Maryland woman pleads guilty to alleged plot to attack Baltimore power stations


(BALTIMORE, M.D.)– A Maryland woman accused of plotting to carry out attacks on multiple energy substations surrounding Baltimore pleaded guilty on Tuesday to federal conspiracy and firearms charges, court records show.

Sarah Beth Clendaniel, of Catonsville, was charged last year with conspiring with a Florida-based founder of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen to carry out the attacks, in what prosecutors described as a racism-fueled plot to spark mass chaos in the majority-Black city.

She initially pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to damage an energy facility. She was subsequently also charged with being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm and pleaded guilty to both charges in federal court on Tuesday.

“If we can pull off what I’m hoping … this would be legendary,” Clendaniel was quoted in charging documents telling a federal informant about her plot with Brandon Russell to target five substations around Baltimore.

She was further quoted telling an FBI confidential source she was “determined” to carry out the attacks, adding, “It would probably permanently completely lay this city to waste” if they were successful.

According to plea documents, Clendaniel agreed that if she were to carry out the attacks the total costs of repairs to the energy facilities would have exceeded $100,000.

The guilty plea paves the way for Clendaniel to now provide cooperation with federal authorities against Russell — who was incarcerated when the two first met, stemming from a 2018 conviction related to his possession of an unregistered destructive device.

The pair crafted their plot to shoot up the five substations while both were out on probation, when Russell began communicating with a confidential FBI source in 2022 about his hopes of attacking critical infrastructure sites, according to charging documents.

Russell allegedly told the informant that “putting holes in transformers … is the greatest thing somebody can do,” and told the informant they should carry out an attack “when there is greatest strain on the grid” to incur mass disruption. Russell further told the informant of Clendaniel and his alleged coordination with her to attack an energy facility and offered to connect the two to coordinate their attacks in order to “maximize impact.”

Upon meeting the informant, Clendaniel told them in early 2023 that she expected she would die of a terminal illness in a few months and was hoping to obtain a rifle as soon as possible in order to attack five substations she had singled out around Baltimore — all on the same day.

“[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,"” the affidavit stated.

Prosecutors agreed they would not recommend Clendaniel serve a sentence over 18 years in connection with her plea agreement, according to court documents, though the judge overseeing her case will ultimately determine the length of her prison term.

Russell has pleaded not guilty to a conspiracy charge in the case and is set to stand trial in July.

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