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Three White Supremacists Pled Guilty to Plotting Attack on U.S. Power Grid

For want of a phone, an attack on the U.S. electrical grid never happened. Well, to be exact, for want of a phone and effective suicide necklaces, three white supremacists hoping to kick off a race war by destroying energy facilities have instead pled guilty and face prison sentences of up to 15 years.

In 2019, Christopher Brenner Cook and Jonathan Allen Frost connected in an online chat group and began developing an idea for attacking a power grid and recruiting young, likeminded individuals to support their plot.

“The plan was to attack the substations, or power grids, with powerful rifles that would penetrate the transformers, which members of the group estimated would cost the government millions to recover,” according to Cook’s plea agreement. The men believed that resulting in widespread power outages would generate confusion and unrest, possibly leading to a race war. “…it would 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.”

Later that same year, Cook’s friend Jackson Matthew Sawall joined Cook and Frost, helping them with recruiting others through online propaganda, as well as logistics. Potential new recruits were initially screened and then, if selected, invited into a private online chat group called “Lights Out.”

Initially, each of the three men was meant to manage the various recruits through a cell structure, with each leader and his respective members responsible for attacking a specific U.S. region.

“Eventually, the reality of managing cells proved unrealistic,” according to court documents, and instead the plan was downgraded to having one person attack each target in that person’s respective region. Others would create distractions to divert law enforcement and emergency responders.

Frost acquired and built several rifles, including AR-47s, which were later seized by law enforcement, along with a black Armalite platform carbine firearm; three pistols; two silencers; more than 134 rounds of ammunition for different firearms and shotguns; “an IKEA brand box containing two face masks, a balaclava, and a disassembled AR-15 firearm kit;” chemicals consistent with the construction of an explosive device; and more materials used to prepare for the planned attacks.

When the three met in person in Ohio in February 2020, Frost gave Cook a firearm as well as a “suicide necklace” that Frost had made that was filled with fentanyl. He also gave a necklace to Sawall.

The men planned to create and distribute propaganda during this trip, but a traffic stop led to Sawall swallowing the suicide pill in the necklace and derailed their advertising efforts.

Although Sawall ultimately did not die from ingesting the pill, Cook and Frost moved forward, traveling to Texas the following month without Sawall, who eventually stopped talking with the two other men.

While heading south, the duo tried to meet a recruit based in Oklahoma, but according to court documents, the potential recruit had lost their phone. “Instead, the person who found the phone and the Nazi propaganda on it answered [Cook and Frost’s] calls and told them the phone would be turned into the police.”

Although Cook and Frost destroyed their phones and split up to avoid increasing interest from law enforcement in Texas, by August 2020 the FBI was searching all three men’s homes and bagging troves of evidence. The Bureau’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in Columbus, Ohio; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Houston, Texas, is credited with investigating the case.

All three men were charged with providing material support to terrorism. A sentencing date has not yet been set. (United States of America v. Christopher Brenner Cook, et al., U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, No. 22-cr-19, 2022)