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6 Feb, 2023 21:15

Neo-Nazi couple charged in plot to blow up power grid

Atomwaffen founder Brandon Russell and his girlfriend allegedly planned to shoot up five power substations
Neo-Nazi couple charged in plot to blow up power grid

The founder of neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen and his girlfriend have been charged with conspiring to destroy an energy facility, the US Department of Justice has revealed. The pair are expected to appear in federal court on Monday and could face up to 20 years in prison. 

Brandon Russell, a National Guard veteran who founded the white supremacist Atomwaffen organization in 2016, met Sarah Clendaniel while both were incarcerated, though it’s not clear how they linked up as they were housed in different facilities.  

The pair began discussing infrastructure attacks last summer and shared the details of their alleged plot last month with an undercover informant Russell had met while serving federal time for possession of an unregistered destructive device and improper storage of bomb-making materials. 

The couple planned to attack five Baltimore-area power substations after a snowstorm “when most people are using max electricity,” Russell told the informant. They would shoot at the transformers, as he explained these were “custom made and could take almost a year to replace.” 

Clendaniel allegedly bragged to the informant that their “legendary” plot would “lay [Baltimore] to waste,” confessing she was dying of kidney disease and wanted to “accomplish something worthwhile” first. She had served time in a Maryland state prison for robbing convenience stores with a machete. 

“The accused were not just talking, but taking steps to fulfill their threats and further their extremist goals,” Thomas Sobocinski, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Baltimore office, told reporters at a press conference. He described the couple as “racially or ethnically motivated extremists.” 

However, it’s not clear whether they had settled on specific targets or devised a timetable for the attacks. Clendaniel was reportedly planning to look for suitable spots, but did not yet have access to a firearm. 

Sobocinski acknowledged that the FBI had no evidence linking the couple’s alleged plot to recent attacks on power stations in Oregon, Washington, and North Carolina. At least six such attacks had been reported in December, though no motives or suspects have been made public.   

The Department of Homeland Security warned of a broad-spectrum “heightened threat environment” in November, including but not limited to attacks targeting critical infrastructure. The agency warned last January that domestic extremists had developed “credible, specific” plans to attack electricity infrastructure. They cited a document posted to an ‘extremist’ Telegram channel that described how to attack a power grid with guns in order to help bring about societal collapse.