06 February 2023- Erek L. Barron, United States Attorney for the District of Maryland, and Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Sobocinski, of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office, announced the filing of a federal criminal complaint charging Sarah Beth Clendaniel, of Catonsville, Maryland, and Brandon Clint Russell, of Orlando, Florida, with conspiracy to destroy an energy facility.
The criminal complaint was unsealed upon the arrests of the defendants. An initial appearance for Clendaniel is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. today in the U.S. District Court in Baltimore before U.S. Magistrate Judge J. Mark Coulson. Russell will have his initial appearance at 1:30 today in U.S. District Court in Orlando, Florida.
“This alleged 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.”
“The threat posed by domestic violent extremists is evolving and persistent,” said Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Sobocinski of the FBI’s Baltimore field office. “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.”
“Driven by their ideology of racially-motivated hatred, the defendants allegedly schemed to attack local power grid facilities,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew G. Olsen. “The Justice Department will not tolerate those who threaten critical infrastructure and imperil communities in the name of domestic violent extremism.”
As alleged in the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint:
From at least June 2022 to the present, Russell conspired to carry out attacks against critical infrastructure, specifically electrical substations, in furtherance of Russell’s racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist beliefs.
Russell posted links to open-source maps of infrastructure, which included the locations of electrical substations, and he described how a small number of attacks on substations could cause a “cascading failure.” Russell also discussed maximizing the impact of the planned attack by hitting multiple substations at one time.
A Maryland-based woman identified as Sarah Beth Clendaniel, collaborated on a plan to carry out the attacks. Clendaniel conspired to secure a weapon and identified five substations she planned to target. Clendaniel allegedly stated that if they hit a number of them all in the same day, they “would completely destroy this whole city,” and that a “good four or five shots through the center of them . . . should make that happen.” She further added, “[i]t would probably permanently completely lay this city to waste if we could do that successfully.”
A criminal complaint is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by criminal complaint is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings. If convicted, Russell and Clendaniel each face a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison for conspiracy to damage an energy facility. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
United States Attorney Erek L. Barron commended the Baltimore FBI Field Office for its outstanding work in the investigation and praised the Joint Terrorism Task Force, the Maryland State Police, the Baltimore County Police Department and the Tampa, Washington, and New York Field Offices of the FBI for their valuable assistance. Mr. Barron also thanked the Department of Justice’s National Security Division and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida for their assistance. Mr. Barron thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen O. Gavin, who is prosecuting the case and thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Christina Hoffman for her assistance. For more information on the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office, its priorities, and resources available to help the community, please visit www.justice.gov/usao-md and https://www.justice.gov/usao-md/community-outreach. To report a Maryland-based hate crime, contact the FBI Baltimore field office at (410) 265-8080 or www.tips.fbi.gov.