"[It would] lay this city to waste if we could do that successfully." Baltimore County Woman Accused Of Conspiring To Take Down Electrical Grid
BALTIMORE, MD — Two people were arrested after being accused of planning an attack on Baltimore's power grid, the U.S. Attorney's Office District of Maryland announced in a news release Monday.
The accused, Brandon Russell, 27, of Orlando, and Sarah Clendaniel, 34, of Catonsville, are "racially motivated" extremists, Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew G. Olsen said in the release.
The complaint states that the FBI has been aware of Russel since 2017 when he was questioned concerning a separate incident. During an interview, Russell admitted to subscribing to "National Socialist," or Nazi, beliefs, that he had started his own local National Socialist Group called the "Atomwaffen."
According to the criminal complaint, an FBI Confidential Human Source was in contact with Russell from June 2022 to the present. Russell shared plans to attack critical infrastructure, specifically electrical substations, on an encrypted chat application. He 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."
While discussing the conspiracy with the confidential human source, Russell mentioned that another Maryland resident was planning to carry out an attack and put the FBI source in contact with an individual the FBI identified as Clendaniel.
The complaint reveals that Clendaniel, Russell, and the FBI Source discussed plans for the attack from January 12 to January 31. During these conversations, Clendaniel said that she had a terminal illness related to her kidneys and was unlikely to live more than a few months.
According to the complaint, Clendaniel told the FBI source that she wanted to "accomplish something worthwhile" before her death and wanted a rifle "within the next couple of weeks" to "accomplish as much as possible before June, at the latest."
On January 29, Clendaniel told the source that the five substations she planned to target included: "Norrisville, Reisterstown, and Perry Hall." Clendaniel described a "ring" around Baltimore, and if they hit a number of them all in the same day, they "would completely destroy this whole city."
The FBI received a search warrant targeting accounts used by Clendaniel on January 30. The bureau found several photographs of a woman believed to be Clendanial wearing tactical gear containing a swastika and holding a rifle.
The Google records also contained screenshots of a document that, according to the FBI, "contains many aspects that would be included in a manifesto."
The release said that Russell and Clendaniel are expected to make their first appearance Monday in federal court on a charge of conspiring to destroy an energy facility. The charge carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.
"The threat posed by domestic violent extremists is evolving and persistent," Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Sobocinski of the FBI's Baltimore field office 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."
BGE and Exelon released a statement thanking the FBI for its efforts to prevent attacks on the power grid.
"In the last decade, we have increased our level of investment on grid hardening capital projects and monitoring and surveillance technologies to work to prevent both physical and cyber-attacks," the companies said. "We remain focused on improving the resiliency of the grid by stocking critical back-up equipment while designing a smarter grid that isolates damage and routes power around it. "