORENCE, SC (WMBF) - A man that threatened a violent white supremacist attack "in the spirit of Dylann Roof" on a synagogue was sentenced to 33 months in prison by a federal court judge Wednesday.
Benjamin McDowell, 31, was arrested in Myrtle Beach in February 2017 for his connection to the planned attack.
Judge Bryan Harwell said that he could not ignore McDowell advocating for violence against Jews, non-whites and minorities. The judge allowed McDowell's two grandmothers, a family friend and an HCS mental health counselor that previously mentored McDowell to speak during Wednesday's hearing.
In addition to the 33 month sentence upon parole, the judge has ordered McDowell must be on home confinement, undergo mandatory drug testing and mental health counseling and vocational training.
Benjamin McDowell admitted to being a part of a KKK clan to JudgeHarwell and said he felt loved by the group, even though it was a hateful lifestyle, but during his time in prison he learned not all people are bad. McDowell looked at the FBI agents in the courtroom and at first said he was mad at them for setting him up, but then thanked them and believes law enforcement did him a service by arresting him.
Family members who spoke during the hearing said they believe the sentence is appropriate considering his mental capacity, though they do not believe McDowell is prejudiced.
"He's no Dylann Roof. He was raised up with blacks, they are his friends, he's not no prejudice boy," said Nancy Clewis, one of McDowell's grandmothers.
When asked if she thinks McDowell was going to attack Temple Emanu-el, Clewis replied, "No ma'am, he was coached in that. He's no prejudice kid, he's a kid. He just got with the wrong people. I told him I loved him and I do love him."
During the hearing, the prosecutors read a letter written by Rabbi Avi Perets, as he felt too intimidated to attend the sentencing hearing.
The letter said since McDowell's arrest, his congregation will never be the same. There are Holocaust survivors and people are still in fear and they have installed full security that was a huge financial burden.
McDowell's family admitted he is a follower and not a leader, he needs mental help, and should be under their supervision and care.
"I felt bad for him. Benji really is a good boy," family friend Buddy Floyd said. "I know he's done things he shouldn't do, he's just a big ol' teddy bear. I hope they get him some mental help because he really does need help mentally. His childhood and I think some of the stuff happened was because he was led to think certain things, like the day he got caught he thought he was going to Alabama to go to work and get a job, and he ended up in jail."
McDowell has 14 days to appeal the sentence. He is in the custody of the U.S. Marshals until he is transferred to the bureau of prisons. While there, additional screening will determine what facility McDowell will be detained in.
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