The FBI and the United States Attorneys Office in Baltimore announced that they have arrested two individuals, a man and a woman, with extremist views who were allegedly attempting to attack the power grid in Maryland.
FBI officials told reporters that they believe this was a “real threat” that had been thwarted.
Sarah Beth Clendaniel, 34, of Catonsville, Maryland, and Brandon Clint Russell, 27, of Orlando, Florida, are charged through a federal criminal complaint with conspiracy to destroy an energy facility, Erek L. Barron, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, and Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Sobocinski, of the FBI Baltimore Field Office, announced Monday.
Clendaniel allegedly spoke to an FBI informant about her plan just last week, according to authorities.
Russes is an alleged neo-Nazi figure who authorities say posted locations of the substations.
Clendaniel allegedly told an FBI confidential source that she planned to target five substations including in Norrisville, Reisterstown, and Perry Hall, according to an affidavit by Special Agent Patrick W Straub, of the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) in the Baltimore division.
If they hit a number of them all in the same day, they “would completely destroy this whole city,” and that a “good four or five shots through the center of them … should make that happen,” Clendaniel allegedly said. She further added, “[i]t would probably permanently completely lay this city to waste if we could do that successfully.”
The affidavit reveals the two defendants were in separate prisons for past crimes and communicated online. In messages, Clendaniel allegedly referenced Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and Hitler. She was in a Maryland prison for robbing convenience stores with a machete. Russell was in prison for holding bomb making materials.
“This planned attack threatened lives and would have left thousands of Marylanders in the cold and dark,” Barron said in a statement. “We are united and committed to using every legal means necessary to disrupt violence, including hate-fueled attacks.”
“The threat posed by domestic violent extremists is evolving and persistent,” Sobocinski said. “The FBI will continue to work closely with our law enforcement and private sector partners to identify and disrupt any potential threat to the safety of our citizens.”
“The accused were not just talking but taking steps to fulfill their threats and further their extremist goals. Russell provided instructions and location information,” Sobocinski added at a press briefing on Monday. “He described attacking the power transformers as the greatest thing somebody can do.”
They claim Russell posted links to open-source maps of infrastructure, which included the locations of electrical substations, and he described how a small number of attacks on substations could cause a “cascading failure.” Russell also discussed maximizing the impact of the planned attack by hitting multiple substations at one time.
They say that Clendaniel, collaborated on a plan to carry out the attacks by attempting to secure a weapon and identified five substations she planned to target. Clendaniel allegedly stated that if they hit a number of them all in the same day, they “would completely destroy this whole city,” and that a “good four or five shots through the center of them . . . should make that happen.” She further added, “[i]t would probably permanently completely lay this city to waste if we could do that successfully.”
Exelon and BGE issued a statement: “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 and the precautions taken to protect the electric grid for our customers and employees. Law enforcement acted before the perpetrators were able to carry out their plan, and there was no damage to any of the substations, nor was any service disrupted.
Clendaniel is scheduled to make an initial court appearance at 2:00 p.m. ET Monday in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore before U.S. Magistrate Judge Brendan Hurson. Russell will have his initial appearance at 1:30 p.m. ET in U.S. District Court in Orlando, Florida.
FOX News contributed to this report.
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