Federal agents have broken up an alleged plot by a neo-Nazi couple to attack multiple energy substations to “completely destroy” Baltimore.
Sarah Beth Clendaniel, of Catonsville, Maryland, and Brandon Clint Russell, of Orlando, Florida, were charged Monday with conspiracy to destroy five substations that surround Baltimore.
“Their actions threatened the electricity and heat of our homes, hospitals and businesses. The FBI believes this was a real threat,” Thomas Sobocinski, the special agent in charge of the FBI‘s Baltimore field office, said at a press conference when announcing the charges.
The charges come amid a shocking spate of attacks on electric substations across the county.
Federal officials said that Ms. Clendaniel and Mr. Russell were motivated by racist, extremist ideology and wanted the attacks to bring attention to their cause.
The affidavit lays out the lengthy correspondence between Ms. Clendaniel, Mr. Russell and an unnamed FBI informant that started in June 2022 on an encrypted app.
Mr. Russell, who the affidavit said used the name “Homunculus,” advised the informant in October to carry out the attack “when there is greatest strain on the grid,” such as when “everyone is using electricity to either heat or cool their homes.”
The goal was to trigger a “cascading failure” among the city’s power suppliers, where disruption to enough of Baltimore’s substations would trigger a systemwide shutdown, according to prosecutors.
By December, Mr. Russell connected the informant with Ms. Clendaniel, who the affidavit said went by usernames “Nythra” and “kali1889” on two separate encrypted messaging apps.
Ms. Clendaniel shared a map of the five substations with the informant on Jan. 29, and she said she intended to hit all of them on the same day.
“It would … completely lay this city to waste if we could do that successfully,” Ms. Clendaniel said, according to court documents.
Nine substations have been attacked between North Carolina, Oregon and Washington State over the past three months, according to the New York Times.
Mr. Russell was on the FBI‘s radar after a 2017 investigation into his former roommate who murdered two other roommates. Mr. Russell wasn’t home at the time of the murders. The roommate convicted of murder told the FBI that they planned to attack power stations and a nuclear power plant along Interstate 75 in South Florida.
Federal agents found an explosive device belonging to Mr. Russell in the home as well as items used to make explosives. Mr. Russell also shared his Neo-Nazi views with FBI agents at that time.
He was sentenced to five years in prison for possessing the device.
Mr. Russell and Ms. Clendaniel developed a relationship in 2018 while both were incarcerated at separate facilities.
If convicted, both suspects could face up to 20 years in prison.