Neo-Nazi leader and Maryland woman plotted to ‘completely destroy’ Baltimore, Justice Department says
Two people accused of conspiring to damage energy facilities – a neo-Nazi leader and a woman he had a personal relationship with – allegedly planned to attack power substations encircling Baltimore and “completely destroy” the entire city, according to federal court documents.
The Justice Department has charged Brandon Clint Russell and Sarah Beth Clendaniel with conspiracy to damage energy facilities, alleging the Maryland-focused conspiracy was motivated by ethnically or racially motivated extremist beliefs.
They “conspired to inflict maximum damage to the power grid,” Tom Sobocinski, who heads the FBI’s Baltimore field office, said at a press conference Monday. “The defendants were not just talking, but taking action to carry out their threats and further their extremist goals.”
The charges come as domestic violence experts have warned that attempts by extremist groups to attack power stations are on the rise.
Clendaniel will make his first appearance in the Baltimore federal courthouse at 2 p.m. ET, and Russell will appear in a Florida courthouse at 1:30 p.m. ET, according to the Justice Department.
CNN was unable to reach the defendants or their attorneys for comment.
In a recorded voice conversation last month, Clendaniel allegedly told the FBI source that targeting the facilities would “completely destroy this whole town.” She and Russell allegedly sent the source information about the facilities, and according to the charging documents, Russell sent the source a YouTube video about a recent substation attack in North Carolina.
The FBI also obtained a document allegedly written by Clendaniel that authorities say resembles a manifesto. In it, she would refer to Hitler, as well as Unabomber Ted Kaczynski and the perpetrator of the 2011 terror attack in Norway.
Russell, according to the charging documents, attributes neo-Nazi beliefs and created his own local National Socialist group.
Before he allegedly conspired to attack Maryland’s power grid, authorities say he conspired with his roommates in Florida to attack energy facilities there. This alleged plot came to light during an investigation into the 2017 murder of two of Russell’s roommates by another roommate.
Law enforcement officials at Monday’s press conference described Russell and Clendaniel as having both a personal and online relationship, but did not elaborate further.
The Justice Department says Russell, allegedly under the username “Homunculus”, has been in contact with the FBI source since at least June of last year. Homunculus is said to have made several source claims throughout 2022 regarding the critical infrastructure attack.
At one point, while Homunculus and the source were talking about Mylar balloons, Homunculus reportedly said “pushing holes in transformers is the best thing anyone can do”, and he reportedly offered some other ideas to the source on the attack on electrical substations.
Clendaniel, believed to be going by the names “Nythra88” and “Kali1889”, came forward to the confidential FBI source last month, according to the charging documents. She reportedly told the source that she wanted to “achieve something worthwhile”, before she died of a terminal illness while seeking help obtaining guns.
The source discussed plans with Homunculus for Clendaniel to participate in an attack on energy facilities, and the source also recorded a nearly two-hour voice conversation he had with Clendaniel on January 24 about the plot, according to charging documents.
In a separate conversation five days later, Clendaniel told the source in a recorded voice chat that the targets were facilities surrounding Baltimore.
This story has been updated with additional details.
Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the location of a 2011 terrorist attack that took place in Norway.