10 August 2008
By CLAIRE PRENTICE
IN THE UNITED STATES
AMERICAN law enforcement agencies fear Barack Obama will be the target of a violent attack by white supremacists at the Democratic convention in Denver this month.
Ever since the Senator for Illinois emerged as the likely Democratic presidential candidate, neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and similar groups have been making racist threats.
In an interview on Fox News, Railton Loy, Grand Wizard of the National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan International, said of Obama's presidential campaign: "I'm not going to have to worry about him, because somebody else down south is going to take him out... If that man is elected president, he'll be shot sure as hell. The hate would be so deep down south."
Meanwhile, websites and blogs have been buzzing with racist posts.
"Obama will die, KKK forever," says a post by "Rodney" on a blog run by a person identified only as Strider333. "The KKK or someone WILL assassinate Obama! If we get a N***** President all you N*****'s (sic] will think you've won and that the WHITE people will have to bow to you F*** THAT."
John W Hickenlooper, the Democrat Mayor of Denver, confirmed that he was aware of threats against Obama from white supremacists and other racist groups.
He added that the Denver Police Department was working closely with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Secret Service. He said: "We are looking at every possibility and making sure that we have prepared for every conceivable contingency. If someone is threatening violence we will go to great lengths to deal with that."
The federal government is providing Denver – and St Paul, Minnesota, where the Republicans are staging their convention at the start of next month – with $50m (£26m) each to cover the security costs of staging the conventions.
The Denver Police Department will nearly double in size, bringing in an additional 1,500 police officers from communities throughout Colorado and beyond. National Guard specialists trained to deal with biological, chemical, nuclear and radiological weapons will also be available.
Keen to take advantage of an unprecedented level of media attention – 16,000 journalists are expected – protesters are preparing to flock to Denver in their tens of thousands.
They will include everyone from environmental to health groups and those championing the rights of unborn children to Hillary Clinton supporters, as well as more sinister groups.
Obama's decision to accept his party's nomination not at the convention's Pepsi Centre but at the 75,000-seat Invesco Field, home to the Denver Broncos, has created another headache for the Secret Service. They have had to work out plans to secure the open-air stadium, which is adjacent to a major highway. According to officials, it will almost certainly be closed during Obama's speech.
Mark Potok, an expert on the radical right at the Southern Poverty Law enter in Montgomery, Alabama, said: "People on these racist and white supremacist websites are being quite careful because they know that if they make a threat they will very likely get a visit from the Secret Service.
"The scary thing out there is the lone wolf phenomenon. There are enough crazy people in this movement that it is possible one of them will decide today is the day to kick off the Aryan revolution."
A survey by the centre, which tracks hate groups and handles legal cases against white supremacist organisations, found that the number of racist groups in America has soared in recent years, from 602 in 2000 to 844 in 2006.
It is not just the security forces who fear a racially motivated attack on the Democratic presidential candidate. An ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 59% of Americans (and 83% of African-Americans) are concerned "that someone might attempt to physically harm Barack Obama".
On Thursday, Raymond Hunter Geisel, 22, appeared in court in Miami after allegedly threatening to assassinate Obama. He was in a training class when he allegedly referred to Obama with a racial epithet before adding: "If (Obama] gets elected, I'll assassinate him myself."
According to court documents, Geisel said in an interview with a Secret Service agent, that "if he wanted to kill Senator Obama he simply would shoot him with a sniper rifle, but then he claimed that he was just joking".
A search of Geisel's car and hotel room in Miami uncovered a loaded 9mm handgun, knives, dozens of rounds of ammunition including armour-piercing types, body armour, military-style fatigues and a machete.
After the assassination of high-profile black leaders such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, violent attack is of clear concern to black politicians. Colin Powell, former secretary of state, has said his decision not to stand for the presidency in 1996 was largely due to his wife's fear that he might be shot.
Obama was placed under Secret Service protection in May 2007, the earliest ever for a candidate for the presidency.
Obama's Secret Service detail has recently been increased to a level which rivals that of President George Bush, far exceeding the level of protection afforded to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
Whenever the Illinois senator holds an event or makes an appearance, a dozen Secret Service agents lead bomb-sniffing dogs through event venues.
The Obama campaign declined to comment on specific threats to the candidate.