A neo-Nazi couple recently out of prison may soon be back behind bars after they allegedly blabbed to an undercover informant last month that they planned to sabotage power stations in Maryland.
Brandon Russell, 27, and his girlfriend Sarah Clendaniel, 34, are accused of plotting to shoot up five substations that serve the Baltimore area—an attack Clendaniel told a federal informant would “completely destroy Baltimore,” said Erek L. Barron, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland.
Russell and Clendaniel are facing up to 20 years in prison for the foiled attack plan. Their first court appearance will be on Monday in Baltimore federal court.
Russell, a neo-Nazi leader who founded the far-right group Atomwaffen, had been jailed in 2018 for keeping lethal bomb-making materials in his apartment. Atomwaffen has been known to threaten journalists, African American churches and Jewish organizations. Clendaniel was locked up in a different prison for a spate of convenience store robberies where she wielded a machete and demanded cash and cigarettes.
Despite being in separate facilities, court filings summarized by Barron in a press conference Monday revealed that Russell and Clendaniel hit it off while incarcerated and allegedly teamed up to attack power stations once out.
Thomas Sobocinski, the lead agent at the FBI’s Baltimore field office, called the couple “racially or ethnically motivated extremists.”
Part of the couple’s devious plan was to hit the power stations after a winter storm “when most people are using max electricity,” prosecutors said in a criminal complaint, the Washington Post reported. Sobocinski said that Clendaniel told an informant their goals were to “lay this city to waste,” referencing Baltimore.
“The accused were not just talking, but taking steps to fulfill their threats and further their extremist goals,” Sobocinski said.
Prosecutors allege Russell wanted to target transformers specifically because they’re “custom made and could take almost a year to replace.”
Russell allegedly described the attack as “the greatest thing somebody can do.” His girlfriend, apparently dying of kidney disease, allegedly told an informant she just wanted “to accomplish something worthwhile” before she died, Sobocinski said.
Before trying to carry out the attack, prosecutors say Clendaniel left a statement that referenced Hitler, the Unabomber, and a Norwegian mass killer, adding that she would sacrifice “everything” for “her people.”
“If we can pull off what I’m hoping … this would be legendary,” Clendaniel told the informant on Jan. 29, the criminal complaint says.
Intentional attacks on power grids in the U.S. came into sharper focus late last year, with two high-profile incidents—one in North Carolina, the other in Washington—that left about 60,000 homes and businesses without power just before the holidays.
The Program on Extremism at George Washington University issued a report in September that said white supremacists, specifically, had become “laser-focused” on attacking the U.S. energy sector in the last six years.
Even before the dual attacks last year, the Department of Homeland Security had issued a warning that infrastructure attacks—like the one allegedly plotted by Clendaniel and Russell—were likely coming.
That warning, posted in November to the National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin, said people of a wide range of ideological beliefs and personal grievances “continue to pose a persistent and lethal threat to the Homeland.”
Sobocinski, when asked, said the FBI has “no indication” that Clendaniel and Russell’s foiled plot had any ties to the December attacks in Washington and North Carolina.
The couple were taken into custody last week in their native states—Florida for Russell, Maryland for Clendaniel.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, Baltimore Gas and Electric thanked the FBI for its “vigilance” in stopping the planned attack.
“This work is even more important now as threats have increased in recent years,” the statement said. “We are working closely with the FBI and state and local law enforcement as they continue their investigation, and we are thankful for their vigilance.”