DOMESTIC TERRORISMExtremist Couple Charged in Plot to Destroy Baltimore’s Power Grid

Published 6 February 2023

Two extremists have been charged Monday with conspiracy to attack and destroy energy facilities around Baltimore in a plot to “completely destroy” the city. The man, the founder of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen, and his accomplice appear to be part of trend among domestic violent extremists to target the U.S. electrical grid. In recent years, DHS and the FBI have discovered several such conspiracies to take down the power system, with the most recent attacks taking place in North Carolina and Washington State.

Brandon Clint Russell of Orlando, Florida, the founder of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen, and Sarah Beth Clendaniel of North East, Maryland, his accomplice, have been charged with conspiracy to attack and destroy energy facilities around Baltimore in a plot to “completely destroy” the city, according to federal court documents.

In 2018 Russell was sentenced to five years in prison on explosives charges, He was released in 2021.

CNN reports that the Justice Department says that the plot was driven by the couple’s racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist beliefs.

They “conspired to inflict maximum harm on the power grid,” Tom Sobocinski, who heads the FBI’s field office in Baltimore, said during a news conference Monday, 6 February. “The accused were not just talking, but taking steps to fulfill their threats and further their extremist goals.”

Federal regulators have been warning for a while that targeting key components of the power grid could lead to widespread blackouts. In recent years, DHS and the FBI have discovered several conspiracies by neo-Nazis and other domestic extremists to take down the power system. Recent attacks on substations in North Carolina and Washington States have only heightened the sense of urgency about securing the nation’s electrical grid.

CNN reports that in a recorded voice conversation last month, Clendaniel told an FBI source that targeting the electrical substations would “completely destroy this whole city.” She and Russell sent the FBI source information about the energy facilities and a YouTube video about a recent substation attack in North Carolina.

Clendaniel also wrote a manifesto, which the FBI obtained, in which she refers to Hitler, the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, and Behring Breivik, a Norwegian neo-Nazi who, in 2011, killed 77 teenagers in an attack on a summer camp.

The charging documents say that Russell had started his own local National Socialist Group.

In 2017, the FBI says, Russell, who at the time lived in Florida, had plotted with his three roommates to attack energy facilities in the state. That plot was not carried out because one of the roommates killed the other roommates during a dispute.

Law enforcement officials at Monday’s news conference said that Russell, under the username “Homunculus,” has been in contact with the FBI’s source since at least June 2022.

Homunculus and the FBI source discussed various methods of attacking energy facilities, including Mylar balloons, with Homunculus saying that that “putting holes in transformers though is the greatest thing somebody can do.”

Clendaniel, under the usernames “Nythra88” and “Kali1889,” began talking with the FBI’s confidential source last month, saying she wanted “to accomplish something worthwhile,” before she died of a terminal illness.

The charging papers say that the source discussed the plans with Homunculus for Clendaniel to participate in an attack on energy facilities. The FBI source also taped a nearly 2-hour voice conversation he had with Clendaniel on 24 January about the plot.

Clendaniel, in a recorded conversation five days later, told the source that the targets were facilities surrounding Baltimore.