“It is a selfish act. It is cruel,” Mayor Carol Haney of of Southern Pines, the town where the drag show was targeted, told CNN. “There are so many people that are hurting. The revenue stream has been stopped. If you have health issues, it is critical. It is just a horrible, horrible, terrorist, in my opinion, act.”
One local agitator claimed she knew why the power went out, but no one has claimed actual credit for the act. The perpetrators left no known note or manifesto, and so far investigators—who now include the FBI—have not revealed whether they’ve found any indications of a motive. Establishing a motive is essential in determining whether it’s an act of terrorism, which is defined by the presence of either or both political and terroristic motivations.
“It would have to be some articulation of motivation,” onetime FBI Assistant Director Chris Swecker told WSOC-TV. “You would have to have to have a suspect to know if this is politically motivated. Terrorism is committing violence to intimidate the public to affect political change, broadly speaking.”
Moore County officials declared a state of emergency and set a curfew from 9:00 PM to 5:00 AM each night. County residents are encouraged to conserve fuel. A spokesman for Duke Energy said Monday that the company had restored power to about 7,000 customers, but about 38,000 remain without power. Full restoration is expected sometime Wednesday or Thursday. Duke Energy General Manager Jason Hollifield said in a press release that "the damage is beyond repair in some areas."
"That leaves us with no option but to replace large pieces of equipment—which is not an easy or quick task," said Hollifield.
Schools have been closed and wastewater pumps in the area have been rendered out of order. Traffic lights are also out, which in one instance caused a four-car collision. The county has opened emergency shelters to the public.
Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields told reporters at a press conference Sunday that the damage to the substations had been caused by gunfire. Fields said the scene was the same at both sites.
“It was targeted, it wasn’t random. The person, or persons, who did this knew exactly what they were doing,” Fields said.
Federal and state law enforcement agencies—including the FBI and Homeland Security—have become involved in the investigation. The White House is also reportedly monitoring the situation closely.
"This kind of attack raises a new level of threat," North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said at a news conference Monday afternoon.
“Is it domestic terrorism?” Cooper was asked. He replied: "I think investigators are leaving no stone unturned as to what this is as they are looking at every motivation that could possibly occur."
The most obvious reason to suspect a terrorist motive is the drag queen performance held that evening in Southern Pines. The show originally was scheduled to be a family-friendly all-ages show held after the town’s annual Christmas parade at the historic Sunrise Theater.
But its announcement created an uproar. The theater was bombarded with threats, leading organizers to bolster security around the event. Southern Pines Christian school leaders claimed that the drag performances targeted children. In a letter dated Nov. 21, Calvary Christian School administrators urged parents at the school to contact the town council, the theater, and show sponsors and demand its cancellation.
“The LGBTQ forces are coming to Southern Pines and they are after our children,” the letter read in part. “This is their target audience to peddle their abomination.”
The show was scheduled to start at 7 PM—which is about the same time that investigators estimate the power substations were attacked. The blackout, however, took time to spread, and did not knock out power to the theater until after 8:30 PM.
One of the leading agitators is a local former Army captain named Emily Rainey, who left the armed forces after receiving a reprimand for participating in the Jan. 6, 2021 “Stop the Steal” protests that led to the assault on the U.S. Capitol.
Shortly after the blackout hit the area, Rainey posted on Facebook: “the power is out in Moore County and I know why.” Shortly afterwards, she posted a photo of the darkened venue with text reading: “Sunrise Theater God will not be mocked.”
These posts caught the immediate attention of the Moore County Sheriff’s Office, which promptly sent officers to visit Rainey at her home. She posted a couple of hours later: “The Moore County Sheriff’s Office just checked in,” she said. “I welcomed them to my home. Sorry they wasted their time. I told them that God works in mysterious ways and is responsible for the outage. I used the opportunity to tell them about the immoral drag show and the blasphemies screamed by its supporters. God is chastising Moore County. I thanked them for coming and wished them a good night. Thankful for the LEOs service, as always.”
Sheriff Ronnie Fields told reporters that the information Rainey posted online was “false.” He said officers “had to go and interview this young lady and have a word of prayer with her, but it turned out to be nothing.”
As it happens, Fields and Rainey were photographed together in October 2020 at a “Back the Blue” event. However, Chief Deputy Richard Maness explained to reporters that "have a word of prayer" means to have a "stern and serious" conversation.
Rainey was one of the chief organizers of the protests held outside the theater before the Saturday performance. The protest attracted several Proud Boys, a number of whom had shown up outside another drag show in nearby Sanford five weeks before, alongside some tattooed neo-Nazis. One of them was a Marine Corps veteran named Jim Pedersen who had received a pardon from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in 2014 for a gun-brandishing conviction; Pedersen was taking photos of people entering the drag show Saturday.
On Monday, Rainey appeared as a guest on Steve Bannon’s War Room podcast and explained why she organized the protests. “We don’t believe that this kind of red light district adult entertainment has any place in our very family-friendly conservative Christian downtown, where there’s literally a Creation Museum, and a Christian bookstore and a Christian clothing shop,” she said.
She described the counterprotesters’ “truly demonic and perverse screaming and banshee-like behavior from the pro-LMNOP support that was all primarily coming from the Triangle area. We know who the locals are and these weren’t them.”
So it’s very much out-of-town promoters of an event that simply is not being called for by this small-town America. And we’ve seen this all over the country, Steve—this drag-show push into the small towns is a very extreme Trojan horse pushing the aggressive LGBTQ agenda into small-town America. And we just simply did not want to stand for it.
Rainey complained about “this agenda that’s being pushed on the young people of America of perversion and depravity,” adding: “People need to understand that this whole pushing of the Overton Window into the satanic and the atheist realms has gotten far out of control. And Christianity and speaking anything true about scripture or our Christian beliefs, that is now being called ‘Christofascist’ and all other kinds of nonsense.” She added that dealing with such forces “was horrifying.”
One Facebook, Rainey angrily denied that she had anything to do with the outage and claimed the flood of comments directed at her were a smear—but that the outage nonetheless was God’s punishment for permitting the drag show. One interlocutor asked: “What about those who are on ventilators? Those on dialysis? And they die? Are you happy? Is this what God wants?”
“I am not happy that innocent people could suffer but chastisements always effect the good with the evil,” Rainey responded. “The good news is the truly innocent will suffer temporarily and the wicked will experience Gods Justice eternally.”
Despite the power outage, the drag performance went on. Called “Downtown Divas,” it was hosted by Durham drag artist Naomi Dix, who said she was about to introduce an act when the room went dark. Dix responded by asking the sold-out crowd to illuminate the room with their cell phone flashlights, after which she led them in singing Beyonce’s song "Halo."
“It was a beautiful moment,” Dix said.
Dix reminded the crowd that if it turned out that the power outage was an attempt by their opponents to stop them, to remember that the situation reflects social currents deeper than those in the town.
“This has never been about drag queens and children, this is about their direct hate of anyone who does not share their beliefs,” she said. “This is terrorism and nothing less.”
Terrorist attacks on electrical infrastructure have become a major concern of the nation’s counterterrorism authorities. A January bulletin from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) warned that domestic violent extremists "have developed credible, specific plans to attack electricity infrastructure since at least 2020, identifying the electric grid as a particularly attractive target." However, DHS has not issued any statement connecting the current situation in Moore County to extremism.
The electrical grid has been a target of far-right domestic terrorists for decades. A group of would-be terrorists called the Minutemen based in the Seattle area in the 1960s plotted to bomb a power station as a distraction for their bank robbery scheme, but they were arrested by the FBI before enacting the scheme.
Electrical infrastructure has become a key target for the most recent iterations of accelerationist neofascist groups like The Base and Atomwaffen SS. One such terrorist cell that targeted the January 2020 pro-gun protests in Richmond, Virginia, discussed targeting the power grid and cell towers in the area to debilitate any police response while disguised as both left-wing activists and as “3 Percent” militiamen, believing it would direct violence towards the groups blamed for the destruction.
A group of Marines who moved to Idaho from North Carolina tried to set up a terror cell that would conduct assassinations and other criminal acts targeting “leftists” and the government, using attacks on the Pacific Northwest power grid as their primary tool. In a propaganda video, the members of the neo-Nazi organization, which called itself “BSN,” could be seen practicing with firearms in the vicinity of high-power transmission lines.
The most recent arrests involved three men from disparate parts of the country—from Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin—who met online and conspired to wreak havoc by attacking electrical substations in various locations. The group, which met up in person in Columbus, studied power grids in different parts of the country. Their plan involved carrying out simultaneous attacks around the nation, using high-powered rifles to destroy transformers and thus knocking out power to whole communities, which they hoped would cause massive unrest and eventually a “race war.”
As researcher Molly Conger notes, these kinds of criminal acts carry stiff penalties: sentences for violating “18 USC 1366a imposes up to 20 years for causing (or even conspiring to cause) this much damage to any energy facility,” and moreover “there is precedent for terrorism enhancements.”
“I used to head this office at the FBI and we were always concerned about our power grid, that a big part of our critical infrastructure, communications, banking financial, all of that exists here in Charlotte,” the FBI’s Swecker told WSOC-TV. “Military, outside of Charlotte when you see a target like this, you wonder if we’ve taken our eye off the ball here in terms of hardening those targets because you have to wonder how someone got so close, to put so many people in the dark.”
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