A woman on Tuesday admitted to scheming with a neo-Nazi leader to destroy electrical substations surrounding Baltimore in an attack that she told a confidential FBI source would be “legendary” and “probably permanently completely lay this city to waste.”

Sarah Beth Clendaniel, 36, of Catonsville, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Baltimore to conspiracy to damage an energy facility and possession of a firearm by a prohibited person. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Gavin said the government will recommend a punishment at sentencing on Sept. 3 that does not exceed 18 years in prison.

Clendaniel admitted that she conspired with Brandon Russell, a neo-Nazi leader who founded Atomwaffen Division, which the FBI described as a racially or ethnically motivated extremist group with cells in several states.

The group follows an ideology called accelerationism, which believes the current government system is unworkable and looks at causing the collapse of society through violence.

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Standing next to her attorney, Assistant Federal Public Defender Sedira Banan, Clendaniel appeared in a light blue prison jumpsuit and shook inside the Edward A. Garmatz U.S. Courthouse as she responded to most of the questions from U.S. Senior District Judge James K. Bredar with, “Yes, your honor.” He noted that he does not have to accept the sentencing recommendation.

“Ms. Clendaniel’s hate-fueled plans to destroy the Baltimore region power grid threatened thousands of innocent lives,” Maryland U.S. Attorney Erek Barron said in a statement. “But, when law enforcement and the communities we serve are united in partnership, hate cannot win.”

William DelBagno, FBI special agent in charge of the Baltimore Field Office, said in a statement that the guilty plea “highlights the commitment of the FBI to hold individuals accountable for their actions.”

Starting in at least 2022, Russell used the username Homunculus on an encrypted communication app and encouraged a confidential FBI source to attack critical infrastructure in support of his white supremacist ideology, according to an affidavit in support of a criminal complaint.

Russell, the source reported, made statements about how carrying out a small number of assaults on electrical substations could lead to a “cascading failure.”

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Later, Russell, law enforcement alleges, told the source about “someone else i know in maryland…is gonna be doing same thing as you,” which would “GREATLY amplify its effects.” The FBI asserts that Clendaniel and Russell started writing letters to each other in 2018 when they were both incarcerated and, at some point, developed a romantic relationship.

In 2023, Clendaniel introduced herself to the source. She reported that she had a terminal illness related to her kidneys and wanted to “accomplish something worthwhile” before she died.

Clendaniel said in a recorded voice conversation that she planned to target five energy substations in places including Norrisville, Reisterstown and Perry Hall. If the attackers hit several of them on the same day, she said, they would “completely destroy this whole city.”

During that conversation, Clendaniel said they needed to “destroy those cores, not just leak the oil.” They had to fire four or five shots through the center of them, she said.

“It would probably permanently completely lay this city to waste if we could do that successfully,” Clendaniel said.

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Law enforcement executed a search warrant at Clendaniel’s home and found items including a 12-gauge semiautomatic shotgun, a 9 mm privately made pistol and more than 1,600 rounds of ammunition on Feb. 3, 2023. She was not legally allowed to possess firearms because of three felony convictions for robbery and attempted robbery in Cecil County.

Prosecutors reported that if the attack happened, it would have “caused a significant interruption or impairment of a function of the facilities.”

Russell, 28, of Orlando, is scheduled to stand trial starting July 9 on a charge of conspiracy to damage an energy facility.

Clendaniel is being held in the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women, according to prison records.

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