A group of suspected drug users arrested in Denver over the weekend with methamphetamine, guns and bulletproof vests made racist threats against Barack Obama but posed no true danger to the presidential candidate, federal authorities said Tuesday.
Obama will be in Denver this week accepting the Democratic nomination.
The three men — all high on methamphetamine when arrested — are the subject of an assassination investigation but so far, authorities say, it appears that they had no capacity to carry out any attack on Obama.
"The law recognizes a difference between a true threat — one that can be carried out — and the reported racist rantings of a drug addict," U.S. Attorney Troy Eid said.
He said the men's plans were "more aspirational, perhaps, than operational."
The three have been charged with drug and weapons offenses but not with threatening to assassinate Obama or with other national-security-related crimes.
Obama will become the first black nominee for president by a major party at this week's convention.
An affidavit released by Eid's office Tuesday showed the investigation into alleged threats began with an unnamed female who was with the men — Tharin Gartrell, 28; Shawn Robert Adolf, 33; and Nathan Johnson, 32 — while they were doing drugs in a Denver hotel room last weekend.
The woman told police that the men were calling Obama the N-word and saying he shouldn't live in the White House.
Adolf and Johnson made similar racist statements to police, but Eid said authorities determined there was no firm plot to harm Obama.
"A bunch of meth heads get together, we don't know why they do what they do. ... People do lots of stupid things on meth," Eid said. "If you're talking about a true threat, there has to be some evidence they're not just talking about it or thinking about it, especially in a drug-induced state."
'Blacks don't belong in political office'
Johnson told a Denver TV station that others involved in the case had made racist statements regarding Obama and had discussed killing him Thursday, the day of his acceptance speech at Invesco Field at Mile High.
"He don't belong in political office. Blacks don't belong in political office. He ought to be shot," Johnson told KCNC-TV Monday in a late-night interview from jail.
When asked whether 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." He said he wasn't involved in any plot.
By Tuesday, Johnson was declining media requests for interviews. He did not speak at a bond hearing where he was given $10,000 bond.
Gartrell was arrested after police in Aurora, a suburb east of Denver, stopped a truck that was swerving erratically early Sunday morning. He had a suspended driver's license and the truck was rented in the name of another person, said Aurora police Detective Marcus Dudley.
Aurora police Lt. Bob Stef said police saw two scoped rifles, two wigs, camouflage clothing, a bulletproof vest and two walkie-talkies in the truck. A search also revealed 4.4 grams of what police believed to be methamphetamine and three IDs in other people's names, Stef said.
Suspect jumped out window to avoid arrest
Johnson and Adolf were arrested in area hotel rooms after interviews with Gartrell. Adolf jumped out a sixth-story window of a hotel when police arrived Sunday. He broke his ankle in the fall but tried to run before police found him a short distance away.
Adolf was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of body armor by a violent felon and possession of methamphetamine with to intent to distribute, according to a criminal complaint filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Denver.
Gartrell and Johnson were charged with simple possession of meth, meaning the amount involved was less than 5 grams, and Johnson also was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
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.
A fourth federal official familiar with the investigation said an assassination attempt was unlikely.