Federal authorities have arrested and charged two neo-Nazis for allegedly plotting to attack Baltimore-area power substations, in what would be the latest attempt by far-right extremists to destroy energy facilities across the country.
The Justice Department announced Monday that law enforcement arrested Sarah Beth Clendaniel of Maryland and Brandon Clint Russell of Florida on charges of conspiracy to damage energy facilities. The two planned “to inflict maximum harm” on the power grid with the aim to “completely destroy” Baltimore, U.S. Attorney Erek Barron said at a press conference.
According to authorities, Clendaniel told an FBI confidential source on Jan. 29 that she planned to shoot up energy substations surrounding Baltimore, including in Norrisville, Reisterstown and Perry Hall, Maryland. The 34-year-old said she was “determined” to carry out the infrastructure attacks and said they would “probably permanently completely lay this city to waste,” according to a criminal complaint unsealed on Monday.
Clendaniel, under the online moniker “Nythra88,” told the source that she had a kidney-related terminal illness and was unlikely to live more than a few months, the complaint said. She allegedly wanted the FBI source to purchase a rifle for her “within the next couple of weeks” so she could “accomplish something worthwhile” before she died.
The complaint included a photo of a woman, who authorities say is Clendaniel, wearing tactical gear bearing a swastika, holding a rifle and carrying a pistol in a drop holster on her left leg. The FBI also said a search of Clendaniel’s Google accounts revealed a document she allegedly wrote that referenced the Unabomber and Adolf Hitler.
“I would sacrifice **everything** for my people to just have a chance for our cause to succeed,” the document said, according to the complaint.
Clendaniel is accused of conspiring with Russell, the 27-year-old leader of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen who was sentenced to prison in 2018 after the FBI found an explosive device and extremist materials belonging to him. Russell’s roommate, who was charged with killing their other two roommates in 2017, told authorities they were planning to attack U.S. infrastructure.
According to the complaint, Russell encouraged attacks on power stations and gave guidance on how to inflict the most damage while speaking to the same FBI source. Russell allegedly said the attacks would cause a “cascading failure” of the power grid, and that “putting holes in transformers ... is the greatest thing somebody can do.”
Russell directed the source to speak with Clendaniel, who allegedly discussed potential attack sites during the first week of February. She sent links to the FBI source for infrastructure maps that showed the locations of five specific electrical substations, according to the complaint.
“Driven by their ideology of racially-motivated hatred, the defendants allegedly schemed to attack local power grid facilities,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew Olsen said in a statement. “The Justice Department will not tolerate those who threaten critical infrastructure and imperil communities in the name of domestic violent extremism.”
In a statement, the power company Exelon said it had been notified that the alleged plot targeted several Baltimore Gas and Electric power stations. BGE is a subsidiary of Exelon.
“Law enforcement acted before the perpetrators were able to carry out their plan, and there was no damage to any of the substations, nor was any service disrupted,” the statement read. “The substations are not believed to have been targeted out of any connection to BGE or Exelon, or because of any particular vulnerability.”
Various extremists have recently attempted to destroy a number of electrical facilities across the country. In the last three months, people have attacked at least nine substations in Nevada, Washington, Oregon, and North and South Carolina. The attacks resulted in massive power outages for tens of thousands of people during the winter months, exposing the U.S. electrical grid’s vulnerability to domestic terrorism.
The federal charge of conspiracy to attack energy facilities is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.