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DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION

Threat to kill Obama downplayed

August 27, 2008|Nicholas Riccardi | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — Federal authorities Tuesday downplayed what they said were threats made by a pair of men arrested here over the weekend possessing rifles, sniper scopes and an alleged desire to kill Barack Obama.

Shawn Robert Adolf, 33, and Tharin Robert Gartrell, 28, face federal weapons charges, as does an associate, Nathan Johnson, 32.

U.S. Atty. Troy Eid said that during a methamphetamine binge, Adolf and Gartrell had expressed strongly racist views and spoken about killing the presumed Democratic presidential nominee.

Eid said the talk did not meet the legal standard to file charges for threatening a presidential candidate.

"The law recognizes a difference between a true threat -- that's one that can be carried out -- and the reported racist rants of drug abusers," Eid said at a news conference.

There have been low-grade fears for months about possible threats on the life of Obama, who will become the first black major-party presidential nominee when he accepts the Democratic Party's nomination Thursday night.

Obama received Secret Service protection shortly after he announced his campaign in 2007, a recognition of the risks he faces.

Eid acknowledged that many questions had not been answered, including why the men had high-powered weapons, body armor, two-way radios, wigs and camouflage gear. It was also unclear why they decided to base themselves in a suburban Hyatt hotel where they believed -- erroneously -- Obama was staying.

"We are just going to continue to investigate this," Eid said.

In a jailhouse interview with a Denver television station, Johnson said he did not know whether Adolf and Gartrell would have taken action.

"I don't want to say yes, but I don't want to say no," he said.

It began Sunday morning when police in suburban Aurora spotted Gartrell driving a rental truck erratically. When they pulled him over, they found a small amount of meth, two rifles and other gear, court records said.

Gartrell led police first to Johnson, who was arrested with small quantities of meth at the Hyatt in southern Denver, authorities said, then to Gartrell's cousin Adolf, who was at a hotel in the small city of Glendale. When police knocked on Adolf's door, he jumped from his sixth-floor window in an attempt to escape, authorities said.

A woman who said she had been partying with the three men at the Hyatt told investigators that Adolf and Gartrell had made racist comments about Obama. She said they "could not believe how close he was to becoming president," a federal affidavit said.

Johnson told investigators that Adolf had previously talked about killing Obama should the Illinois senator be elected, and that he believed the two men were in Denver to kill Obama, the affidavit said.

Gartrell and Adolf were on probation for drug and other charges, authorities said.

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nicholas.riccardi@latimes.com

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