Speed Reads

Power Games

Pair charged in alleged neo-Nazi plot to 'completely destroy' Baltimore by bringing down power grid

Federal prosecutors in Baltimore on Monday announced the arrest of two neo-Nazis who allegedly planned to knock out Baltimore's power grid in an attack motivated by racial bias. An FBI informant had recorded conversations with the two defendants, Brandon Russell and Sarah Clendaniel, starting when they were in separate prisons in Florida and Maryland, respectively.

Russell, 27, is a founding member of the Atomwaffen Division neo-Nazi group. He met Clendaniel, 34, while in prison. They face up to 20 years on charges of conspiring to destroy an energy facility.

White supremacists and other far-right extremist groups have been increasingly "laser-focused on conducting attacks on the energy sector during the last six years as a pretext for the anticipated collapse of American government and society," accord to a report released in September by the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.

Recent unsolved attacks on the power grid in North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington State highlighted the vulnerability of substations and other weak links in the electrical grid. 

In Baltimore, Clendaniel said she wanted to "completely lay this city to waste," FBI Special Agent in Charge Thomas Sobocinski said at Monday's news conference. Clendaniel said that shooting five specific power substations in a ring around Baltimore would "completely destroy this whole city" by setting off a cascade of power failures that would cause chaos and civil unrest, according to a criminal complaint. "If we can pull off what I'm hoping, " she told the FBI informant on Jan. 29, "this would be legendary."

"Russell provided instructions and location information," Sobocinski said at a news conference. He advised Clendaniel to carry out an attack "when there is greatest strain on the grid," like "when everyone is using electricity to either heat or cool their homes," the complaint says. 

Russell was sent to prison for five years after police found bombmaking materials in his apartment in 2018, after one of his roommates murdered two other Atomwaffen members amid an alleged plot to attack nuclear plants and power lines.

Lanette Clendaniel, Sarah Clendaniel's mother, told The Washington Post that her daughter got involved with neo-Nazis in the prison system. "She didn't really get into that crap until she was in prison," she said. Sarah Clendaniel told the informant she wanted "to accomplish something worthwhile" before dying of kidney disease in the next few months, the complain said, and referenced Hitler and other white supremacist murderers in a statement pledging to "sacrifice **everything** for my people."