FBI arrested two, including neo-Nazi leader, who planned ‘potentially catastrophic’ attack on Maryland power grid
A Baltimore County woman once imprisoned for robbing convenience stores by threatening clerks with a machete was arrested Monday by federal authorities, along with a neo-Nazi leader in Florida, and charged with conspiring to destroy electrical substations in Maryland.
Sarah Beth Clendaniel, 34, most recently of Catonsville, was charged in a criminal complaint with Brandon Clint Russell, 27, of Orlando, with planning to shoot up five substations, which would cause what he described as a “cascading failure” in the power grid, according to an FBI affidavit.
Clendaniel, allegedly known as “Nythra” and “Kali” in encrypted communications, was arrested and charged in Maryland; Russell, whose aliases were “Homunculus” and “Raccoon,” was arrested and charged in Florida, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Baltimore said.
Much of the information that led to the charges was obtained from an unnamed FBI confidential informant, who communicated with both Russell and Clendaniel.
Clendaniel specifically mentioned damaging electrical substations in Norrisville, Reisterstown and Perry Hall. The other two locations were in or around Baltimore City. All belonged to BGE, the affidavit states.
On Jan. 29, she told the informant that if they attacked the five substations all in the same day, they “would completely destroy this whole city.” A “good four or five shots through the center of them … should make that happen.”
“It would probably permanently completely lay this city to waste if we could do that successfully,” Clendaniel allegedly told the informant in a recorded conversation.
“This planned attack threatened lives and would have left thousands of Marylanders in the cold and dark,” said Maryland U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron. “We are united and committed to using every legal means necessary to disrupt violence, including hate-fueled attacks.”
FBI Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Sobocinski, of the Baltimore Field Office, warned that “the threat posed by domestic violent extremists is evolving and persistent.”
“The FBI will continue to work closely with our law enforcement and private sector partners to identify and disrupt any potential threat to the safety of our citizens,” Sobocinski said.
From at least June of last year, federal officials allege, Russell encouraged the confidential FBI informant to carry out attacks against critical infrastructure to further “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist” ideology.
Records believed to have been authored by Clendaniel and obtained by the FBI from Google mention “Kaczynski, Brevic and Hitler” in a sort of manifesto. Agents believe those to be references to Ted Kaczynski, the so-called Unabomber arrested in 1996 for a series of mail bombings that killed three people and injured 23 others in the U.S.; Anders Behring Breivik, a far-right terrorist who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011; and Adolf Hitler.
“I would sacrifice **everything** for my people to just have a chance for our cause to succeed,” Clendaniel allegedly wrote in the documents. “What a shame I don’t have a rifle yet. This storm would be the perfect time to hit some substations and knock out power.”
Clendaniel told the confidential informant that “she had a terminal illness related to her kidneys and was unlikely to live more than a few months, confirmed she is a felon, and stated she had previously, but unsuccessfully, attempted to obtain a rifle,” the affidavit stated.
She asked the informant to purchase a rifle for her, saying “she wanted to ‘accomplish something worthwhile’ before her death, and wanted the rifle ‘within the next couple of weeks’ to ‘accomplish as much as possible before June, at the latest,’” the affidavit alleged.
Russell has a history of being affiliated with pro-Nazi groups and beliefs. In 2017, Russell, who founded a National Socialist Group called the Atomwaffen in Florida, was arrested, charged and pleaded guilty to possession of an unregistered destructive device and improper storage of explosive materials.
In January 2018 he was sentenced to 5 years in prison, followed by 3 years of supervised release. He was released Aug. 23, 2021, federal Bureau of Prisons records show.
For her part, in 2016 Clendaniel was charged in a series of robberies in Cecil County, where she resided with her mother, court records show. She was convicted of felony robbery and was sentenced to 5 years in prison, with 2 years suspended, according to the affidavit. “Nythra/Kali” told the FBI’s confidential informant that she was under the influence of drugs at the time, the affidavit states.
During the time Russell was in federal prison and Clendaniel was in state prison, they apparently struck up a relationship, corresponding with each other – a relationship the FBI had been aware of since 2018, the affidavit alleged.
Last year, Clendaniel purchased items on her Amazon account and had one — a 34-piece “Professional Pocket Picking Hand Tool” set — shipped to Russell’s Orlando address, the affidavit states.
Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) issued a statement commending the FBI and “our state homeland security team for their swift action in preventing a potentially catastrophic attack on several of Maryland’s electrical substations.”
Howard Libit, executive director at Baltimore Jewish Council, also praised law enforcement’s efforts to “thwart an attack on energy infrastructure in the Baltimore area planned by two neo-Nazis.”
“The arrests remind us that extremist hate and domestic terrorism remain an ongoing and growing threat to our communities,” Libit said in a statement. “Similarly, we have seen a steady rise in antisemitic incidents here in Maryland and across our nation.”
If convicted, Russell and Clendaniel each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.