Neo-Nazi leader, Maryland woman plotted to ‘destroy’ Baltimore’s power grid, FBI says

Click to play video: 'FBI arrest 2, including neo-Nazi leader, in plot to attack Baltimore power grid'
FBI arrest 2, including neo-Nazi leader, in plot to attack Baltimore power grid
The FBI arrested two people, including a neo-Nazi leader, before they could attack Baltimore's power grid, officials announced on Monday – Feb 6, 2023

The U.S. Justice Department has charged a Neo-Nazi leader and his co-conspirator, a woman from Maryland, after the FBI foiled their plot to “completely destroy” Baltimore.

Brandon Russell, 27, of Orlando, Fla., and Sarah Clendaniel, 34, from Maryland, were arrested last week, officials said in a briefing on Monday. They have been charged with conspiring to damage an energy facility.

The FBI believes the pair sought to use assault rifles to conduct a small number of attacks on electrical substations in Baltimore that would then cause a “cascading failure” in the grid, according to court documents.

“Driven by their ideology of racially motivated hatred, the defendants allegedly schemed to attack local power grid facilities,” said Matthew G. Olsen, assistant attorney general for national security.

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“This alleged planned attack threatened lives and would have left thousands of Marylanders in the cold and dark,” said U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron for the District of Maryland. “We are united and committed to using every legal means necessary to disrupt violence, including hate-fuelled attacks.”

Russell is a convicted felon and founder of a Neo-Nazi group called the Atomwaffen Division that works toward “ushering in the collapse of civilization,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights organization that tracks U.S. hate groups. The group is known to target minority groups, journalists and the U.S. government.

Clendaniel also has an extensive criminal record including a prior conviction for armed robbery.

This isn’t the first time Russell has been accused of aiming to take down a power grid. In 2018, he was sentenced to five years in prison after pleading guilty to the possession of an unregistered destruction device and the improper storage of explosive materials in connection with a plot to attack infrastructure in Florida.

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The FBI caught wind of Russell’s attempt to attack a Florida nuclear power plant after his former associate Devon Arthurs was arrested and charged with murder.

Arthurs told law enforcement agents that he had previously been in Russell’s Neo-Nazi group with his two roommates, but had recently converted to Islam. He said he murdered his roommates because “they bullied him over being a Muslim.”

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He also revealed that he and his roommates had been planning to attack U.S. electrical infrastructure with Russell.

When Russell was arrested last week, he was still on supervised release for his prior conviction, the FBI said.

The FBI learned of Russell’s most recent plot to take down Baltimore’s energy grid with the help of a confidential informant, who was asked to participate in the plan back in June 2022.

In conversations observed by the FBI, Russell, using the code name “Homunculus,” urged an attack “when there is greatest strain on the grid,” such as “when everyone is using electricity to either heat or cool their homes,” and noted that follow-up attacks could further lead to a “cascading failure costing billions of dollars.”

In January 2023, as their communications continued, a third user known as @kali1889 joined the conversation. She said she had compiled a list of potential targets, including Baltimore, noting the location was “literally like a life artery.”

According to the complaint, the account @kali1889 was traced to Clendaniel.

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In online communications, Clendaniel claimed that if their group hit a number of electrical substations in the same day, it “would completely destroy this whole city,” and that a “good four or five shots through the center of them … should make that happen.”

She added, “it would probably permanently completely lay this city to waste if we could do that successfully.”

If convicted, Russell and Clendaniel each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.

The arrests followed a recent string of vandalizations of electrical substations that left thousands of people without power in other states including North Carolina, South Carolina and Washington.

The motives for those attacks were not known, though theories have emerged online that suggest some plots were motivated by alt-right ideologies.

Thomas Sobocinski, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Baltimore office, said the FBI was not aware of any links between the two people arrested in the alleged Baltimore plot and attacks elsewhere on electrical infrastructure.


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