A Catonsville woman and a Florida man with ties to neo-Nazis have been arrested and charged with conspiracy to attack Baltimore's power grid, reports CBS.
Sarah Beth Clendaniel allegedly told an FBI informant about her plans to shoot up energy substations in Norrisville, Reisterstown, Perry Hall and Baltimore. She is accused of collaborating with Brandon Russell, one of the founders of an Orlando-based neo-Nazi group called Atomwaffen.
In 2018, Russell was sentenced to five years in federal prison on charges of possessing explosives in the garage of his apartment. Federal prosecutors said he planned to use explosives to damage civilians, nuclear facilities and synagogues.
Bomb-making materials were discovered during a 2017 murder investigation involving Russell's roommate in Tampa, Devon Arthurs, who shot and killed two other roommates. Russell was not at home at the time of the shooting.
Russell was released under supervision.
He and Clendaniel allegedly started dating in 2018. In January, Russell connected an FBI informant to Clendaniel. The woman struggled to buy a new weapon.
“The defendants didn’t just talk, but took steps to carry out their threats and achieve their extremist goals,” said Thomas Sobochinsky, special agent in charge of the FBI field office in Baltimore. Russell allegedly provided Clendaniel with instructions and location information, and described the attack on the power transformers as "the greatest thing anyone can do".
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In a conversation between an informant and Clendaniel, she said that she was terminally ill and unlikely to live another few months. Officials said she tried to plan the attack and negotiate the purchase of weapons with an informant over the phone.
Clendaniel said the attack would "destroy this city," according to Soboczynski.
The FBI also received a Clendaniel "manifesto" that allegedly mentions Adolf Hitler and Ted Kaczynski.
The arrests come about two months after someone opened fire at a North Carolina substation, cutting off power to about 45 people. According to the indictment, Russell sent a YouTube video of the attack to an FBI informant.
However, officials say there is no evidence that the two cases are connected.
The "deliberate" attack raised concerns about the vulnerability of the US power grid, with many substations protected by little more than a grid fence.
In late December, four electrical substations were destroyed in the Tacoma area of Washington, leaving more than 14 consumers without power.
In their statement, BGE and Exelon thanked the FBI for its work and mentioned efforts to prevent attacks on the power grid.
“Over the past decade, we have increased the level of investment in capital projects to strengthen network security, as well as in monitoring and surveillance technology to prevent both physical and cyber attacks,” the companies said. "We remain focused on improving network resiliency by providing critical redundant equipment while developing a smarter network that isolates faults and directs power around them."
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Officials believe Russell founded the local neo-Nazi group as part of a larger organization with cells in several states. According to the criminal case, the group's targets are racial minorities, the Jewish community, the LGBTQ community, journalists, the US government and vital infrastructure.
“The arrests remind us that extremist hatred and domestic terrorism remain a constant and growing threat to our communities. Similarly, we are seeing a steady increase in anti-Semitic incidents here in Maryland and across our country,” the Jewish Council of Baltimore said in a statement.