Neo-Nazi Marylander pleads guilty following months long plot to destroy state’s electrical grid

20 May 2024- Sarah Beth Clendaniel, Catonsville, Maryland resident, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to damage or destroy electrical facilities in Maryland, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1366(a), and to being a felon in possession of a firearm, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1). 

Maryland United States Attorney Erek L. Barron and Special Agent in Charge William J. DelBagno of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office announced Clendaniel’s guilty plea.

“Ms. Clendaniel’s hate-fueled plans to destroy the Baltimore region power grid threatened thousands of innocent lives,” said U.S. Attorney Barron. “But, when law enforcement and the communities we serve are united in partnership, hate cannot win.”

“Ms. Clendaniel, a felon, spent months plotting, planning and taking steps to inflict grave damage to Maryland’s power grid in furtherance of her white supremacist ideology,” said Special Agent in Charge DelBagno. “Today’s guilty plea highlights the commitment of the FBI to hold individuals accountable for their actions. The FBI will continue to investigate violent threats as the safety and security of all Marylanders remains a priority.”

According to Clendaniel’s guilty plea:

In 2018, Clendaniel became acquainted with Brandon C. Russell, a Florida resident, who is currently charged with conspiracy to damage or destroy electrical facilities in Maryland and is awaiting trial.  Clendaniel and Russell espouse a white supremacist ideology and advocate a concept known as “accelerationism.”  To “accelerate” or to support “accelerationism” is based on a white supremacist belief that the current system is irreparable and without an apparent political solution, and therefore violent action is necessary to precipitate societal and government collapse.

According to court documents, from at least December 2022 and continuing through February 2023, Clendaniel conspired with Russell to damage energy facilities involved in the transmission and distribution of electricity and to cause a significant interruption and impairment of the Baltimore regional power grid. 

As part of her guilty plea, Clendaniel admitted that she communicated and planned over encrypted communication applications (“ECA”) to carry out attacks against energy facilities. Russell and Clendaniel communicated their plans to commit an attack on the Baltimore Region power grid to a confidential human source (“CHS-1”).

Their plans began to culminate on January 12, 2023 when CHS-1 and Russell discussed the planned substation attack in Maryland with a goal of working with Clendaniel to “maximize impact” and “to coordinate to get multiple [substations] at the same time.”  Later that same day, Clendaniel, using the moniker “Nythra88,” sent a message to CHS-1 on ECA confirming her support of the attack. 

In the ensuing conversation, which continued through January 14, 2023, Clendaniel told CHS-1 that she lived near Baltimore.  She also stated that she was a felon, and had previously, but unsuccessfully, attempted to obtain a rifle.  She asked CHS-1 to purchase a rifle for her, stating that she wanted to “accomplish something worthwhile” and that she wanted the rifle “within the next couple of weeks” to “accomplish as much as possible before June, at the latest.”  On January 18, 2023, on ECA, Clendaniel told CHS-1 that she had identified a few potential locations to target in her attack.  CHS-1 stated that CHS-1 would have to be the “driver” and Clendaniel would have to be the “shooter” in the attack.  Clendaniel confirmed that she was “determined to do this” and stated she would have done something earlier on her own if she had not lost her rifle “a few months ago.”  The conversation continued with CHS-1 and Clendaniel discussing the specifics of the desired rifle and agreeing that Clendaniel would send CHS-1 a “wish list,” which she did the following day.

At various times from January 21, 2023 through January 29, 2023, CHS-1 exchanged encrypted messages, separately, with Clendaniel and with Russell in which they discussed in detail the rifle and specific firearms accessories that Clendaniel wanted and potential targets for their attack.

On January 29, 2023, Clendaniel told CHS-1 that the five substations she planned to target included: “Norrisville, Reisterstown, and Perry Hall.”  Clendaniel described how there was a “ring” around Baltimore and if they hit a number of them all in the same day, they “would completely destroy this whole city.”  She added that they needed to “destroy those cores, not just leak the oil . . . ” and that a “good four or five shots through the center of them . . . should make that happen.”  Further, she stated that: “[i]t would probably permanently completely lay this city to waste if we could do that successfully.”  When CHS-1 asked if it would accomplish a “cascading failure,” Clendaniel replied, “[y]es . . . probably” and that the attack targets are all “major ones.”  Clendaniel also said that the most difficult target that they would have to do together has “fire walls on three sides.”

During that conversation, Clendaniel sent CHS-1 five links to the “Open Infrastructure Map” which showed the locations of five specific Baltimore, Gas and Electric (“BGE”) electrical substations in Maryland. BGE is an energy company that utilizes substations, like the five targeted sites, to produce, convert, transform, regulate and distribute energy.  Three of the five substations were located near the towns of Norrisville, Reisterstown, and Perry Hall.  The remaining two substations were in the vicinity of Baltimore City.  Each location is a BGE substation with significant infrastructure.

On or about January 31, 2023, Russell discussed with CHS-1 the attack of the targeted substations on ECA, including how to “make sure it’s done right,” how “it has been studied,” and how to make it “cascading” so as to maximize damage. Russell and Clendaniel believed that attacking these five electrical substations in the greater Baltimore area would serve accelerationism and help to break down society.

On February 3, 2023, law enforcement agents executed a search warrant at Clendaniel’s residence in Catonsville, Maryland.  During the search, law enforcement agents recovered from Clendaniel’s bedroom various firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.  Federal law prohibits Clendaniel from possessing these items because she is a convicted felon, including convictions in Cecil County, Maryland for Robbery in 2006 and Robbery and Attempted Robbery in 2016.

Clendaniel faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison on the conspiracy charge and 15 years on the felon in possession charge followed by up to lifetime of supervised release for the conspiracy charge.    Senior United States District Judge James K. Bredar has scheduled sentencing for September 3, 2024 at 11 a.m.