Authorities have arrested and charged two suspects in connection with an alleged plot to attack the power grid in Baltimore, Maryland, federal investigators and local officials announced on Monday.
The suspects, who were identified as Sarah Beth Clendaniel, of Maryland, and Brandon Russell, of Florida, are accused of conspiring to shoot at energy substations in Norrisville, Reisterstown and Perry Hall, CBS Baltimore reported.
Clendaniel, of Catonsville, Maryland, was allegedly recorded sharing her plans with an informant to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to the news station. Officials believe Clendaniel was collaborating with Russell, with whom she has a documented “personal as well as online relationship,” federal authorities said.
Russell has a long history of ties to racist groups and Nazi beliefs, as well as past plans to attack U.S. infrastructure systems, according to a criminal complaint filed in Maryland district court last week. Russell is a founder of a “terroristic neo-Nazi organization” called Atomwaffen Division, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, and federal officials say that a previous investigation into one of his former roommates — who was arrested and charged 2017 for killing two others who lived with them — revealed neo-Nazi paraphernalia, a photograph of the Oklahoma City bomber as well as explosives that belonged to him. In 2018, Russell was sentenced to five years in prison for having lethal bomb-making materials in his Florida apartment.
The complaint also included a photo of a woman authorities identified as Clendaniel wearing tactical gear and holding a rifle.
The FBI said it views the suspects as “racially or ethnically motivated extremists,” with Russell allegedly giving instructions and location details to Clandaniel, while describing the alleged plot to attack power transformers in Baltimore as “the greatest thing somebody can do.
“The accused were not just talking, but taking steps to fulfill their threats and further their extremist goals,” said Thomas Sobocinski, special agent in charge of the FBI Baltimore field office.
Clendaniel reportedly said that carrying out the attacks as planned “would lay this city to waste,” according to Sobocinski. Erek Barron, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, said in a statement that the suspects sought to “completely destroy” the city of Baltimore.
Their arrests come several months after a number of law enforcement agencies warned of vandalism incidents targeting power substations in North Carolina, as well as Washington state, which knocked out electricity for tens of thousands of customers and raised concerns about the stability of the U.S. power grid.
Sobocinski noted that while the FBI is aware of the relatively recent attacks on power substations in other states, the alleged plot targeting Baltimore’s electrical grid does not appear to be connected to those incidents, or part of a larger conspiracy. However, while he said there is currently “no indication” that the alleged plot was a copycat crime, “the investigation continues.”