Late last year, the federal government issued a bulletin warning of threats by extremist groups to “create civil disorder and inspire further violence.” In part, the DHS memo reads: “We have not previously observed calls for substation attacks in response to immigration-related concerns, and these recent discussions may stem from widespread media coverage of recent attacks against other substations across the United States, particularly in Moore County, North Carolina.”
Utility Dive’s Robert Walton recently reported (https://www.utilitydive.com/news/fbi-thwarts-neo-nazi-plot-to-attack-baltimore-gas-electric-substations/642147/) that “Two suspects have been charged in federal court with planning a firearms attack on five Baltimore Gas and Electric substations in a plot to ‘completely destroy’ the city, according to the FBI. BGE says it is working closely with the FBI and reassured customers [that] ‘there are no currently known threats to any of our facilities.’”
These attacks appear to be linked to “accelorationism,” a white supremacist domestic terrorist strategy aimed at “hasten[ing] the collapse of society as we know it,” the Anti-Defamation League noted in an April 2019 blog post headlined “White Supremacists Embrace ‘Accelerationism.’" According to the ADL, “The term is widely used by those on the fringes of the movement, who employ it openly and enthusiastically on mainstream platforms, as well as in the shadows of private, encrypted chat rooms” (https://www.adl.org/resources/blog/white-supremacists-embrace-accelerationism).
“For years now, among the white nationalist vanguardist-wing circulated the idea of ‘accelerationism’ -- far-rightists targeting the country’s infrastructure as part of an imposing plan for white nationalist revolution and an authoritarian reset of society,” Devin Burghart, Director of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights, told me in an email.
“The subset of online white nationalists promoting this race war fantasy generally refers to it as the ‘Siege’ or ‘Siege Culture’ mindset. The label comes from the title of the book Siege, an anthology of essays by old school neo-Nazi and Charles Manson follower, James Mason.
“In his book, Mason encourages ‘friction’ and ‘chaos,’ urging readers toward violence and acts of terror. Committing acts of friction and chaos in small cells are meant to facilitate complete societal collapse. In the aftermath, heavily armed far-right groups would be able to impose their vision for society onto a vulnerable and desperate population.”
The attack in Baltimore followed a developing pattern of attacks, which included a December 25 attack on multiple substations in Washington, leading to more than 14,000 outages on the Tacoma Power and Puget Sound Energy systems.
The “attack threatened lives and would have left thousands of Marylanders in the cold and dark,” Maryland U.S. Attorney Erek Barron said in a statement. “We are united and committed to using every legal means necessary to disrupt violence, including hate-fueled attacks.”
Sarah Beth Clendaniel, 34, of Catonsville, Maryland, and Brandon Clint Russell, 27, of Orlando, Florida, were arrested on February 3, andcharged with conspiracy to destroy an energy facility (https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/maryland-woman-and-florida-man-charged-federally-conspiring-destroy-energy-facilities).
Insurance Journal’s Eric Tucker and Lea Skene reported that “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 she met through Russell, according to the complaint. She was most recently living outside the city in surrounding Baltimore County, officials said (https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/east/2023/02/08/706666.htm).
“Clendaniel told the informant she was experiencing terminal kidney failure. With just a few months to live, she wanted to ‘accomplish something worthwhile’ before her death, according to the complaint. Many of their conversations focused on how she could get a weapon to carry out the attacks.”
“Clendaniel left behind writings that showed an infatuation with Adolf Hitler, Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber), and Anders Breivik, the far-right terrorist responsible for the racially motivated 2011 attacks in Norway, which killed 77 people in Oslo and Utøya, respectively,” The Soufan Center’s Intelbrief noted.
According to Tucker and Skene, “Russell, who founded an obscure neo-Nazi group called Atomwaffen Division, has a long history of ties to racist extremist ideologies and past plans to disrupt American infrastructure systems, according to the complaint. Atomwaffen Division leaders recently renamed themselves the National Socialist Order. The group’s mission is civilizational collapse, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.”
IREHR’s Burghart said that “Groups like the Atomwaffen Division and The Base are examples of this sort of white nationalist accelerationism. Both groups have had members arrested for plotting to attack infrastructure targets in the past couple of years.
“Last year, a 14-page manual circulated in accelerationist telegram channels that encouraged committed white nationalists to ‘strike a blow against the system,’ not by (Hunter-style) racist murders but by targeting things ‘that do the most damage to the system and spark revolution and chaos,” Burghart pointed out. “The manual refers to the power grid as ‘the main thing that keeps the anti-White system going’ and calls power substations ‘sitting ducks, worthy prey’ that is ‘largely unprotected and often in remote locations,’ allowing for multiple attacks.”
In a previous case, Russell pled guilty “to explosives charges after authorities found bomb-making materials in the garage. He served five years in federal prison and was on supervised release at the time of his recent arrest, officials said.”
CNN’s Aaron Cooper and John Miller recently reported that “In 2022 there were 25 ‘actual physical attacks’ reported on power facilities across the US and one report of ‘sabotage,’ according to the latest statistics available from the Department of Energy” (https://www.cnn.com/2023/02/04/us/us-power-grid-attacks/index.html).
“Given the success of recent attacks in raising the visibility of these vulnerabilities and popularizing accelorationism, the threat of another attack has also increased,” Burghart added.