A neo-Nazi leader has been charged by federal authorities in connection with a conspiracy to assault the Maryland power grid with a woman he met while incarcerated. According to prosecutors, Sarah Clendaniel, 34, and 27-year-old Brandon Russell each have one count of conspiring to destroy an energy facility. They face a maximum sentence of 20 years in jail if found guilty.
According to federal authorities, Mr. Russell and Ms. Clendaniel intended to shoot up five substations that provide power to the Baltimore region.
From at least June 2022 to the present, Mr. Russell planned to target vital infrastructure, particularly substations, “in furtherance of Russell’s racially or ethnically driven violent extremist ideas,” according to the prosecution.
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Mr. Russell is allegedly a founding member of the neo-Nazi organization Atomwaffen Division, whose members have been connected by law enforcement and federal prosecutors to murders and terrorist plots. The criminal complaint was unveiled on Monday. His first court date was set for Monday afternoon in Orlando, Florida’s U.S. District Court, where he resides.
According to authorities, Ms. Clendaniel, who resides in Maryland, appeared in U.S. District Court on Monday in Baltimore.
Erek L. Barron, the United States Attorney for the District of Maryland, stated that the intended attack “threatened lives and would have left thousands of Marylanders in the cold and dark.” “We are unified and committed to preventing violence, particularly attacks motivated by hatred, by using all available legal methods.”
The charges occur at a time of increased security surrounding power plants following two separate vandalism incidents in late 2022 that left thousands of people without energy in North Carolina and Washington state.
Vandalism has long been a threat to the US power grid. 17 transformers that provided power to Silicon Valley were destroyed by a sniper in 2013 in California.
Officials claim that Mr. Russell released links to open-source infrastructure maps that showed the locations of electrical substations and explained how a few substation attacks may result in a “cascading failure.”
According to police, he and Ms. Clendaniel allegedly discussed attacking several substations at once to increase the impact of the intended strike. According to authorities, the two have known one another since at least 2018, when they corresponded while housed in different institutions.
The criminal complaint claims that Ms. Clendaniel attempted to get a weapon and had identified five Maryland substations as her intended targets.
According to the criminal complaint, Ms. Clendaniel claimed that if the stations were attacked on the same day, it “would utterly destroy this whole city” and that “nice four or five rounds through the center of them…should make that happen.”
According to the complaint, Ms. Clendaniel was speaking with a federal informant who was conversing with Mr. Russell about related topics.
The court records state that she added, “If we can pull off what I’m hoping…this would be legendary,” in late January.
According to the complaint, Mr. Russell was a member of the Atomwaffen Division as of May 2017, when he was residing in Tampa, Florida. Authorities discovered neo-Nazi memorabilia, a photograph of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, hexamethylene triperoxide diamine (HMTD), and other explosive devices that belonged to Mr. Russell while looking into a crime involving his roommates, according to the criminal complaint.
Mr. Russell admitted to the authorities that he was a Nazi supporter, that he had founded the Atomwaffen, a local National Socialist organization that his roommates had joined, and that he had created the HMTD.
In 2018, he was given a sentence of 60 months in jail followed by three years of supervised release after being charged with and pleading guilty to possessing an unregistered destructive device and improperly storing explosive materials, according to authorities.
Authorities claimed that Ms. Clendaniel had previously been arrested for an armed robbery. No legal counsel for Ms. Clendaniel and Mr. Russell was immediately available.
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