Washington (AFP) – US authorities announced the arrests Monday of the co-founder of the notorious Atomwaffen neo-Nazi group and a woman he met online in the latest extremist plot to attack public electricity facilities.
The FBI said Brandon Russell, who helped found Atomwaffen in 2015, was arrested in Florida, after spending four years in prison for possessing bomb-making materials.
The woman, Sarah Beth Clendaniel, was arrested in Maryland where she had also spent time in prison for armed robbery.
Guided by Russell, Clendaniel had planned to acquire a gun and to attack five electrical substations around Baltimore, Maryland, the FBI said.
“Sara Beth Clendaniel and Brandon Russell conspired to inflict maximum harm on the power grid, a key component of our critical infrastructure,” said Thomas Sobocinski, a special agent of the FBI Baltimore field office.
“Russell provided instructions and location information. He described attacking the power transformers as the greatest thing somebody can do,” he said in a press conference.
Clendaniels said doing so “would probably permanently completely lay this city to waste,” according to the indictment filed in federal court.
Series of attacks
The arrest follows a series of attacks on power substations in various parts of the country, believed to be by white supremacists aiming to foment unrest.
In early January two men were arrested in the state of Washington after attacks on four power substations using high-powered weapons that knocked out power for around 15,500 homes and businesses on Christmas Day.
In early December, 45,000 homes and businesses in Moore County, North Carolina were left without power after someone used a high-powered rifle to damage two electricity substations.
On January 17 another North Carolina power facility was damaged by gunshot.
No suspects have been arrested in those cases.
In February 2022, three men with neo-Nazi ties pleaded guilty in Columbus, Ohio to plotting to use rifles and explosives to damage power infrastructure in various locations.
In 2021 five men who allegedly had white supremacist beliefs were charged in North Carolina with planning similar attacks.
Clendaniels and Russell met online while he was in prison and the two apparently became close.
She told him she had a potentially terminal kidney disease, and they “discussed having kids together,” and talked about “warfare,” the indictment said.
But there was no evidence the two ever met in person.
Monday’s indictment described Atomwaffen as a “violent extremist group” that has targeted racial minorities, the Jewish community, the LGBTQ community, the government and critical infrastructure.
In recent years the group changed its name to “National Socialist Order,” the filing said.