Mother of Conway man accused of planning attack in ‘spirit of Dylann Roof’ speaks on son’s arrest

“He just said that that boy (referring to Roof) was brave, and he made headlines as a white boy," said Joann Clewis.
“He just said that that boy (referring to Roof) was brave, and he made headlines as a white boy," said Joann Clewis.

CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – The mother of a Conway man accused of plotting an attack “in the spirit of Dylann Roof,” says her son thought the Charleston church shooter was “brave.”

“He just said that that boy (referring to Roof) was brave, and he made headlines as a white boy, but he said he (Roof) was wrong to go in the church and shoot up like he did, and he said, he (Roof) stood up for the white people,” said Joann Clewis of her son’s admiration for the Charleston church shooter.

Benjamin Thomas Samuel McDowell, 29, of Conway, was arrested by the FBI after he “indicated he sought a way to conduct an attack on non-whites without getting caught,” and bought a gun illegally from an undercover FBI agent, according to court documents.

Clewis said she had no idea her son was planning any type of attack, and was shocked when FBI agents pounded on her door Wednesday morning.

“I never knew that anything like this was going to happen. I was sitting on the couch and I heard the most awfulest noise on my porch and I looked out the door and all I saw was the law and the FBI,” says Clewis. “When the laws come up on my porch like that, I opened the door and I said, ‘honey, what is going on? What have I done?’”

Clewis said federal agents weren’t able to go into detail about why they were at her home, but they did present a search warrant and explained it had to do with her son, Benjamin.

“I said, ‘what has he done?’” explains Clewis. Agents didn’t explain the exact charges at the time, but did tell Clewis that her son was already in police custody.

“We caught your son in Myrtle Beach, and he had a weapon in his hand, and he was with the wrong crowd at the wrong time,” Clewis recalls the FBI agent saying.

Clewis said Benjamin asked her for $109 to pay a man to take him to Alabama where he had a job waiting on him. Court documents state McDowell had agreed to purchase a .40 caliber Glock and hollow point ammunition from the undercover agents for approximately $109.

“He told me he was going to Alabama. He said, ‘momma’, he said, ‘I got to leave the nest’. He said I can’t depend on you cause if something happens to you, and he said, I need to know what to do, and what I’m supposed to do,” says Clewis.

Clewis says she can’t understand where her son got the idea to plot anything, because his home life wasn’t representative of those beliefs.

“I raised him better than that. Me and my ex-husband had him in church every Sunday, and if he (ex-husband) didn’t go, I had my youngin there when I was able to go,” said Clewis.

Clewis recalls her son speaking on protests by groups like Black Lives Matter.

“He said, the way the Black Lives and all that are doing what they’re doing, they’re out there getting by with that. And he said, ‘If any of us was to stand up for that, to stand up for us, it would be awful,’ and he said, ‘It’s not right that they can stand up and we can’t’,” Clewis explains.

After McDowell was arrested, he called his mom from jail.

“My son called me yesterday afternoon from the jail and he told me, ‘Momma, I’m so sorry. I don’t want you mad with me,’ and I said, ‘I’m not mad with you, but tell me what happened,’” Clewis explains.

Clewis says although she doesn’t want to see her son in prison, it may be the safest place for him.

“I don’t want him to be confined because his nerves are bad, but, you know, if he’s feeling the way he’s feeling and everything, I’d rather know he’s better off where he’s at than on the street because someone could kill him,” says Clewis.

Despite what McDowell is accused of, his mother says she will not give up on her son.

“I feel like he done wrong, but I’ve paid for it, and that don’t seem to be fair, but if I have to go through this for him to get help, and me love him and stand by him, that’s all I can do.”