US woman pleads guilty in neo-Nazi plot to attack power grid

Sarah Clendaniel and an unidentified person pictured in a photo provided by the US justice department
Sarah Clendaniel and an unidentified person pictured in a photo provided by the US justice department [US Department of Justice]

A woman accused of plotting to destroy electrical installations around Baltimore has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and firearms charges.

Sarah Clendaniel of Maryland was arrested last year along with Brandon Russell, founder of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen.

Prosecutors say they plotted to blow up electricity substations, hoping to sow chaos and start a race war.

Clendaniel pleaded guilty in federal court on Tuesday.

The pair were first in contact while both were serving prison sentences and began discussing the plan after they were released.

Clendaniel, 36, described their plot as "legendary" and said the attack "would completely destroy the whole city".

However, they also discussed their plans with an FBI informant, leading to their arrests.

Russell, 28, founded Atomwaffen Division, which has been linked to several murders, bombings and plots in the United States and other countries.

Sarah Clendaniel pictured in a photo released by prosecutors
Investigators found firearms, documents referencing extremists, and photos of Clendaniel in tactical gear [US Department of Justice]

Although experts say it is relatively small, the group has become known for its extreme violence. Members subscribe to a neo-Nazi version of "accelerationist" philosophy - the idea that political goals can be achieved via social collapse.

Neo-Nazi accelerationists believe that chaos will lead to racial war and eventually a fascist whites-only state will emerge. Investigators say they found a document belonging to Clendaniel that was apparently meant to be released publicly in the event of an attack, and which referenced mass murderers and Adolf Hitler.

Atomwaffen or its offshoots have been banned in the UK, Canada and Australia.

In 2018, Russell was sentenced to prison after being convicted of explosives charges. Police found bomb-making equipment and guns while investigating the killing of two Atomwaffen members during an internal dispute.

He was released in 2021. Around the same time, Clendaniel was serving a prison sentence for armed robbery.

In federal court on Tuesday, Clendaniel pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to damage an energy facility, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years, and illegal possession of a firearm, punishable by up to 15 years.

In a plea agreement prosecutors said they would recommend that she serve a maximum of 18 years, which must be approved by a judge.

Clendaniel's guilty plea opens up the possibility that she could testify against Russell, who is scheduled to go on trial in July.