A Florida man and a Maryland woman have been charged with conspiracy to destroy an energy facility, the United States Department of Justice announced Monday.
"The threat posed by domestic violent extremists is evolving and persistent,” said Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Sobocinski of the FBI's Baltimore field office.
"This alleged planned attack threatened lives and would have left thousands of Marylanders in the cold and dark," Maryland U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron said in the statement.
Sarah Beth Clendaniel, of Catonsville, Maryland, and Brandon Clint Russell, of Orlando, Florida were reportedly "driven by their ideology of racially motivated hatred," the statement says.
The duo reportedly launched their scheme around June 2022. Russell plotted to carry out attacks against electrical substations "in furtherance of [his] racially or ethically motivated violent extremist beliefs."
Police discovered neo-Nazi paraphernalia, including a picture of Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, among Russell's possessions in 2017 when investigating a separate matter, according to the FBI's affidavit in support of the criminal complaint acquired by Politico.
Russell told authorities during an interview that he had started his own National Socialist Group called "Atomwaffen." The Atomwaffen Division, a neo-Nazi group, has cells in multiple states. AWD targets Jewish people, the LGBTQ community, the United States government, and others.
Russell's plan involved triggering a "cascading failure" by attacking a small number of substations. He reportedly discussed hitting multiple substations simultaneously to maximize the impact of the infrastructure attack.
Clendaniel, Russell's collaborator in Maryland, was targeting five substations. She allegedly said they "would completely destroy this whole city" if they hit multiple stations in the same day. She allegedly reasoned that "a good four or five shots through the center of them. . . should make that happen."Clendaniel, according to the criminal complaint, mirrors disturbing proclivities. Below is a screenshot from the affidavit showing a person believed to be Clendaniel "wearing tactical gear containing a swastika, holding a rifle and with a pistol in a drop holster on her left leg.
Screenshot from photo included in FBI affidavit made available by Politico
Clendaniel's and Russell's relationship began during or before 2018, while each were incarcerated in separate facilities, the affidavit states.
“The Justice Department will not tolerate those who threaten critical infrastructure and imperil communities in the name of domestic violent extremism," said Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew G. Olsen.
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