CHICAGO ? A white supremacist from Tennessee pleaded guilty Monday to plotting to assassinate President Barack Obama as part of a killing spree aimed at African Americans, prosecutors said.
Daniel Cowart, 21, was arrested just days before Obama was elected the first black president of the United States on November 4, 2008.
Cowart and fellow skinhead Paul Schlesselman told police that they planned to kill 88 people, beheading 14 of them, and then die in a blaze of glory as they drove towards Obama dressed in white tuxedos and firing out the windows.
While officials said the pair posed no real threat to Obama, the arrest heightened fears about the Democrat's safety in the final days of his campaign.
Several other people have been convicted of plotting against Obama, but none of the cases were considered to be serious threats.
However, the intense and often ugly debate over Obama's health care reform has led to an increase in threats and even violence against politicians in recent weeks.
Meanwhile, the number of extremist groups and armed militias which advocate radical anti-government doctrines and conspiracy theories nearly tripled last year to 512 from 149 in 2008, according a recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks the activities of hate groups.
Schlesselman pleaded guilty on January 14 to one count of conspiracy, one count of threatening to kill and inflict bodily harm upon a presidential candidate, and one count of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.
Schlesselman faces 10 years in prison under the plea agreement and is scheduled to be sentenced on April 15.
Cowart faces at least 10 and as many as 75 years in jail after pleading guilty Monday to eight charges including threatening to kill and inflict bodily harm upon a presidential candidate, conspiracy and intentional damage to religious real property.
He also admitted to shooting the window of a black church in Tennessee.
"Despite great civil rights progress, this unthinkable conspiracy serves as a reminder that hate-fueled violence remains all too common in our country," said Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice's civil rights division.
Perez said that "tragedy was averted" thanks to the "capable work" of local and national law enforcement.