The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland announced in a press conference on Monday that a neo-Nazi leader and his girlfriend are being charged for allegedly plotting an attack on the Maryland power grid.
Twenty-seven-year-old Brandon Russell — founder of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen (AWD) — and 34-year-old Sarah Clendaniel were arrested last week for conspiring to destroy an energy facility, according to the criminal complaint obtained by TPM.
“Clendaniel and Russell conspired and took steps to shoot multiple electrical substations in the Baltimore area aiming to ‘completely destroy this whole city,’” U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek Barron said in the Monday press conference.
Clendaniel and Russell were taken into custody late last week, in Maryland and Florida, respectively. They are expected to make their initial appearances in court on Monday.
They “conspired to inflict maximum harm on the power grid,” Tom Sobocinski, who heads the FBI’s field office in Baltimore, said. “The accused were not just talking, but taking steps to fulfill their threats and further their extremist goals.”
The FBI views their extremist views as “racially or ethnically motivated,” he added.
Russell — a former member of the Florida National Guard — is the founder of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen (AWD). AWD is a terrorist neo-Nazi organization that is “organized as a series of terror cells that work toward civilizational collapse,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
In 2018, Russell was sentenced to five years in prison for stocking explosive materials in his Florida apartment where one of his roommates killed the other two roommates. After his arrest, Russell pleaded guilty to possession of an unregistered destructive device and improper storage of explosive materials.
Russell met Clendaniel — who was in a Maryland prison facility for robbing convenience stores with a machete — while they were serving their sentences at separate prisons, according to court documents.
He was released from prison in August 2021 but he started planning the attack before his release, aiming to target transformers in the electric grid because they are “custom made and could take almost a year to replace,” according to the criminal complaint. Russell also said the attack would be most effective after a winter storm, “when most people are using max electricity,” the complaint said.
Both Russell and Clendaniel were speaking to a federal informant during the planning process, which allowed the prosecutors to get insight into their plans.
“If we can pull off what I’m hoping … this would be legendary,” Clendaniel told the informant on Jan. 29, according to the court document.
Clendaniel also told the informant she expected to die of kidney disease within months and added she wanted “to accomplish something worthwhile” before her death, the complaint said.
News of the arrests comes after recent similar attacks were carried out on the power grid in Moore County, North Carolina and others in Washington, Oregon, South Carolina and Nevada highlighted the vulnerability of the electrical grid.
And the Department of Homeland Security recently warned in October that the U.S. is in a “heightened threat environment” and that critical infrastructure is among the “targets of potential violence,” according to the Washington Post. As the Post noted, George Washington University released a report in September that found white supremacist groups have been “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.”
When asked by a reporter if Russel and Clendanie’s plan was connected to similar attacks across the country, Sobocinski said the FBI has “no indication” that this plot was “anything larger.”
During the press conference, Barron also thanked federal, state and local law enforcement for working together to stop the plot from taking place.
“Together, we are using every legal means necessary to keep Marylanders safe and to disrupt hate-fueled violence,” Barron said. “When we are united, hate cannot win.”
You can read the criminal complaint here: