By Kanishka Singh and Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The FBI arrested two people, including a neo-Nazi leader, before they could attack Baltimore’s power grid, officials said on Monday.
The suspects, Brandon Russell from Florida and Sarah Clendaniel from Maryland, were taken into custody last week, officials said in a briefing on Monday. The FBI said the plot was racially motivated but did not provide details. About 62% of Baltimore city residents are Black, according to U.S. Census data.
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, a civil rights organization that tracks U.S. hate groups.
Reuters was not immediately able to locate attorneys for the two people arrested.
“Clendaniel and Russell conspired and took steps to shoot multiple electrical substations in the Baltimore area aiming to ‘completely destroy this whole city’, but these plans were stopped,” Erek Barron, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, said in the press briefing.
“The accused were not just talking but taking steps to fulfill their threats and further their extremist goals,” said Thomas Sobocinski, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Baltimore office.
From at least June 2022 to the present, Russell conspired to carry out attacks against critical infrastructure, officials said.
Russel provided instruction and location information for the planned attack while Clendaniel felt the plot “will lay this city to waste,” Sobocinski told reporters.
Baltimore Gas and Electric, a subsidiary of Exelon Corporation (NASDAQ:), which owns the targeted substations, said there was no damage to any of its equipment or outages. The company said it did not believe its equipment was targeted for particular vulnerabilities.
The arrests followed recent vandalization of electrical substations that left thousands of people without power in other states including North Carolina, South Carolina and Washington.
The motives for those attacks were not known. Sobocinski said the FBI was not aware of any links between the two people arrested in the alleged Baltimore plot and attacks elsewhere on electrical infrastructure.
In Tacoma, Washington, four electrical substations were vandalized around Christmas, leaving over 14,000 customers without power. Two men were arrested in connection with those attacks.
Also in December, a utility in North Carolina reported outages from what local authorities said were orchestrated shootings investigated by federal law enforcement. Duke Energy Corp (NYSE:), which provided power to the area, said at the time a total of 45,000 people had lost power.
The FBI also investigated shots fired near a power facility in South Carolina days later.