2 accused of plotting to disable Baltimore power grid

2 accused of plotting to disable Baltimore power grid

BALTIMORE (AP) — A Maryland woman conspired with a Florida neo-Nazi leader to carry out an attack on several electrical substations in the Baltimore area, officials said Monday.

The arrest of Sarah Beth Clendaniel, of Baltimore County, was the latest in a series across the country as authorities warn electrical infrastructure could be a vulnerable target for domestic terrorists. It wasn’t immediately clear Monday whether she had a lawyer to speak on her behalf.

There was no evidence the plot was carried out or any record of damage to local substations.

Clendaniel conspired with Brandon Russell, recently arrested in Florida, to disable the power grid by shooting out substations via “sniper attacks,” saying she wanted to “completely destroy this whole city,” according to a criminal complaint unsealed Monday. The complaint also included a photo of a woman authorities identified as Clendaniel wearing tactical gear that bore a swastika and holding a rifle.

U.S. Attorney Erek Barron praised investigators for disrupting hate-fueled violence.

“When we are united, hate cannot win,” he said at a news conference announcing the charges.

Authorities declined to specify how the planned attack was meant to fulfill a racist motive but suggested the defendants wanted to bring attention to their cause.

According to the complaint, Clendaniel was planning to target five substations situated in a “ring” around Baltimore, a majority-Black city mostly surrounded by heavily white suburban areas.

“It would probably permanently completely lay this city to waste if we could do that successfully,” Clendaniel told a confidential informant, according to the complaint. She was living outside the city in surrounding Baltimore County, officials said.

Russell has a long history of ties to racist groups and Nazi beliefs, as well as past plans to attack U.S. infrastructure systems, according to the complaint. It also wasn't clear Monday whether he had a lawyer.

In recent months, concerns about protecting the country’s power grid have been heightened by attacks, or threatened attacks.

In Washington state, two men were arrested last month on charges that they vandalized substations weeks earlier in attacks that left thousands without power around Christmastime. One suspect told authorities they did it so they could break into a business and steal money.

A gunfire attack in December on substations in central North Carolina caused power outages affecting tens of thousands of customers. Law enforcement officials have said the shooting was targeted, though no arrests have been made. Lawmakers there have proposed legislation to toughen penalties for intentionally damaging utility equipment.

Baltimore Gas and Electric, which controls the local power grid, thanked law enforcement and said Monday that there was no damage to any substations, that service wasn’t disrupted and that there are currently no known threats to facilities.

“The substations are not believed to have been targeted out of any connection to BGE or Exelon, or because of any particular vulnerability,” BGE said in a news release. “We have a long-standing partnership with law enforcement and state and federal regulators of the grid to secure critical infrastructure; this work is even more important now as threats have increased in recent years.”