Suspects arrested in plot to attack power stations with goal of destroying Baltimore: Prosecutors

Sarah Clendaniel and Brandon Russell were motivated by racist extremist ideology, prosecutors said.

ByAlexander Mallin and Bill Hutchinson ABCNews logo
Monday, February 6, 2023
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WASHINGTON -- A Florida man and a Maryland woman have been arrested on federal charges of plotting to attack multiple energy substations with the goal of destroying Baltimore, the U.S. Department of Justice announced Monday.

The suspects, Sarah Clendaniel of Catonsville, Maryland, and Brandon Russell of Orlando, Florida, were allegedly fueled by a racist extremist ideology as they "conspired to inflict maximum harm" on the power grid with the aim to "completely destroy" Baltimore, U.S. Attorney Erek Barron and a top FBI official said at a Monday morning press conference.

Russell is quoted in court documents saying that attacking power transformers is "the greatest thing somebody can do." He is accused of providing instructions and location information for the substations he and Clendaniel allegedly sought to target as part of their plot, federal prosecutors said.

Clendaniel allegedly told an FBI confidential source she was "determined" to carry out the attacks aimed at Baltimore's infrastructure, saying, "It would lay this city to waste."

"Their actions threatened the electricity and heat of our homes, hospitals and businesses," said Thomas Sobocinski, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Baltimore field office. "The FBI believes this was a real threat."

Sobocinski said the two suspects "had extremist views" and believed that by conducting the attacks, they would bring further light to their views. Sobocinski declined to go into specifics when pressed by reporters.

The arrests come after a series of attacks on energy substations nationwide, including one in December in North Carolina that left 45,000 utility customers without electricity for days and prompted local officials to declare a state of emergency.

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The Department of Homeland Security has warned about similar attacks recently. A "National Terrorism Advisory System Bulletin" issued on Nov. 30 said individuals and groups motivated by a range of ideological beliefs and personal grievances "continue to pose a persistent and lethal threat to the Homeland."

In January, two men were arrested in Tacoma, Washington, and charged with conspiracy to damage energy facilities and possession of an unregistered firearm. Prosecutors said the suspects attacked four substations in the Tacoma area, causing more than $3 million in damage.

In February 2022, three men -- Christopher Brenner Cook, 20, Jonathan Allen Frost, 24, and Jackson Matthew Sawall, 22 -- pleaded guilty in federal court in Columbus, Ohio, to crimes related to a scheme to attack power grids in the United States in furtherance of white supremacist ideology. As part of the conspiracy, each man was assigned a substation in a different region of the United States to attack with rifles, believing their plan would cost the government millions of dollars, cause unrest for Americans and even prompt a race war, federal prosecutors said.