Mother of woman charged in plot to target power stations not shocked by accusations

Published 2/7/2023 6:42 p.m. EST, Updated 2/8/2023 5:27 p.m. EST

Sarah Beth Clendaniel was arrested by federal authorities on charges that she plotted to destroy energy facilities in the Baltimore area.
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Sarah Beth Clendaniel, 34, along with a Florida man with neo-Nazi ties, are accused of collaborating to attack several substations in the Baltimore area.

On Monday, each of them were in court — one in Baltimore, and the other in Florida — on a charge of conspiring to destroy an energy facility. Those convicted of the charge can face up to 20 years in prison.

A day after FBI and local officials announced the arrest, WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren was the only local television reporter to speak with Clendaniel’s mother.

Lanette Clendaniel said that time behind bars escalated her daughter’s extremism. It’s also where she met Brandon Russell, who prosecutors said is the co-founder of Atomwaffen, an Orlando-based neo-Nazi group.

Hellgren asked Lanette Clendaniel if she was shocked by the accusations against her daughter.

“No, I am not,” she replied.

Lanette Clendaniel, who is now raising her daughter’s children, said Clendaniel has Nazi or neo-Nazi views.

She told WJZ she believes her daughter got into those beliefs while she was in jail for machete armed robberies in Cecil County.

“Our views were different. She knew what I believed, and I knew what she believed,” Lanette Clendaniel said.

Sarah Clendaniel, originally from Cecil County, was recorded telling an FBI informant her plans to shoot energy substations in Norrisville, Reisterstown, Perry Hall, and Baltimore City, according to court documents.

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She is accused of collaborating with Russell.

Lanette Clendaniel said her daughter had a tough upbringing and had anti-establishment views, and she committed the machete robberies to support a heroin addiction.

“I understand where she feels she was coming from,” Lanette Clendaniel said. “The decline we’re seeing in this country, needs a rude awakening. I think that’s one of the main thing she was trying to do is change the course that this country is going in, and trying to do that for her kids.”

Russell was sentenced to five years in federal prison in 2018 for charges associated with having explosives in his apartment’s garage. Federal prosecutors said he planned to use the explosives to harm civilians, nuclear facilities and synagogues.

Lanette Clendaniel said her daughter had mentioned Russell, but she didn’t know much about the plot.

“She had mentioned him,” Lanette Clendaniel said. “I didn’t discuss her life. She knew I didn’t agree with it, so we really didn’t go there. I don’t know much about her private life.”

Russell was on supervised release when in June 2022, he began encouraging an FBI source in an encrypted messenger app to attack substations, according to a criminal complaint.

In January, Russell put the FBI source in touch with Clendaniel, saying the woman was a felon who was struggling to buy new weapons. The two began communicating in 2018, when they were imprisoned in separate locations, according to authorities.

“The accused were not just talking, but taking steps to fulfill their threats and further their extremist goals,” said Thomas Sobocinski, special agent in charge of the FBI Baltimore field office.

Russell provided instructions and location information to Clendaniel, and described attacking the power transformers as “the greatest thing somebody can do,” according to court papers.

In a conversation between the source and Clendaniel, she said she had a terminal illness and was unlikely to live more than a few more months. Officials said she tried to plan the attack and coordinate the purchase of weapons with the source over a phone call.

In her own words, Clendaniel said the attack “would lay this city to waste,” according to Sobocinski.

The FBI also obtained a document, which references Adolf Hitler and Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, that Clendaniel allegedly wrote.

Lanette Clendaniel did say Sarah Clendaniel had a terminal illness involving failing kidneys, and thought that last Christmas would be her final one with her daughter because of it.

WJZ-TV is a media partner of The Baltimore Banner.