Accused Maryland woman Sarah Beth Clendaniel.
A neo-Nazi leader and a Maryland woman planned to attack electrical substations, which form the interface between the distribution grid and transmissions systems, around Baltimore in an attempt to permanently "lay this city to waste," according to the FBI.
Authorities arrested Sarah Beth Clendaniel, a 34-year-old woman from Maryland, and Brandon Clint Russell, a 27-year-old from Florida who leads his local neo-Nazi group, on Feb. 3 and charged them with conspiracy to destroy an energy facility. In the unsealed criminal complaint, the FBI presented evidence of the duo's extensive plans to carry out the attack, including securing weapons and specifying substations they wanted to target.
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U.S. Attorney Erek Barron said in a statement that an attack like the one allegedly plotted by Clendaniel and Russell put lives on the line.
"This alleged planned attack threatened lives and would have left thousands of Marylanders in the cold and dark," Barron pointed out. "We are united and committed to using every legal means necessary to disrupt violence, including hate-fueled attacks."
In the criminal complaint, Clendaniel told an FBI informant in January that she was a felon and had a terminal illness related to her kidneys. Given that she only had a few months left to live, Clendaniel stated that she wanted to "accomplish something worthwhile" before she died, which apparently included attacking five substations in one day within the next month.
"It would probably permanently completely lay this city to waste if we could do that successfully," she said.
When it comes to Russell, authorities have known about the 27-year-old's fixation with electrical infrastructure since at least May 2017, when his former roommate Devon Arthurs murdered their two other roommates (Russell was not harmed). At the time, Arthurs told law enforcement agents that he and his roommates were planning to attack power lines and a nuclear power plant in Florida. During a search, police found several explosives and chemicals used to make homemade explosives. Russell admitted that the explosives and chemicals belonged to him and spent five years in prison.
According to the FBI, Clendaniel and Russell have maintained a relationship since 2018, when they wrote to each other while they were in prison at different facilities. The pair has talked about having kids together.
In a manifesto obtained by the FBI, Clendaniel makes references to Ted Kaczynski, the mail bomber known as the Unabomber, and Adolf Hitler. She laments that she doesn't have a lot of experience with firearms, but states that she hopes to practice once she gets her license.
"What a shame I don't have a rifle yet. This storm would be the perfect time to hit some substations and knock out power," Clendaniel wrote.
A preliminary hearing in Clendaniel's case is scheduled for Feb. 15.
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