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Man arrested with weapons wasn't credible threat to Obama, officials say

Tuesday, August 26, 2008 | 1:15 p.m. CDT

DENVER - Authorities are investigating whether a man arrested with rifles, ammunition and drugs in his truck made statements threatening Barack Obama, but they emphasize that he never posed a "credible threat" to the candidate or the Democratic National Convention.

Federal and local authorities had scheduled a news conference for Tuesday afternoon, but U.S. Attorney Troy Eid downplayed the case.

"We're absolutely confident there is no credible threat to the candidate, the Democratic National Convention or the people of Colorado," Eid said in a statement.

FBI spokeswoman Kathy Wright confirmed the FBI was investigating reports the man had threatened Obama, who will be in Denver this week to accept the Democratic nomination for president. The Joint Information Center - a command set up by city, state and federal authorities to field media inquiries during the Democratic convention - said it had no immediate comment.

Officials arrested three men and a woman last weekend suspected of plotting to shoot Obama as he gave his acceptance speech for the presidential nomination.

Nathan Johnson, one of the men arrested, told KCNC-TV, the CBS affiliate in Denver, that others involved in the case had made racist statements regarding Obama and had discussed killing Obama on the day of the speech.

When asked if he felt there was a plot to kill Obama, Johnson said, "Looking back at it, I don't want to say yes, but I don't want to say no." Johnson was interviewed while being held in jail on drug charges. He said he wasn't involved in any plot.

Three senior FBI officials said it's unclear whether shooters could have had a clear path to hit the stage from outside the convention hall. At least two of the men may have had white supremacist ties, the officials said, adding that it was unclear whether any of them were serious about carrying out threats. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the case.

The action started around 1:30 a.m. Sunday when police in the eastern suburb of Aurora stopped a truck that was swerving erratically. The driver, 28-year-old Tharin Gartrell, had a suspended driver's license, and the truck was rented in the name of another person, said Aurora police Detective Marcus Dudley.

In the truck, officers found two rifles, including one with a scope; a bulletproof vest; boxes of ammunition; walkie-talkies; and suspected narcotics, Dudley said.

Aurora police, on edge because of heightened security surrounding the Democratic convention in Denver, alerted federal authorities.

Three hours later, at 4:30 a.m. Sunday, federal agents arrested Johnson, 32, at a hotel in Denver. He was being held on drug charges, Dudley said.

A half-hour after that, 33-year-old Shawn Robert Adolf jumped from a sixth-story window when authorities tried to arrest him at a hotel in suburban Glendale, police said.

Adolf was hospitalized and was being held on $1 million bond for several outstanding warrants involving drug charges. He had a handcuff key in one hand and a swastika ring on the other when he was arrested, a senior FBI official said.

Dudley didn't say what tied the men together but said more arrests were possible. One of the rifles was stolen, and authorities had traced it to Kansas, Dudley said.

It wasn't known if the three men had attorneys, Dudley said.

Dudley said Gartrell was being investigated for methamphetamine and firearms violations. Gartrell, who has no known address, was being held at the Arapahoe County jail on $50,000 bail on drug and weapons charges. The jail said he was due in court Thursday.

Law enforcement officials were also investigating whether the men were linked to vandalism shootings that targeted at least two federal buildings in Denver over the past two weeks. Windows were shot at the U.S. Custom House and the U.S. Military Entrance Processing Station on the same street in Denver's downtown Federal District.

Additionally, a bullet was recovered from a Hertz rental car that was shot in the area on Aug. 15, and authorities are now looking to see if it could have matched the guns seized from the men.

Denver suburbs, including Aurora, have a history of skinhead activities, particularly in the 1990s, said Mark Potok, who tracks white supremacist trends for the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala.

Potok said his organization does not know any of the men arrested Sunday, but Colorado has 12 established white supremacist groups - a moderate number compared to the rest of the country.

The reaction to the arrests on white supremacist Web forums is a fear that this alleged plot is a government set-up intended to destroy white nationalists, Potok said.

 


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