‘One of the easiest crimes:’ White supremacists mock area man arrested in Baltimore power grid plot

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Orlando-area man arrested as a co-conspirator in a plot to bring down Baltimore, MD’s electrical infrastructure is finding little love from his fellow extremists online.


In internet forums like 4chan, white supremacists and those who share related beliefs have spent the past days mocking 27-year-old Brandon Russell, calling him an amateur who practically allowed himself to be caught.

“This has got to be one of the easiest crimes ever,” one user wrote in a profanity- and slur-laden thread.

Russell and his neo-Nazi affiliations have been known to the authorities for years, having been arrested when ingredients to make a bomb were discovered in his Tampa-area apartment in 2017.

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At the time, documents report, he planned to blow up power lines along Alligator Alley and a nuclear power plant. He spent four years in prison for the scheme.

In the forums, users snidely pointed out the specific group Russell was affiliated with was compromised, with one saying it appeared half of its members were behind bars.

Some also took issue with his decision to work with a female and a third person, who officials listed as an informant, to carry out the plan instead of working alone.

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Agents said Russell and his co-conspirator, Sarah Beth Clendaniel, planned to shoot five substations surrounding Baltimore to cut the city off from the rest of the grid. While their specific motivations weren’t made public – authorities only said it was to fulfill racist objectives – Baltimore has been a target of vitriol for years in extremist internet forums, where users deride it as a wasteland that needs white repopulation.

Some users, responding to the news, theorized that cutting the city off electricity would begin a societal breakdown with citizens resorting to cannibalism to stay alive.

“It would probably permanently completely lay this city to waste if we could [attack the substations] successfully,” Clendaniel told a confidential informant she met through Russell, according to the complaint.

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The plot has shined another spotlight on the nation’s vulnerable electrical grid, an infrastructure aspect extremists are more than familiar with. Lax security and a lack of spare parts means taking out a few substations, particularly major ones, can turn the lights off for days or weeks, experts said.

“With the Internet today, there’s so much information out there that it wouldn’t take long for someone to get on the Web and start studying this,” former Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said. “It’s not that sophisticated and it’s not that technical to be able to do this.”

While Baltimore’s grid was the target this time, most major US cities have the same vulnerabilities. Orlando’s grid features a ring of major substations surrounding the city, with five or so main connection points to the substations within the city itself.

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Each substation’s location, and its links to other substations, is plotted on a map accessible via a simple internet search.

Traditionally, electricity providers have been reluctant to speak about security-related matters, citing security itself.

“OUC takes all types of security – physical and cyber – seriously, and has devoted significant resources to safeguard our infrastructure,” a spokesman for Orlando’s main utility provider wrote in response to emailed questions. “For security reasons, we cannot go into more detail. We encourage our customers and community to contact law enforcement if they notice anything suspicious.”

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A spokeswoman for the provider that maintains Orlando’s main “ring” of substations, Duke Energy, also declined to go into specifics.

“Duke Energy is spending $75 billion over the next decade on grid improvements, which will include investments in making the electric grid more secure from cyber and physical threats,” she wrote. “We continually assess our security posture and also prioritize resiliency as we look at new and emerging threats, so that we can preserve reliable service for our customers.”

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In the forums, no users indicated they were also in the midst of planning their own assaults, sticking to discussions on the state of the country and government in conversations viewable by law enforcement.

“It’s hard to know just what’s up with this spat of low life criminals being rounded up for these types of ‘plots’ lately,” one said. “The threat doesn’t seem organic.”

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