BALTIMORE (TCD) -- A 27-year-old Florida man who founded a neo-Nazi group and 34-year-old Maryland woman are facing federal charges after they allegedly conspired to destroy a power grid in what prosecutors are calling a "racially motivated" attack.
On Monday, Feb. 6, the Justice Department announced it unsealed a criminal complaint filed against Sarah Clendaniel and Brandon Russell, who have each been charged with conspiracy to destroy an energy facility. The two were arrested Friday, Feb. 3.
According to the Justice Department, starting in June 2022, Russell allegedly "conspired to carry out attacks against critical infrastructure, specifically electrical substations, in furtherance of Russell’s racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist beliefs."
He reportedly planned on using Mylar balloons in the attack and wanted it to occur "when there is greatest strain on the grid," such as when people use heating or air conditioning. Russell allegedly had infrastructure maps and wanted to attack several substations at one time.
Clendaniel allegedly helped Russell plan the attack and spoke with him about a rifle she wanted to purchase. She reportedly said hitting the power grid would “completely destroy this whole city,” and it would be possible by shooting at them.
She reportedly told Russell the attack "would probably permanently completely lay this city to waste if we could do that successfully."
Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew G. Olsen said in the Justice Department’s announcement, "Driven by their ideology of racially motivated hatred, the defendants allegedly schemed to attack local power grid facilities. The Justice Department will not tolerate those who threaten critical infrastructure and imperil communities in the name of domestic violent extremism."
According to the criminal complaint shared by WBAL-TV, Russell used to live in Tampa with a man accused of killing their other two roommates. Inside the apartment, investigators reportedly found posters of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, neo-Nazi items, and explosives. Russell reportedly 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 Atomwaffen."
Atomwaffen is reportedly known to be a "racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist group with cells in multiple states." They reportedly target racial minorities, Jews, LGBTQ people, and other groups.
Russell and Clendaniel reportedly communicated with a confidential FBI source about their plans to hit the power grid as well as different weapons they would need to carry it out. Clendaniel, however, could not legally purchase a weapon because she was previously convicted of robbery.
The two face a maximum of 20 years in federal prison if they are convicted.
Russell and Clendaniel reportedly met when they were incarcerated, and Russell even said in a text to Clendaniel that "going to prison was worth it because I might not have met you otherwise."
The U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, Erek Barron, said in the Justice Department’s statement, "This alleged planned attack threatened lives and would have left thousands of Marylanders in the cold and dark. We are united and committed to using every legal means necessary to disrupt violence, including hate-fueled attacks."