Law Enforcement Thwarts Potential Neo-Nazi Terror Attack on Area Power Grids

U.S. Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C. (Wikimedia Commons)

Jewish groups in Baltimore are praising law enforcement after the U.S. Justice Department announced the Feb. 3 arrest of two individuals who they allege had planned to attack power grids in the Baltimore area.

“The Baltimore Jewish Council and The Associated want to express our thanks to our law-enforcement partners for their efforts thwart an attack on energy infrastructure in the Baltimore area planned by two neo-Nazis,” the two agencies said in a joint statement. “The arrests remind us that extremist hate and domestic terrorism remain an ongoing and growing threat to our communities.”

The statement continued: “Together, all Marylanders must stand vigilant against hate and extremism in all forms. Fighting hate requires the collective work of our entire community — law enforcement, elected officials, nonprofit entities, faith partners — and each of us as individuals.”

The U.S. Justice Department said that Sarah Beth Clendaniel of Catonsville, Md., and Brandon Clint Russell of Orlando, Fla., are being charged with “conspiracy to destroy and energy facility.” If convicted, they face up to 20 years in a federal prison.

“Attacks on multiple electrical substations in Maryland would have caused suffering to thousands of Americans going about their everyday lives, but the FBI and our partners put a stop to that threat,” said Assistant Director Robert R. Wells of the FBI Counterterrorism Division. “According to the criminal complaint, the defendants were taking specific steps to carry out their plans, including selecting targets and trying to illegally acquire a rifle.”

According to the criminal complaint, Russell allegedly conspired to carry out attacks on electrical substations to further his “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist beliefs.” Russell encouraged the use of a Mylar balloon to short out power transformers. Authorities also said that during his discussions on encrypted channels, he also talked about initiating several attacks at once.

Clendaniel, who wrote a manifesto exhibiting racism, allegedly sought a rifle to attack a substation. As the criminal complaint states, she at one point said that a simultaneous attack “would completely destroy this whole city,” and that it “would probably permanently completely lay this city to waste if we could do that successfully.”

Clendaniel made an initial appeared in federal court in downtown Baltimore on Feb. 6 before District Court Judge Richard Collins. A preliminary hearing on her case is scheduled for Feb. 15.

Russell also made his initial appearance on Feb. 6 in a federal courthouse in Florida. He will remain detained pending further hearings. His case has been committed to the District of Maryland.

According to Thomas J. Sobocinski, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Baltimore Field Office, “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 investigation into the incident remains ongoing.

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