In a hearing that took little more than a minute, Benjamin Thomas Samuel McDowell - accused of purchasing a gun from an undercover agent for an attack “in the spirit of Dylann Roof,” waived his right to a preliminary hearing.
He delayed the matter of his bond.
“He looked real good. He looked real strong,” said McDowell’s mother, Joanne Clewis, as she exited a small federal courtroom in Florence where her son had his first appearance before a federal judge on a federal weapons violation.
Moments earlier, McDowell had entered the small courtroom where his family filled a front row pew on Tuesday afternoon. Dressed in an orange jumpsuit, his wrists shackled to a chain around his waist, McDowell scanned the crowd, settling on the supportive gaze of his family. Sniffles escaped from his mother as Clewis dabbed the tears from her eyes.
He mouthed the words “I love you” in her direction, then gave a sheepish smile before his face sank briefly into sadness.
“Thank you for coming,” he mouthed to his family.
Clewis said this was the first time seeing her son after he was arrested by federal agents Wednesday in the parking lot of a Hampton Inn at Broadway at the Beach.
Officers say the 29-year-old Conway man was carrying a red duffel bag, containing a 40-caliber Glock and hollow point ammunition he had just purchased from an undercover agent, when he was arrested.
McDowell was charged as a felon in possession of a firearm or ammunition after the purchase, according to a federal complaint.
Documents filed in the case say McDowell became affiliated with white supremacists while he was serving prison sentences in South Carolina and has tattoos indicating his ties.
McDowell served 18 months in prison for a felony second-degree burglary conviction in 2011. His right to possess a firearm was lost with that conviction.
He also has a history of making racial comments on Facebook, according to an affidavit filed in the case. One post, with the words: “I love love to act what u think” was linked to the Temple Emanu-El Myrtle Beach Conservative Synagogue, the document says.
According to the affidavit, McDowell met with an undercover FBI agent, who he “believed handled problems for the Aryan Nations” on Jan. 12. At a hotel in Myrtle Beach, McDowell voiced “frustration with other white supremacists, stating that screaming ‘white power’ was not getting the job done,” according to court records.
The affidavit says McDowell “indicated he sought a way to conduct an attack on non-whites without getting caught,” but admitted “he had not decided on a place or time to conduct an attack.”
But the document says he had thought of paying homage to Dylann Roof in his plans.
Roof was sentenced to death in January for the mass shooting of nine people killed in a Charleston church basement in 2015.
The affidavit says McDowell asked the undercover agent to procure a gun and hollow point ammunition for him, which the court record says he purchased from the agent at a Myrtle Beach hotel on Wednesday. He told the agent he “wanted to conduct an attack on an unknown location outside the county where he resided,” the document says.
The matter of McDowell’s bond will be scheduled at a later date, McDowell’s court-appointed attorney, Bill Nettles, said after the hearing. The defense’s next step is to look into the case and the charges brought against McDowell.
“We’ll have an investigation into the facts of the case and see where it goes from there,” Nettles said.
Wiping away tears, Clewis says she was happy to see her son.
“I love him,” she said. “He’s a good kid. ... It’s totally shocking.”