Emergency Preparedness, Security

Feds Arrest Pair for ‘Hate-Fueled’ Plot to Attack Energy Facilities

Federal prosecutors have charged a Florida man and Maryland woman with conspiracy to destroy an energy facility.

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) alleges that the defendants—Brandon Clint Russell, reportedly a neo-Nazi leader, and Sarah Beth Clendaniel—planned racially motivated attacks on multiple electrical substations in an effort to “completely destroy” the city of Baltimore. The news follows several separate attacks on the U.S. power grid in December 2022.

A ‘United’ Defense

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

“The threat posed by domestic violent extremists is evolving and persistent,” said Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Sobocinski of the FBI’s Baltimore field office. “The FBI will continue to work closely with our law enforcement and private sector partners to identify and disrupt any potential threat to the safety of our citizens.”

“Driven by their ideology of racially motivated hatred, the defendants allegedly schemed to attack local power grid facilities,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew G. Olsen. “The Justice Department will not tolerate those who threaten critical infrastructure and imperil communities in the name of domestic violent extremism.”

Criminal Complaint

According to the DOJ, the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint alleges the following:

From at least June 2022 to the present, Russell conspired to carry out attacks against critical infrastructure, specifically electrical substations, in furtherance of Russell’s racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist beliefs. 

Russell posted links to open-source maps of infrastructure, which included the locations of electrical substations, and he described how a small number of attacks on substations could cause a “cascading failure.” Russell also discussed maximizing the impact of the planned attack by hitting multiple substations at one time.  

A Maryland-based woman identified as Sarah Beth Clendaniel collaborated on a plan to carry out the attacks. Clendaniel conspired to secure a weapon and identified five substations she planned to target. Clendaniel allegedly stated that if they hit a number of them all in the same day, they “would completely destroy this whole city,” and that a “good four or five shots through the center of them . . . should make that happen.” She further added, “[i]t would probably permanently completely lay this city to waste if we could do that successfully.”

The DOJ noted a criminal complaint is not a finding of guilt. If convicted, Russell and Clendaniel each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to damage an energy facility. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. 

Notably, the DOJ and FBI also recently charged two men for attacks on four electrical substations in Pierce County, Wash. Those attacks caused at least $3 million in damage and cut power to thousands over the Christmas holiday.

ALSO READ: Recent Attacks Underscore Need to Secure Utilities

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