DENVER ( – The same day Illinois Senator Barack Obama made history as the first Black man to accept a major party nomination for president, Tharin Gartrell, one of three men who recently made racist assassination threats against him, appeared in federal court to face felony charges related to the incident.

Two days before Mr. Gartrell’s Aug. 28 hearing, U.S. Attorney Troy Eid held a press conference and announced there was “insufficient evidence to indicate a true threat, plot or conspiracy” against Sen. Obama. U.S. Magistrate Judge Kathleen Tafoya detained Mr. Gartrell for possession of methamphetamine. Mr. Gatrell faces up to two years in federal prison based on the drug charges and preliminary hearings in his case were scheduled for Sept. 2. Weapons charges are also pending.

“They were talking about Sen. Obama, not liking him and not wanting him to be president. There were two people who were making threats, according to the allegations. The threats were vague threats about hurting him. They were not threats about ‘this is when we’re going to do it,’ ” U.S. Atty. Eid said.


Mr. Gartrell, arrested by Aurora, Colo., police for driving erratically and found with drugs and weapons in a van, led police to others. Shawn Adolf was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of body armor by a violent felon, and possession of a controlled substance. Nathan Johnson was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and possession of methamphetamine. Both were in police custody and awaiting court hearings at Final Call presstime.

The men were found Aug. 24 with high-powered rifles, ammunition, wigs, scopes, fake i.d.’s, radios, camouflage gear and may have ties to White supremacist groups.

According to the federal prosecutor, “They were all on meth. People were one meth head talking to another meth head about life, so we just have to make sure we understand whether they did anything more than this, and at this point, there’s no indication that they did.”

Asked by The Final Call if it would take Sen. Obama surviving a shooting for a threat to be called credible, U.S. Atty. Eid responded, “I appreciate your question. Under no circumstances would we ever take this with anything other than the utmost seriousness. The fact that we have spent our time, and will continue to do so on this, all of us, shows how we will continue to check out anything related to this and the security of the people that live here.”

The Secret Service and Denver police were doing alot to protect Sen. Obama, his family, the community and visitors, he added, without giving details. U.S. Atty. Eid did not know the status of a woman who was also arrested.

The missing ingredient was the ability to carry out threats to make the threat credible, Atty. Eid said. To charge them with a crime against Sen. Obama, they would have to actually have taken some action, he said. It is also a crime to issue threats against a presidential candidate.

According to a police affidavit, the tip regarding possible threats made against Sen. Obama came from an unnamed female, whom they found in the Hyatt Hotel with Mr. Adolf. She told police that Mr. Johnson and Mr. Gartrell spoke negatively about Sen. Obama and she believed they were racists, possibly associated with White supremacist groups.

The affidavit stated that the three suspects were “all commenting on how Obama was a ‘n—-r’ and further stated that they, ‘could not believe how close he (Obama) was to becoming president,’ and that no ‘n—-r’ should ever live in the White House.”

According to the affidavit, Mr. Johnson blamed the threats on a second unnamed female who had come to his hotel room and was doing drugs.  She initially made statements about killing Sen. Obama with a gun hidden inside a camera, but the three men dismissed her statements, the affidavit said.

When police found a discrepancy in Mr. Johnson’s story regarding the firearms, which were registered in his name, he began to cry and admitted that Mr. Adolf had threatened to kill Sen. Obama before, saying he would use a sniper rifle on the day of his acceptance speech from high ground.

“There were no political reasons for wanting to kill Obama, and the only reason to kill Obama is because Obama is Black,” Mr. Johnson said, according to the affidavit.

“The whole idea of just dismissing it as not credible is incredible and quite frankly if indeed these were folks who were just ‘crack-heads’ or on methamphetamines, that’s a clear indication that they may indeed want to do something. These things have happened in the past. If you look back in terms of the relationship between the commission of crime and the use of drugs, there’s a clear link there,” said Dr. William Boone, a political science professor at Clark Atlanta University.

“And sometimes it’s like alcohol and certain kinds of drugs give folks courage and given the hallucinating nature of some of these drugs, they also provide the kind of context in which people don’t know what reality is. I’m very, very surprised at them (prosecutors) letting these people go on that basis.It’s surprising given the whole history of crime and drug use in the United States,” Dr. Boone added.

He cited the case of John Hinkley, Jr., who shot President Ronald Reagan in 1981 to impress actress Jodie Foster, as a one example of what can happen when one is out of one’s mind. Mr. Hinkley was found not guilty by reason of insanity. “He also wounded James Brady, Reagan’s press secretary, who had a conversion and went around the country pumping for legislation to limit the availability of weapons to folk, especially those who may indeed have shown some indication of having some insanity or drug use or other kind of crime history,” Dr. Boone recalled.

The professor added that Sirhan Sirhan, who murdered Senator Robert Kennedy in Los Angeles in 1968, was an extremist whose whole defense was that he was out of his head and didn’t know what he was doing. He believes the incident raises the broader question of Sen. Obama’s safety this election cycle.

“Certainly, even Hillary Clinton hinted at that (assassination) when she was campaigning in the primaries.Obama was given Secret Service protection long before anyone else in that run-off cycle, so there’s been some threats already on Obama and his family. So yeah, there’s a credible threat out there, especially when you’re talking about folks getting high on drugs or any other kind of thing that heightens sensory perception. I’m not quite certain as to whether or not the idea of saying this was not credible was just for the newspapers or to dampen any kind of outcry on the part of people like you and I,” Dr. Boone said.

Related links:

Ugly politics, tasteless remarks aimed at Obama (FCN, 06-03-2008)

Israeli designs ‘Who Killed Obama’ shirts (WordPress, 05-18-2008)

FCN Editorial – Is America’s attitude changing? (FCN Editorial, 01-14-2008)