Neo-Nazi leader arrested in plot to attack Baltimore power grid

WASHINGTON (NewsNation) — The FBI arrested two people, including a neo-Nazi leader, before they could attack Baltimore’s power grid, officials said on Monday, labeling the plot as being racially motivated.

The suspects, Brandon Russell and Sarah Clendaniel, were taken into custody last week, officials said in a briefing on Monday. Investigators say this plot stretched back months and involved at least one confidential informant.

A criminal complaint detailed how the two planned a series of sniper attacks aimed at five different substations around Baltimore.

As part of the planning, Russell allegedly posted links to maps of electrical substations on encrypted apps. 

Russell is a founder of a neo-Nazi group named Atomwaffen Division that works toward “ushering in the collapse of civilization,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

U.S. Attorney Erek Barron praised investigators for disrupting hate-fueled violence.

“When we are united, hate cannot win,” he said at a news conference announcing the charges.

Authorities declined to specify how the planned attack was meant to fulfill a racist motive but suggested the defendants wanted to bring attention to their cause.

Russell has a long history of ties to racist groups and Nazi beliefs, as well as past plans to attack U.S. infrastructure systems, according to the complaint. He once served five years behind bars after police found bomb-making material in his garage

It wasn’t clear Monday whether he had a lawyer.

A photo included in the criminal complaint shows a woman, believed to be Sarah Clendaniel, wearing tactical gear containing a swastika and holding a rifle and with a pistol in a drop holster on her left leg.

Clendaniel, meanwhile, told an informant she was suffering from a terminal illness and only had months to live, according to investigators.

Before she died, she allegedly said she wanted to “accomplish something worthwhile.”

Baltimore Gas and Electric, which controls the local power grid, thanked law enforcement and said Monday that there was no damage to any substations, that service wasn’t disrupted and that there are currently no known threats to facilities.

The arrests followed recent vandalism of electrical substations that left thousands of people without power in other U.S. states including North Carolina and Washington.

In early December, vandals in North Carolina shot two Duke Energy substations, causing a widespread blackout that left more than 40,000 customers in the dark.

In January, two men were charged with attacks on four Tacoma, Washington, substations on Christmas that left thousands without power.

Kenneth Gray, a retired FBI agent, told NewsNation in December the substations are an “easy target” because they often have minimal security — sometimes as little as just a chain link fence.

“These are attacks that can be easily carried out by a few people and can deliver major damage with little risk of being detected,” he said.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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