The Justice Department seems to have thwarted a racially motivated terrorist attack in Baltimore, Maryland, the largest city and economic center of the state.
The FBI believes a Maryland woman and Florida man teamed up to conspire “to carry out attacks against critical infrastructure, specifically electrical substations,” to push their neo-Nazi agenda and cause chaos in the predominantly Black city.
An announcement released on Monday, Feb. 6, states the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, Erek L. Barron, and Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Sobocinski, of the FBI Baltimore Field Office have filed a federal criminal complaint against Sarah Beth Clendaniel, of Catonsville, Maryland, and Brandon Clint Russell, of Orlando, Florida.
The two suspects were arrested last week, and Monday was when authorities revealed their alleged conspiracy to “completely destroy this whole city” by attacking the major Charm City power grid.
Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew G. Olsen said the plan to attack Baltimore’s power grid facilities was “driven by their ideology of racially-motivated hatred.” Baltimore is 61 percent African-American.
Russell, 27, one of the founders of the Atomwaffen Division (a neo-Nazi group) started working on the plans for domestic terrorist attacks in June 2022, and later brought Clendaniel, 34, on to help map out the plan, the DOJ states.
An FBI informant was allegedly in contact with Russell and flagged the government about his plans. However, this was not the first time the DOJ engaged the Floridian.
The FBI started following Russell in 2018 after his Muslim roommate Devon Arthurs killed two other roommates for teasing him about his recent conversion to Islam.
The murder probe in Tampa, according to NBC News, discovered Russell’s connection to Atomwaffen.
Ironically, all four roommates were at one time active members of the “Atomwaffen,” the DOJ uncovered. Arthurs claimed he witnessed Russell “participating in online neo-Nazi chat rooms, where he threatened to kill people and bomb infrastructure. Arthurs further advised law enforcement that Russell had explosive materials in the house.”
Investigators were told by Arthurs that Russell was developing a similar plan to attack other power stations. Russell was picked up, arrested, convicted, and sentenced “to five years in federal prison for possessing an unregistered destructive device and for unlawful storage of explosive material,” federal documents show.
Clendaniel is alleged to have identified five substations that would be targeted. According to the federal complaint, the power stations were in Norrisville, Reisterstown, and Perry Hall, Maryland, and two more “in the vicinity of Baltimore.”
One reason the two were moving with urgency is that Clendaniel is terminally ill, suffering from an incurable kidney disease, “and was unlikely to live more than a few months.”
The Justice Department said Russell believed a way for the two to maximize their terror was to strike “multiple substations at one time.” The DOJ said Clendaniel added if the two were to hit a certain amount 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,” saying “[i]t would probably permanently completely lay this city to waste if we could do that successfully.”
The FBI stepped in to disarm their alleged conspiracy.
“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,” Maryland U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron said in a prepared remark.
Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Sobocinski of the FBI’s Baltimore field office added, “The threat posed by domestic violent extremists is evolving and persistent. 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.”
When talking to local reporters, Sobocinski said the threat was very real.
“The accused were not just talking but taking steps to fulfill their threats and further their extremist goals. Russell provided instructions and location information,” the agent said.
“Their actions threatened the electricity and heat of our homes, hospitals, and businesses.”
Social media users were outraged after hearing about the alleged plot.
Recently, there have been other power grid attacks throughout the country, placing a higher degree of focus on this means of domestic terrorism.
At the beginning of December 2020, two electrical substations, both run by Duke Energy, in central North Carolina were shot up and disrupted. More than 45,000 homes and businesses were without energy at the peak of the outage.
Toward the end of the month, during the Christmas weekend, four electricity substations were targeted in Tacoma, Washington. Some 14,000 homes and businesses were out of power during that attack, reports state.
A federal public defender was assigned to represent Clendaniel. It is unclear if Russell has representation.
Russell and Clendaniel each face being sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to damage an energy facility, should they be convicted.