A neo-Nazi couple, including the founder of extremist terror group Atomwaffen Division, has been arrested and charged by federal officials for an alleged plot to take down the power grid of Baltimore to “completely destroy” the majority Black city.
Atomwaffen Division (AWD) founder Brandon Russell and Sarah Clendaniel have been charged by the Justice Department with conspiracy to destroy an energy facility. Prosecutors say that their plan was to use firearms to attack five power substations around Baltimore; Clendaniel reportedly told an FBI informant that taking down the stations in quick succession “would completely destroy this whole city.”
Head of the FBI’s Baltimore field office Thomas Sobocinski said in a news conference on Monday that Clendaniel and Russell had plotted to inflict “maximum harm” to the power grid and that they were “not just talking, but taking steps to fulfill their threats and further their extremist goals.” Sobocinski further said that the plot was “racially or ethnically motivated.”
The pair had studied publicly available information about the power grid and allegedly plotted to take it down during peak usage after a winter storm, prosecutors said, by targeting transformers that are harder to replace.
The FBI has been on heightened alert for such plots due to recent attacks on power stations in North Carolina, Oregon and Washington, though the agency says there is currently no evidence that the incidents are related. Neo-Nazis and extremist right-wing groups have increasingly identified attacks on power grids as a potential strategy to cause chaos across the nation in order to accelerate the U.S.’s descent into white supremacy and fascism.
An account linked with Russell recently sent information about the North Carolina power attack to the FBI informant, prosecutors said.
The FBI has obtained a document resembling a manifesto, allegedly written by Clendaniel, containing references to Hitler, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Anders Behring Breivik, a neo-Nazi who killed 77 people in 2011 by bombing the outside of the office of the Norwegian prime minister at the time, a member of Norway’s left-leaning Labour Party, and opening fire on a Labour Party-affiliated youth summer camp.
The 34-year-old said she was dying of kidney disease and told the informant that she wanted to “accomplish something worthwhile.” In her statement, Clendaniel allegedly wrote, “I would sacrifice **everything** for my people.”
Russell is a founding member of Atomwaffen Division, which the Southern Poverty Law Center identifies as a “neo-Nazi accelerationism” group with the goal of destroying the country and replacing it with a white ethnostate. He had allegedly previously been plotting to attack the power grid in Florida — a plot that was unveiled during the investigation into the murder of two of Russell’s roommates by a fourth roommate who was also a member of AWD.
The two met while incarcerated and had developed their alleged plot while in prison. Clendaniel was in prison for a series of armed robberies in Maryland.Russell was arrested in Florida in 2017 for unlawfully possessing an explosive device. He had a variety of explosives, ingredients for explosives, firearms and white supremacist paraphernalia in his possession, and a former AWD member said at trial that Russell had planned to carry out an attack against a synagogue, power lines and a nuclear reactor site.
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