Two white supremacists allegedly plotted a killing spree against black people, with an ultimate target of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, federal authorities said.
The two men whom officials described as neo-Nazi skinheads wanted to kill 88 people _ 14 of them by beheading, according to documents unsealed in U.S. District Court in Jackson, Tennessee. The numbers 88 and 14 are symbolic in the white supremacist community.
Charged with the plot are Daniel Coward, 20, of Bells, Tennessee, and Paul Schlesselman, 18, of Helena-West Helena, Arkansas.
The planned spree, which initially targeted an unidentified predominantly African-American school, was to end with the two men driving toward Obama, "shooting at him from the windows," wearing white tuxedoes and top hats, and "willing to die," the documents show.
An Obama spokeswoman traveling with the senator in Pennsylvania had no immediate comment.
Residents of rural Bells were shocked to hear Monday that Cowart was a suspect.
"If we had any skinheads in this county I wasn't aware of it. We hardly know what they are," said Sam Lewis, who lives across the street from the mother of suspect Daniel Cowart. Cowart, he said, grew up in the comfortable, well-maintained neighborhood and wasn't known as a troublemaker.
"His mother is a real sweet, nice girl, and this comes as a shock and a surprise," Lewis said.
Cowart and Schlesselman are charged by federal authorities with possessing an unregistered firearm, conspiring to steal firearms from a federally licensed gun dealer and threatening a candidate for president. They were being held without bond.
Authorities describe the two as neo-Nazi skinheads. They said the numbers 14 and 88 are symbols in skinhead culture, referring to a 14-word phrase attributed to an imprisoned white supremacist: "We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children" and to the eighth letter of the alphabet, H. Two "8"s or "H"s stand for "Heil Hitler."
In Helena-West Helena, on the Mississippi River in east Arkansas' Delta, Schlesselman was described as a "troubled child" by a woman who works with his adoptive father, Mark Schlesselman.
Marty Riddell said she tried to offer Paul Schlesselman a pet lizard she couldn't care for, but was warned by his family that "he would hurt it."
"They might have done that man a favor picking that kid up," Riddell said. "He was a troubled child already."
Joe Byrd, a lawyer representing Cowart, said he was reviewing the charges against his client "as well as the facts and circumstances of his arrest" and was not yet prepared to comment.
No one answered the door at Cowart's mother's house, and no lights were on inside.
At this point, there does not appear to be any formal assassination plan, Secret Service spokesman Eric Zahren said.
"Whether or not they had the capability or the wherewithal to carry out an attack remains to be seen," he said.
The investigation is continuing and more charges are possible, Cavanaugh said. He said there's no evidence _ so far _ that others were willing to assist Cowart and Schlesselman with the plot.
Associated Press writers Erik Schelzig in Nashville, Tennessee, Jon Gambrell in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Eileen Sullivan and Lara Jakes Jordan in Washington contributed to this report.