Neo-Nazi Couple Arrested for Alleged Plot to Attack Power Grid and ‘Destroy Whole City’

Brandon Russell, leader of neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division, and his prison-girlfriend allegedly plotted to attack five Baltimore-area energy stations.
Left: Brandon Clint Russell, the leader and founder of Atomwaffen Division Right: Sarah Beth Clendaniel (Images courtesy of law enforcement offices)

A neo-Nazi couple allegedly plotted to attack five energy substations in the Baltimore area, hoping to “completely destroy this whole city,” according to charging documents unsealed Monday. 

Brandon Clint Russell, a founding member and leader in the dangerous neo-Nazi terror group Atomwaffen Division, was recently released from prison after serving time for possession of explosives. Federal authorities say that he met his girlfriend, Sarah Beth Clendaniel while she was serving her own prison sentence for a string of armed robberies of convenience stores in Maryland. 


Following their respective releases on probation, the pair hatched a plot to attack critical infrastructure, according to the DOJ. Charging documents show Clendaniel posing in tactical gear emblazoned with swastikas and a skull mask (known as “siege masks” among neo-Nazi accelerationists). Russell, who’s based in Orlando, Florida, shared links to critical infrastructure and identified substations which would cause a “cascading failure” if attacked simultaneously, according to the federal complaint.

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The five substations they allegedly wanted to target included Norrisville, Reisterstown, and Perry Hall, according to the complaint. Clendaniels said these substations were arranged in a “ring” around Baltimore and would wipe out power across the city if they were attacked simultaneously. “It would probably permanently completely lay this city to waste if we could do that successfully,” she allegedly told an FBI source.

"Their actions threatened the electricity and heat of our homes, hospitals and businesses," Thomas Sobocinski, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Baltimore field office, said at a press conference announcing charges on Monday. "The FBI believes this was a real threat."

The FBI also obtained a Google document that the FBI has assessed to be similar to a manifesto, written by Clendaniels, which references the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Hitler, and neo-Nazi Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik. 


“If this is being posted online, I can only hope that some of my plans were at least partially successful,” it begins. “I would sacrifice everything for my people to just have a chance for our cause to succeed,” she also wrote. 

The arrest of Russell and Clendaniel comes amid heightened concerns about the power grid’s vulnerabilities, which were highlighted in December when someone (or multiple individuals) shot up two electrical substations in North Carolina’s Moore County, plunging tens of thousands of residents into darkness. No arrests have been made in that case. An earlier string of attacks on substations in the Pacific Northwest in November have also gone unsolved so far. 

For years, federal intelligence agencies have warned that white supremacist extremists were eyeing critical infrastructure as a desirable target, particularly those of the accelerationist persuasion, who hope to speed up the collapse of society by wreaking havoc. Many have circulated how-to guides online for how to cause maximum damage in an attack on a substation. 

According to the criminal complaint, Russell—using a pseudonym on an unnamed encrypted app—unwittingly communicated with an FBI source throughout much of 2022, discussing potential attacks against substations. He also directed the FBI source to white supremacist reading material that offered instructions for how to attack substations. Investigators also said that Russell suggested that the best time to attack the power grid would be when it’s being strained, like when “everyone is using electricity to either heat or cool their homes.” The goal, Russell stated, was to trigger a “cascading failure costing billions of dollars.” 


In December, Russell decided to connect the FBI source with his girlfriend, Clendaniel, whom he described as “serious and can be trusted,” according to documents. “Someone else I know in Maryland… is gonna be doing the same thing as you,” he told the source, and added that having them team up would “GREATLY amplify its effects.” 

Clendaniel, using various pseudonyms, told the FBI source in January that she had a terminal illness related to her kidney and wanted to “accomplish something worthwhile” before she died, which would likely be June, although ideally before the end of the month.  She was struggling to acquire firearms needed to attack substations, so the FBI source agreed to help her get some.

From there, Russell seemed to act as the fixer for the plot to attack the substations, offering guidance where needed, and was looped into the plans as they evolved. Following conversations between Clendaniel and the FBI source mainly focused on acquiring firearms, ammo, and other gear. 

Investigators obtained text messages between Russell and Clendaniel, who went by the monikers “Racoon” and “Irkalla,” respectively. In their chats, they talk about having kids together, as well as engaging in “warfare” and doing “illegal things.” It’s unclear how or when they met, but the FBI said that they were aware of their relationship since at least 2018, when they were communicating with each other while serving sentences at separate facilities. At one point, according to court documents, Russell told Clendaniel “going to prison was worth it because I might not have met you otherwise."


The FBI believe that their relationship continued after their release; last summer, Clendaniel appeared to order a lock-picking kit to Russell’s residence in Orlando using her Amazon account. 

Russell, a former national guard member, founded Atomwaffen in 2013 in the U.S. and in the years since, the group has expanded to countries around the world including Canada, Germany, and the U.K. At the height of its prominence in the U.S., between 2017 and 2018, Atomwaffen was linked to five deaths

One member, Devon Arthur, who lived with Russell in a cell in Tampa, killed two other members in 2017. Russell was arrested when authorities searched the apartment and discovered bomb making supplies and domestic terrorist propaganda, including a framed photo of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. 

The substations that Clendaniel and Russell were allegedly planning to target are overseen by companies Exelon and BGE. They released a statement saying that they are working closely with the FBI and state and local law enforcement as they continue their investigation. “We have a long-standing partnership with law enforcement and state and federal regulators of the grid to secure critical infrastructure,” the companies said. “This work is even more important now as threats have increased in recent years.” 

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