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Neo-Nazis plotted to ‘completely destroy’ Baltimore with attack on power stations: Feds

Sarah Clendaniel

Neo-Nazi Sarah Clendaniel stands accused of trying to “completely destroy” Baltimore with an attack on power stations. (Photos via DOJ)

A neo-Nazi leader and his girlfriend plotted to “completely destroy” Baltimore with strategic attacks on power stations that one described as “literally like a life artery” of the city, federal prosecutors alleged on Monday.

“This alleged planned attack threatened lives and would have left thousands of Marylanders in the cold and dark,” U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron, for the District of Maryland, said in a statement. “We are united and committed to using every legal means necessary to disrupt violence, including hate-fueled attacks.”

“Maximize impact”

The criminal complaint against the pair details the hateful chats between neo-Nazi leader Brandon Russell, who went by the handle “Homunculus,” and his girlfriend Sarah Clendaniel, also known as “Nythra88.”

The number 88 is neo-Nazi code for “Heil Hitler,” whose name begins with the eighth letter of the alphabet.

A 27-year-old leader of a local cell of the Atomwaffen extremist group, Russell recently completed a 60-month sentence for possessing an unregistered destructive device and improper storage of explosive materials. He is back in custody, and federal prosecutors say that he committed a felony while on supervised release.

Formally declared a terrorist organization by the United Kingdom, Atomwaffen has international cells known to target racial minorities, the Jewish community, LGBTQ people, the United States Government, journalists, and critical infrastructure.

Federal records indicate that Russell, 27, was released from prison on Aug. 21, 2021.

By June 2022, prosecutors say that Russell reached out to a confidential FBI source, identified in court papers only as CHS-1, with plans to attack critical infrastructure, particularly electrical substations with an eye on inflicting “maximum damage.”

“On September 9, 2022, Homunculus encouraged CHS-1 to read a white supremacist publication that provided instructions on how to attack critical infrastructure, and encouraged CHS-1 to use Mylar balloons to short out a power transformer,” the criminal complaint states. “On October 14, 2022, during a conversation about the use of Mylar balloons, Homunculus told CHS-1 that ‘putting holes in transformers though is the greatest thing somebody can do.'”

Over the ensuing months, Russell and the source discussed an attack on one substation when the forecast called for snow, prosecutors say.

“i think you should wait until like a week after it starts snowing for that other thing we talked about,” the user “Homunculus” allegedly wrote, adding that “cascading failure” would lead to billions in damage.

On Jan. 12, 2023, “Homunculus” discussed the possibility of hitting multiple substations simultaneously to “maximize impact” and introduced the source to Clendaniel, whom he described as a “felon” who was 100% “serious and can be trusted,” according to prosecutors.

“Literally like a life artery”

The FBI source and Clendaniel later connected, and prosecutors say that Clendaniel disclosed a health issue accelerating her timeline for the planned attack.

“During the conversation, which continued through January 14, 2023, Nythra informed CHS-1 that she had a terminal illness related to her kidneys and was unlikely to live more than a few months, confirmed she is a felon, and stated she had previously, but unsuccessfully, attempted to obtain a rifle,” the criminal complaint states. “Nythra requested that CHS-1 purchase a rifle for her and that she wanted to ‘accomplish something worthwhile’ before her death, and wanted the rifle ‘within the next couple of weeks’ to ‘accomplish as much as possible before June, at the latest.'”

Prosecutors say that “Nythra” then gave the source her handle for a separate encrypted chat app: “@kali188,” suggesting that they chat there, in voice communications or in person.

When they next discussed targets, prosecutors say, Clendaniel described one target on the Delaware state line with Maryland as “literally like a life artery.” She added that targeting it would “definitely cut out a lot of shit,” according to court papers.

Prosecutors say that Clendaniel and the source next discussed how to procure a firearm for her, which she allegedly acknowledged would be “illegal.”

“Nythra also stated that she would ‘really want a silencer for my Glock 9,'” the criminal complaint states, adding that Clendaniel sent the source a “wish list” of desired rifles for online purchase later in the month.

On Jan. 29, 2023, “Nythra” wrote that if the “ring” around Baltimore hit a number of substations in the same day, they “would completely destroy this whole city,” prosecutors said.

“It would probably permanently completely lay this city to waste if we could do that successfully,” she added, according to the complaint.

The next day, the FBI says, Google started providing records related to the “Kali1889” and “Nythra88″ handles. The bureau says those records included several photographs of ammunition, an “eotech” firearm sighting accessory, and a woman they identified as Clendaniel. One showed her wearing tactical gear containing a swastika, holding a rifle and with a pistol in a drop holster on her left leg, authorities say.

The FBI says they also found a manifesto-style document quoting Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik and Adolf Hitler.

“I would sacrifice **everything** for my people to just have a chance for our cause to succeed,” it read.

Both face up to 20 years in prison if convicted of conspiracy to damage an energy facility.

Read the criminal complaint below:

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Law&Crime's managing editor Adam Klasfeld has spent more than a decade on the legal beat. Previously a reporter for Courthouse News, he has appeared as a guest on NewsNation, NBC, MSNBC, CBS's "Inside Edition," BBC, NPR, PBS, Sky News, and other networks. His reporting on the trial of Ghislaine Maxwell was featured on the Starz and Channel 4 documentary "Who Is Ghislaine Maxwell?" He is the host of Law&Crime podcast "Objections: with Adam Klasfeld."