One of the neo-Nazi lovers arrested last week for allegedly plotting to shoot up Baltimore power substations and “destroy” the predominantly Black city was described as a lifelong radical who wanted to go out with a bang before dying of kidney failure, her brother told The Daily Beast on Wednesday.
Sarah Clendaniel, 34, was arrested along with her long-distance, fellow neo-Nazi boyfriend Brandon Russell on a count of conspiracy to destroy an energy facility—a charge that could land the couple in federal prison for 20 years each.
But Sarah’s brother, Luke Clendaniel, doesn’t expect she’ll live long enough to serve a potential prison sentence, saying she may not make it through a trial in Maryland District Court. He says a doctor told Sarah late last year that she likely had just six months to live because her kidneys are failing from decades of drug abuse.
Luke told The Daily Beast that he suspects Sarah’s illness is what prompted her to do something as rash as trying to cut off all power to a major U.S. city, and that he’s actually impressed she put her money where her mouth is.
“I don’t agree with what she did or what she planned, but because a lot of people talk, talk, talk, at least she was willing to try something,” Luke said. “Even if it was something stupid.”
Luke, 37, said he’d recently grown closer to his little sister after her release last year from prison, where she’d been locked up for a string of thefts in which she wielded a machete to demand cash and cigarettes at convenience stores. The siblings started talking again recently and went on a hike last month, discussing politics, philosophy, and how they believe the world’s reliance on technology is destroying society, he said.
Luke added that his sister had always held neo-Nazi views, but never tried to act on them until this year. He suspects her anger came from drugs destroying her body and the government not doing enough to keep narcotics from coming into the country.
“She just feels like society is screwed up and she wanted to do anything she could to fix it,” Luke said.
Sarah’s mother, Lanette Clendaniel, wasn’t so sympathetic in an interview with CBS Baltimore. She said her daughter’s racist views had gotten between them, and she’s been taking care of her kids. She doesn’t plan to attend any of her daughter’s court dates.
“I didn’t discuss her life,” Lanette said. “She knew I didn’t agree with it, so we really didn’t go there. I don’t know much about her private life.”
Despite not seeing eye-to-eye, Lanette reasoned she could see why her daughter thought knocking out power to Baltimore’s half-a-million residents might be a sound last hurrah before dying.
“I understand where she feels she was coming from,” Clendaniel said. “The decline we’re seeing in this country needs a rude awakening. I think that’s one of the main things she was trying to do is change the course that this country is going in, and trying to do that for her kids.”
Russell, a neo-Nazi leader who founded the far-right group Atomwaffen, was jailed in 2018 for keeping lethal bomb-making materials in his apartment. A criminal complaint says it was that year he struck up a relationship with Sarah from their separate prisons.
Atomwaffen, which is German for atomic weapons, is considered a “small but dangerous group,” the extremism watchgroup Western States Center said in a statement to The Daily Beast. A member was charged with a hate crime for murdering a gay, Jewish college student in 2019, and an adherent allegedly killed his girlfriend’s parents for opposing his Nazi views.
A separate killing, at a Tampa apartment in 2017, involved Russell’s roommate, Devon Arthurs, who was accused of fatally shooting two other people who lived there. Russell was not attached to the killings, authorities said, but the investigation uncovered bomb-making materials in his garage—an offense that landed him behind bars for five years.
Court filings did not specify whether Sarah was a member of Russell’s hate group. An image released by authorities, however, showed Sarah posing with a rifle and wearing tactical gear adorned with a swastika.
Thomas Sobocinski, the lead agent at the FBI’s Baltimore field office, said in a news conference Monday that Sarah and Russell were “racially or ethnically motivated extremists.”
Intentional attacks on power grids in the U.S. have long been a focus of white supremacists groups. Late last year, two high profile incidents in North Carolina and Washington made national news after about 60,000 homes and businesses were left without power just before the holidays.
An affidavit unveiled that the couple’s alleged plan was to cause a “cascading failure” of Baltimore’s access to power during a winter storm “when most people are using max electricity.”
Authorities said the devious plot was foiled because the couple were spilling details about the attack to an undercover informant.
Sobocinski said Sarah told the informant they hoped to “lay this city to waste,” referring to Baltimore. Russell, orchestrating the attack from his home in Orlando, Florida, allegedly ordered Sarah to target transformers specifically because they’re “custom made and could take almost a year to replace,” the affidavit said.
The affidavit mentioned Sarah’s kidney disease, saying she told an informant the attack was a way for her “to accomplish something worthwhile” before dying.
Authorities found a written statement from Sarah, which they described as a de facto manifesto that painted a picture into Sarah’s seemingly troubled mind.
“I would sacrifice **everything** for my people to just have a chance for our cause to succeed,” the statement says. “Unfortunately, I have very little experience with firearms. But once I get my license, I hope to get at least a couple hours of practice in . . . What a shame I don’t have a rifle yet. This storm would be the perfect time to hit some substations and knock out power.”
The statement also referenced Hitler, the Unabomber, and a Norwegian mass killer, according to the affidavit.
Luke said his sister was smart growing up but always a bit different. He remembers strange things she used to say, like claiming she could taste colors, and that she showed an early love for philosophy and eventually radical ideology.
He said Sarah had no plans to undergo dialysis—a procedure to remove waste products and excess fluid from the blood when kidneys fail—to prolong her life.
“She was on drugs for a lot of years and felt like society failed her,” Luke said. “That was her whole problem in life—just drugs. Drugs destroyed her…It’s just bullshit.”
Sarah’s mother acknowledged that she’ll likely never see her daughter again. She said she plans to focus on raising her grandkids and stay away from any criminal trial.
“Unless there’s a miracle, she’ll most likely die in prison,” Lanette said.
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