ST DAVID’S, Pennsylvania (AFP) – Two white supremacists have been arrested for threatening to kill Barack Obama in a chilling twist revealed by officials as the race for the White House headed for its final seven days.
Daniel Cowart, 20, and Paul Schlesselman, 18, were arrested last week in Tennessee for possession of firearms, threats against a candidate running for president and conspiring to rob a gun store, the Department of Justice said.
The men began “discussing going on a ‘killing spree’ that included killing 88 people and beheading 14 African Americans,” Brian Weaks, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives told a Memphis court on Monday.
“They further stated that their final act of violence would be to attempt to kill/assassinate presidential candidate Barack Obama,” he added, as the two men appeared before the federal court.
The case is likely to heighten fears for Democrat candidate Obama’s safety as he bids to defeat Republican opponent John McCain to become the first black US president in history in next Tuesday’s elections.
He is already under secret service protection having received it much earlier in the campaign than any other presidential candidate. His campaign team declined to comment on the news.
The White House rivals were to hold competing rallies on Tuesday in the rust-belt state of Pennsylvania before splitting, with McCain fighting a rearguard action in North Carolina and Obama on the attack in Virginia.
Despite holding a robust poll lead nationally and in battleground states, Obama, 47, warned against complacency as he prepared to air a costly 30-minute “infomercial” on major US networks on Wednesday evening.
“Don’t believe for a second this election is over,” the Illinois senator said Monday in Pittsburgh, whose withered steelworks are symptomatic of Pennsylvania’s industrial blight.
“And Pittsburgh, that’s why we cannot afford to slow down, or sit back, or let up for one day, one minute, or one second in this final week,” he told 15,800 supporters in the cavernous arena of the Penguins ice hockey team.
“In one week, you can choose hope over fear, unity over division, the promise of change over the power of the status quo,” Obama said, his oratory returning to its early campaign heights as the electrifying race climaxes.
“We can’t let up. Not now. Not when so much is at stake,” he added in what aides called his “closing argument” to voters.
For McCain, Pennsylvania and its swollen ranks of disaffected, white, working-class voters is must-win territory on November 4, along with historically Republican bastions such as North Carolina and Virginia.
The Arizona senator, 72, tried to reignite fears of “socialism” by citing a 2001 radio interview given by Obama where he appeared to lament the failure of the 1960s civil rights movement to bring about greater financial equality.
“That is what change means for Barack the Redistributor: It means taking your money and giving it to someone else,” he told a crowd of around 2,000 at a sports hall in Dayton, Ohio.
In Cleveland earlier, McCain said: “Today he claims he’ll tax the rich; but we’ve seen in the past that he’s been willing to hit people squarely in the middle class.”
Obama’s camp responded swiftly, rejecting McCain’s comment over wealth redistribution as a “false, desperate attack,” as the candidate tarred the Republican with the taint of President George W. Bush’s economic policies.
“I can take one more week of John McCain’s attacks, but this country can’t take four more years of the same old politics and the same failed policies. It’s time for something new,” Obama said both in Ohio and Pennsylvania Monday.
The challenge facing McCain was underlined by his choice this late in the game to head to North Carolina, which has not voted for a Democratic White House hopeful since 1976 but is now a raging battleground.
Virginia is an even deeper shade of Republican “red,” having last backed a Democrat for the presidency way back in 1964. But Obama has a double-digit poll lead there, and is hoping the forecasts could portend a landslide in his favor.
The Republican was to address an evening rally in Fayetteville, North Carolina, home of the vast Fort Bragg army base, as the former Vietnam prisoner of war hammers Obama as unfit to serve as commander-in-chief.
“I have fought for you most of my life, and in places where defeat meant more than returning to the Senate,” McCain said in Dayton.
“There are other ways to love this country, but I’ve never been the kind to back down when the stakes are high.”