(CNN) Two people charged with conspiring to damage power facilities — a neo-Nazi leader and a woman with whom he had a personal relationship — allegedly planned to attack substations around Baltimore and “completely destroy” the entire city, according to federal court filings. .
The Justice Department has indicted Brandon Clint Russell and Sarah Beth Clendaniel on conspiracy to damage energy assets, alleging that the Maryland-focused conspiracy was fueled by ethnically or racially motivated extremist beliefs.
They “conspired to do maximum damage to the power grid,” Tom Sobocinski, who heads the FBI’s Baltimore field office, said during a news conference Monday. “The defendants not only spoke but took steps to fulfill their threats and further their extremist goals.”
The charges come as domestic violence experts have warned that attempts by extremist groups to attack power plants are trending.
Clendaniel had her initial appear before District Court Judge Richard Collins in federal court in downtown Baltimore Monday afternoon. As she sat in the courtroom before the hearing, Clendaniel read portions of the criminal complaint against her and shook her head as she flipped through several pages.
Kirstin Hopkins, Clendaniel’s court-appointed counsel, agreed to the government’s request that Clendaniel be held pending further hearings. Clendaniel is expected to file a plea deal during a future court appearance. A preliminary hearing in her case is scheduled for February 15.
Russell made his first appearance in federal court in Florida on Monday. He will remain incarcerated pending further hearings and his case has been referred to the District of Maryland.
Hopkins declined CNN’s request for comment on Clendaniel’s case, and an attorney for Russell was not included on the court’s public list.
In a recorded voice conversation last month, Clendaniel allegedly told the FBI source that an attack on the facilities would “completely destroy this entire city.” She and Russell allegedly sent the source information about the facilities, and according to the indictment, Russell sent the source a YouTube video of a recent attack on a North Carolina power substation.
The FBI also obtained a document allegedly written by Clendaniel, which authorities say resembles a manifesto. In it, she allegedly refers to Hitler as well as unabomber Ted Kaczynski and the perpetrator of the 2011 terrorist attack in Norway.
According to the indictment, Russell professes neo-Nazi beliefs and had founded his own local Nazi group.
Before he allegedly conspired to attack Maryland’s power grid, authorities said he and his roommates in Florida planned to attack power plants there. This alleged conspiracy was uncovered during an investigation into the 2017 murder of two of Russell’s roommates by another roommate.
Law enforcement officials described at Monday’s news conference that Russell and Clendaniel have both an in-person and online relationship, but didn’t elaborate.
The Justice Department says Russell, allegedly going by the username “Homunculus,” has been in contact with the FBI source since at least June last year. Homunculus reportedly made several statements to the source about attacks on critical infrastructure throughout 2022.
At one point, when Homunculus and the Source were discussing Mylar balloons, Homunculus allegedly said that “pouring holes in transformers is the greatest thing anyone can do,” and he allegedly gave the Source other ideas about attacking substations before.
Clendaniel, who reportedly goes by the usernames “Nythra88” and “Kali1889,” introduced herself to the FBI’s confidential source last month, according to the indictment documents. She reportedly told the source she wanted to “achieve something worthwhile” before dying of a terminal illness while seeking help acquiring firearms.
The source discussed with Homunculus plans for Clendaniel to engage in an attack on power plants, and the source also recorded a nearly two-hour conversation he had with Clendaniel on January 24 about the conspiracy, according to the indictment papers.
In a separate conversation five days later, Clendaniel told the source in a recorded voice conversation that the targets were facilities in the Baltimore area.
Correspondingly behind bars
Clendaniel and Russell have corresponded since at least 2018 while both were serving time behind bars in separate prisons, according to indictment documents.
Russell was sentenced to 60 months in prison in January 2018 after pleading guilty to possession of an unregistered device and improper storage of explosives.
In that case, according to court documents, Russell’s then-roommate told authorities he was the leader of a neo-Nazi group that her two other roommates belonged to and that they were planning an attack on US infrastructure, including a nuclear power plant and power lines along the Als Alligator Alley known part of Interstate 75.
The roommate was questioned by authorities after he killed the other two housemates for what he said they bullied him for converting to Islam from the neo-Nazi faith, court documents show.
Russell was serving his time on the explosives case and was on supervised release at the time of his arrest in the newly announced case against him.
For her part, Clendaniel’s file includes an arrest in 2006 for multiple offenses, including armed robbery at a supermarket, where she was carrying a large butcher knife, according to court documents. She was sentenced to five years in prison.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misidentified the location of a 2011 terrorist attack in Norway. This story has also been updated with additional details and developments.