The first chapter of the black-and-white PDF magazine begins with an ominous warning. Over four dense pages, the anonymous writers paint a picture of “an anti-tech revolution, beginning with the annihilation of the U.S. energy grid.”
“The horrific effects of a nationwide blackout cannot be understated. Hospitals would fail. … Financial collapse,” the magazine reads, continuing to detail traffic chaos, dwindling supplies of clean water and spreading disease before concluding that a successful attack targeting key points on the electrical grid would lead to “the collapse of the system … chaos, agony, and death”
The magazine was obtained by TPM in a chat group on the encrypted app Telegram dedicated to “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski. Along with the breathless depiction of a widespread blackout, it included a precise list of the locations of “THE MOST CRITICALLY IMPORTANT ELECTRIC SUBSTATIONS IN THE UNITED STATES.”
This apocalyptic brand of extremist rhetoric — and the focus, specifically, on targeting substations — is part of a growing phenomenon that has captured the attention of both the far right and law enforcement. The trend has resulted in a dramatic rise in attacks that have left tens of thousands of people without power. Experts have attributed the wave to the digital spread of right-wing accelerationist ideology, which aims to hasten societal collapse, and materials like this magazine that encourage and provide instructions for targeting the grid.
Participants in the Telegram chat where TPM obtained the magazine shared it on multiple occasions, along with Kaczynski’s writings, details on how he made his “boom packages,” bomb making manuals and plans to build homemade, untraceable “ghost guns.” They also hurled racial slurs and anti-gay rhetoric while talking about plans for staging attacks.
“I think you guys should start writing some manifesto papers but keep them hidden so no one will find them,” wrote one member of the chat in August 2022. “Then one day if you unexpectedly die, there will be some papers on what you believed in.”
A few days later, the member, whose avatar featured a glaring bald eagle, posted an even more specific vision naming a major provider of abortion care and reproductive health services.
“If I were to do something (If society doesn’t start changing i might) I will take my time and plan carefully,” they wrote, adding, “There is a planned parenthood not too far away.”
Due to the inflammatory and potentially dangerous nature of the content, TPM is not naming the magazine, the alias of its writers, or the chat group in which we obtained it. One of the members who posted the magazine said it had been “removed” from other sites and “marked as terrorism.” They noted that it “contains the addresses of those substations and how to deal with them” and encouraged other members of the chat to “download” it or keep it “somewhere you can access it.”
It is easy to dismiss these writings as digital bluster, but law enforcement and academic experts have repeatedly attributed the frightening online rhetoric to the real-world rise in assaults on power stations. And data indicates white supremacists are the driving force behind the uptick in these dangerous attacks.
The electric grid has increasingly come into the crosshairs of extremists and other criminals since an April 2013 sniper attack on a Pacific Gas and Electric substation in Metcalf, California. That attack was “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the grid that has ever occurred,” according to Jon Wellinghoff, who headed the nation’s top utility regulator at the time.
At least one gunman came to the remote Metcalf substation after midnight, authorities have said. The individual or individuals avoided security cameras, cut telecommunication cables, and fired over 120 rounds that took out 17 large transformers at the facility, which provides electricity to Silicon Valley.
Despite the damage and the sophistication of the operation, which the Los Angeles Times described as a “military-style raid,” it did not result in any major blackout. Officials were able to reroute power around the site. The lack of disruption after Metcalf underscores how difficult it is to pull off the wild scenarios that online enthusiasts envision when they discuss these attacks.
However, while it didn’t shut off the lights, the Metcalf incident has been cited as an inspiration for similar incidents that followed — some of which caused greater disruption. Experts have described Metcalf as a “wake up call” and a “dress rehearsal,” though the motivations behind the attack remain mysterious. In 2015, a DHS official told CNN they had “some indication” an “insider” at the facility was involved. The FBI later suggested it believed the Metcalf attack was staged by a disgruntled employee and that it was not connected to terrorism. No suspects have been identified.
“We can confirm the Metcalf power substation incident remains under investigation,” an FBI spokesperson told TPM. “No additional information can be provided at this time.”
Since 2013, the idea of shooting attacks on the power grid has gained traction online.
“From our standpoint, what has shifted in the last ten years since Metcalf is the awareness of the tactic and the attention that has gotten,” a Department of Homeland Security official, who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of their work, told TPM.
“In the publicly available forums we can see tactics and references to the previous, successful incidents getting discussion, diagrams being passed,” the official said. “It’s all happening kind of in the overt space.”
The proliferation of extremist materials online is one of several reasons these attacks present a challenge for law enforcement. According to the Department of Homeland Security, there are over 79,000 substations that play a vital part in the nation’s electrical grid. Many are in remote locations and are privately owned, which means they have varying standards for security. DHS is trying to address the issue by gathering intelligence in the open web to produce bulletins and informational materials and by making security recommendations to the private companies that own much of the electrical grid.
According to multiple officials, DHS has done over 1,200 security assessments within the electricity subsector, including 24 visits to facilities in the last month alone.
RAGING AGAINST THE ‘ANTI-WHITE SYSTEM’
While there are myriad risks to power stations, relatively simple shooting attacks from far-right white supremacist terrorists have emerged as a major threat to the grid. Thirteen individuals associated with the white supremacist movement faced federal charges related to “planning attacks on the energy sector” between 2016 and 2022, according to a report from the George Washington University Program on Extremism that was released last September. And those numbers are growing — 11 of the 13 cases cited in the report came after 2020. This far-right fixation on power stations comes as there is a consensus among federal law enforcement agencies that white supremacists have become the top domestic terror threat.
DHS does not have a definitive figure for the number of attacks on substations since they only track incidents with a clear ideological component. However, in just the past six months, there have been multiple new, notable attacks — and one major plot — to take down power stations. Not all of these incidents are politically motivated. After one of these attacks, which took place in Washington State in December and left thousands of people without power, authorities arrested two men who they said hoped to use the blackout as cover to commit a burglary. But other plots show how the idea of taking down the electric grid appeals to the far right, particularly adherents of the violent end times philosophy known as “accelerationism.”
In February, the FBI announced that it had arrested a duo, Brandon Russell and Sarah Clendaniel, and charged them “with conspiracy to destroy an energy facility.” According to an affidavit filed by the FBI in support of the criminal complaint, Russell and Clendaniel allegedly corresponded with a confidential informant and worked on a plan to take out five power stations in the Baltimore area with rifles. The FBI affidavit suggested Russell and Clendaniel were in a romantic relationship. Photos obtained by the FBI showed Clendaniel in tactical gear decorated with a swastika.
Based on encrypted chats quoted in the affidavit, Russell and Clendaniel allegedly intended for attacks on multiple power stations to spark a cascading failure that would lead to a widespread outage. That type of catastrophe is the dream scenario for accelerationists.
In exchanges that took place during September 2022, Russell allegedly provided the informant “a white supremacist publication that provided instructions on how to attack critical infrastructure” and encouraged them to “use Mylar balloons to short out a power transformer.” The next month Russell again urged the informant to target a substation.
“Putting holes in transformers though is the greatest thing somebody can do,” Russell allegedly wrote.
Russell has a troubled history in the neo-Nazi movement. In May 2017, he lived with three roommates in Tampa, Florida. The four men had started a local chapter of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division with Russell as their leader. One of the roommates, Devon Arthurs, eventually left the group and murdered two of the others. Russell, who was not home during the crime, was arrested when he was found to be in possession of explosive materials during the murder investigation. Arthurs later claimed that his roommates were plotting to attack critical infrastructure, including power lines.
Atomwaffen, which rebranded as National Socialist Order in mid-2020 as it faced investigations in multiple countries, is perhaps the best-known modern white supremacist accelerationist group. In general, accelerationism is an ideology that believes modern society is evil and encourages acts that would bring it downl. Many white supremacist accelerationists expect this cataclysm to come through a race war.
“Accelerationists believe that there is nothing redeemable about contemporary society,” said Michael Edison Hayden, a senior investigative reporter and spokesperson for the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups.
The power grid is a natural target for white supremacist accelerationists, who view it as the backbone of “the anti-white system,” Hayden said.
“Thinking about how the power lines function in that context, this is the central nervous system of contemporary society, and that’s why it’s so important to accelerationists in particular,” Hayden said. “As they see it … the system that is oppressing them cannot function … without power.”
White supremacists are not the only adherents of accelerationism. There are anarchists and some on the far left who could be described as accelerationists. Indeed, one of the writers of the magazine that listed locations of substations and described the methodology of the Metcalf attack described themselves as something of an eco-anarchist who rejects all political movements.
“It is our view that the techno-industrialist machine is a violent, destructive, and irreparable system of subjugation, and because of this we do not support any social or political efforts to rehabilitate it,” they wrote. “It is our belief that the techno-industrial system presents an absolute and urgent existential threat to all life on earth. Thus, we are not a partisan movement, nor do we have any interest in furthering the ideologies of any movement on the left-right political spectrum.”
TPM emailed with one of the writers of the magazine. They said the publication was produced by a “small group.” While this writer denounced racism as “fucking stupid” and said they would prefer “militant groups of educated anarchists” to use the magazine, they said they would not necessarily be opposed to working with the far right towards the larger goal of “the destruction of techno-industrial society.”
“It is another unpleasant reality that the far-right is far better armed and has easier access to a lot of the locations listed than the Left or post-Left,” the magazine writer explained. “If the question then, is whether toward the ultimate goal of rapid global deindustrialization, I would accept the assistance or ‘alliance’ with any far-right group, I would hesitate to say no. I would much rather turn the lights out and then fight them in the quiet dark afterwards.”
The DHS official who spoke to TPM explained that they see accelerationism coming in “different ideological bins”
“We’ve seen discussions across the spectrum,” the official said, explaining that foreign terror organizations, anti-government activists, and what the DHS has termed “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists” (RMVEs) are all drawn to the idea that taking down the power grid could cause the “downfall of society.”
The term RMVE can encompass other racial identity movements. However, in recent years, data has shown that white supremacists are far more active than other racially motivated groups when it comes to domestic terrorism.
Hayden, who has researched and written extensively about the far-right accelerationists, agreed that white supremacist accelerationists have proven to be the most capable of doing real-world damage.
“Accelerationism is not exclusively a white supremacist ideology. We refer to that specifically as white power accelerationism,” Hayden explained. “There are people who believe that, like, we need a fall of society in order to build a communist utopia and things like that. I just don’t know to what degree they’re organized in the same way.”
Accelerationism is not a new idea. The DHS official noted the concept has existed “for decades.” However, the official said the availability of tools like Telegram has been crucial to its recent growth and to the dissemination of ideological material and instructions for violent attacks.
As an example, the official pointed to “The Turner Diaries,” the 1978 book authored by neo-Nazi William Pierce that inspired multiple terrorists, including Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
“When you’re talking about ‘The Turner Diaries’ or something 20, 25 years ago, someone had to go out and actually buy the book,” the official said. “Right now, everyone can get on there and pass stuff around.”
McVeigh is one of several terrorists who are venerated as “saints” on “Terrorgram,” the name both researchers and extremists have embraced to describe the more extreme and violent corners of the Telegram app. Kaczynski, the “Unabomber,” is another “Terrorgram” icon, who is often referred to as “Uncle Ted” by his fans on the app.
The magazine that detailed methods for targeting substations and identified potential targets features a smiling portrait of Kaczynski in prison. After listing off the locations of various substations, the magazine concluded with an ominous accelerationist poem of sorts:
“we will be free.
we will find peace.
we will have our revenge.”
Telegram, which was created by a Russian tech billionaire whose libertarian attitude towards free speech led him to clash with the Kremlin and flee the country in 2014, is encrypted and largely unmoderated. As a result, it has become a haven for the far right and for discussion of terrorist activity.
Hayden described Telegram as “sort of a free for all” and said many far-right extremists had made a “huge migration” there after losing access to more mainstream social media networks in 2019 and 2020.
“It has really become the home base for anything that is against society, outside of society, and so extreme that it is criminal,” Hayden said of Telegram.
Spokespeople for Telegram did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
A recent spate of incidents in North Carolina demonstrated both the persistent threats to the grid and the way neo Nazi online accelerationists are excited by the idea of attacks on power stations.
On Dec. 3, 2022, there was a high-powered rifle attack on a pair of power stations in Moore County, North Carolina that caused 45,000 people to lose power, some for days.
While investigators have not identified a suspect or motive, the incident coincided with a drag show in the county that had drawn death threats and far-right protests. Days after the attack, CNN reported that law enforcement was investigating links to extremist writing online that encouraged targeting the power grid and the recent rise in threats and armed protests against the LGBTQ community and drag shows in particular.
A spokesperson for the Charlotte, North Carolina field office of the FBI, which is investigating the attack with the Moore County Sheriff’s Office, told TPM aprobe into the incident is “ongoing.”
“It would be fair to say we are looking at any investigative leads or tips,” the FBI spokesperson said.
While the DHS official who spoke to TPM stressed that law enforcement has not identified a link between the drag show and the power station attack, they noted white supremacists have also targeted the gay community.
“I don’t have any information on the motivation of the actors in Moore. I think that’s still being investigated, which is part of the challenge here,” the DHS official said, adding, “I think, intuitively, one of the things we see with racially, ethnically motivated violence here, strictly on the what we call white supremacist side, is they have a very structured view of how the kind of ideal society should be. Certainly we’ve seen the LGBTQ community be an enduring target of people with that ideology based on their perception of how they are corrupting their ideal of a white society.”
Hayden, the SPLC investigator, said anti-LGBTQ extremism has had a “unifying” effect on the right of late. He suggested this is due to the fact it is increasingly a focus of more mainstream conservative politicians and because, after extensive backlash to racism in recent years, the fringe has seen it as a topic where they can gain “a little bit of ground.”
“Things around gender and sexuality right now … are animating extremists on the right more than race,” Hayden said. “That reverberates from the White House when Trump was there all the way down to these accelerationist cells.”
After the Moore County blackout, North Carolina continued to be a flashpoint. On Dec. 18, 2022, just 15 days after the attack, a banner was unfurled on a highway in a town just to the east of the two power stations. The banner advertised a chat room on the encrypted chat app Telegram. A local news station, WGHP, reported that the chat room contained graphics showing slogans “superimposed over a picture of what appears to be an electrical substation.”
Major Andy Conway of the Moore County Sheriff’s Department told TPM they are investigating possible links between the threats to the drag show and the power station attack as well as links between the incident and the banner drop. No suspects have been identified.
“We have not excluded anything at this point,” Conway said in a phone call on Wednesday afternoon. “I can’t say that they are linked, but I can’t say that they are not either. … We have multiple agencies working on this, so it’s quite the work in progress.”
Along with the Telegram address, the banner that was dropped in the county was festooned with swastikas. It also featured an ominous accelerationist slogan: “BRING IT ALL DOWN”
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