Three men yesterday pleaded guilty to conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists for their roles in a white supremacist plot to attack US power grids.
“These three defendants admitted to engaging in a disturbing plot, in furtherance of white supremacist ideology, to attack energy facilities in order to damage the economy and stoke division in our country,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew Olsen said in a Department of Justice announcement.
The defendants are Christopher Brenner Cook, 20, of Columbus, Ohio; Jonathan Allen Frost, 24, of West Lafayette, Indiana, and of Katy, Texas; and Jackson Matthew Sawall, 22, of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. They were charged in US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio and face maximum prison sentences of 15 years. The plea agreements recommend post-prison supervised release of 30 years with computer monitoring and a ban on the use of “online encrypted communication platforms.”
“As part of the conspiracy, each defendant was assigned a substation in a different region of the United States,” the Justice Department said. “The plan was to attack the substations, or power grids, with powerful rifles. The defendants believed their plan would cost the government millions of dollars and cause unrest for Americans in the region.”
Hope for a “race war”
A statement of facts the defendants admitted to in their plea agreements described their hope to ignite a “race war”:
In addition, the defendants believed that time associated with replacing the substations would cause confusion and unrest for Americans in the region. There were also conversations about how the possibility of the power being out for many months could cause some serious change or straight out war, even a race war; additionally, that without power across the country, it could cause the next Great Depression, people wouldn’t show up to work, the economy could crash and there would be a ripe opportunity for potential (white) leaders to rise up. One theme of the group discussions centered around the need to create disorder to bring the system down, which would cause people to doubt the system and create a true revolutionary force against the system.
Planning for the attacks happened between October 2019 and March 2020, according to the statement of facts. Frost and Cook met in an online chat group in which Frost “shared the idea of attacking a power grid, a perceived vulnerable target,” and “provided Cook with information that he had gathered about possible power grids as targets,” the document said. The defendants planned to use “powerful rifles that would penetrate the transformers.”
The men proceeded, with Frost focusing on logistics and Cook handling recruitment:
As part of the recruitment process, Cook often asked a lot of literary questions; Cook even circulated a book list of suggested, if not required, reading that promoted the ideology of white supremacy and Neo-Nazism, including such titles as “A Squire’s Trial” and “Siege.” “Siege” places an emphasis on gaining power through violence as opposed to political means. Cook also sought out recruits that were younger, believing it was less likely the individuals were members of law enforcement.
Cook’s recruitment efforts focused primarily on juveniles, the document said.