2 accused of plotting to attack Baltimore power grid

BALTIMORE — Federal authorities have arrested two people described as extremists with an “ideology of racially-motivated hatred” on suspicion of planning to attack the power grid in Baltimore, according to officials.

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Sarah Beth Clendaniel, of Cantonsville, Maryland, and Brandon Clint Russell, of Orlando, Florida, have been charged with conspiracy to destroy an energy facility, court records obtained by WBAL-TV show. The pair “conspired and took steps to shoot multiple electrical substations in the Baltimore area, aiming to … ‘completely destroy this whole city,’” Erek Barron, U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland, said Monday at a news conference.

“The accused were not just talking but taking steps to fulfill their threats and further their extremist goals,” said Tom Sobocinski, the FBI special agent in charge of the Baltimore field office. “Russell provided instructions and location information. He described attacking the power transformers as the greatest thing somebody can do. In her own words, Clandaniel said she was determined to do this. She added, ‘It would lay this city to waste.’”

In an affidavit obtained by WBAL, authorities said that Clandaniel told a confidential FBI informant that she planned to target several substations, describing a “ring” of facilities around Baltimore and saying that taking a number of them out in the same day “would completely destroy this whole city.”

“It would probably permanently completely lay this city to waste if we could do that successfully,” she said, according to court records.

In records obtained from Google of accounts used by Clendaniel, investigators said they found a document in which references were made to Ted Kaczynski and Adolf Hitler, according to the affidavit.

Authorities said investigators previously interviewed Russell after his former roommate killed their other two roommates in Tampa, Florida, court records show. Officials said he “admitted to subscribing to ‘National Socialist,’ or Nazi, beliefs, that he had started his own local National Socialist Group called the ‘Atomwaffen,’ that his roommates were members of the Atomwaffen, and that he had manufactured … (highly explosive hexamethylene triperoxide diamine).”

Russell was ultimately charged with possession of an unregistered destructive device and improper storage of explosive materials. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced in January 2018 to 60 months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Officials said he is currently on supervised release.

Authorities arrested Clendaniel on several charges in 2006, including armed robbery. She was sentenced that year to five years of imprisonment with two years suspended, court records show.

Russell and Clendaniel began corresponding with one another while they were both incarcerated in separate facilities, according to the affidavit. Authorities declined to elaborate on their relationship on Monday.

Sobocinski said investigators are aware of other attacks in recent months on substations across the country, including in North Carolina and in Washington.

“We have no indication that this was anything larger than what we have, but the investigation continues,” he said.

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