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Community reacts after FBI arrests Conway man for threatening 'Dylann Roof-style attack'

One local community is left reeling after a Conway man was taken into custody by the FBI on Thursday after writing multiple threatening messages on Facebook and discussing an attack "in the spirit of Dylann Roof," according to court paperwork.

Benjamin Thomas Samuel McDowell, 29, of Conway, was arrested by the FBI on Feb. 15, according to J. Reuben Long Detention Center.

Investigators said McDowell, a convicted criminal, bought a gun from an undercover FBI employee at a hotel in Myrtle Beach.

Court documents show McDowell frequently posted rantings on Facebook, about the white race and Jews, at one point indicating that he might target a synagogue in the Myrtle Beach area.

Local civil right leader, Bennie Swans, said it's an unfortunate fact of life that attacks grounded in hatred and racism can happen anywhere at any time.

"Unfortunately, we've got to imagine that it could happen here. I just hope and pray every day that we find the strength as a society to combat that negative racial stereotyping," Swans said.

A local mental health counselor, Kit Galton, said the movement toward violence is a progression that starts with feelings of low self-worth.

He said he was only just learning about the McDowell case and couldn't comment on it directly, but he said the ideology of hatred remains the same.

"They pull back from other places or other people and feel uncomfortable. They often then find solace with somebody that's not such a good person or influence, or find readings from a group that says, 'This is what's happening.' And, they say, 'Ah, maybe that's why I'm not functioning well or getting jobs or whatever,'" Galton said.

Galton said it's best to stop that hatred, that progression toward violence before it can even begin.

He suggested opening up to people more and seeing what a difference it can make, especially where young people are concerned.

"We want to include them in our groups,churches,schools. So they start to interact with other people, so they hear other ways of seeing things and understanding from other people how things can be," he said.

McDowell's mother, who lives in Conway, did not want to be on camera, but she did tell ABC15 that she believes her son isn't guilty and that he's a good man.

ABC 15 requested a complete SLED background check for McDowell.

It showed that he was convicted of first degree burglary and attempted burglary in 2008 and was sentenced to six years in prison, but that was suspended to three years on probation under the Youthful Offenders Act.

He was also convicted of third degree burglary and aggravated assault in 2009. He was sentenced to five years in jail, but it was suspended to three years probation.

Later in 2009, he was convicted of another burglary charged and sentenced to six years in prison.

In 2011, he was convicted of petty larceny and then later of second degree burglary. He was sentenced to 18 months in prison for the burglary charge.

In 2013, he was convicted of malicious injury to personal property and third degree assault and battery. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

According to the background check, McDowell is prohibited from possessing or acquiring a firearm or ammunition under the Federal Gun Control Act of 1968.

McDowell appeared before a federal magistrate judge in Florence on Thursday morning after being charged with violation of possession of a firearm and ammunition by a prohibited person, according to a news release from the U.S. State's Attorney's office.

McDowell remained in the Florence County Detention Center overnight, according to the Florence County Sheriff's Office website.

A preliminary hearing and a detention hearing for McDowell are set to take place on Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 2:30 p.m. in federal court in Florence.

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