The men believed that by knocking out power across the country, economic and civil unrest would spread, creating the potential for a race war and the opportunity for white leaders to rise, prosecutors said.
Three men pleaded guilty on Wednesday in a plot to attack power grids in the United States, which they believed could lead to economic and civil unrest and create the opportunity for white leaders to rise, federal prosecutors said.
The men, Christopher Brenner Cook, 20, of Columbus, Ohio; Jonathan Allen Frost, 24, of West Lafayette, Ind., and of Katy, Texas; and Jackson Matthew Sawall, 22, of Oshkosh, Wis., each pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Columbus on Wednesday to one count of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.
They will each face up to 15 years in prison when they are sentenced. A date has not been scheduled.
Kenneth Parker, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, said in a statement on Wednesday that the three men “conspired to use violence to sow hate, create chaos, and endanger the safety of the American people.”
Timothy Langan, assistant director of the F.B.I. counterterrorism division, said in a statement that the three men expected their plot to lead to “economic distress and civil unrest.”
“These individuals wanted to carry out such a plot because of their adherence to racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist views,” Mr. Langan said.
Samuel Shamansky, a lawyer for Mr. Frost, said on Wednesday that Mr. Frost had “accepted complete responsibility for his reprehensible conduct.”
“He has completely disavowed the racist viewpoints previously embraced,” Mr. Shamansky said. “Regrettably, Mr. Frost fell prey to the misinformation espoused on the internet and now recognizes how dangerous the medium can be. Moreover, Mr. Frost has committed himself toward rehabilitation and doing everything within his power to remedy his misdeeds.”
Lawyers for Mr. Cook and Mr. Sawall declined to comment on Wednesday.
In fall 2019, Mr. Frost and Mr. Cook met in an online chat group, and they began talking about the possibility of attacking a power grid, according to plea agreements. Within weeks, the two men began making efforts to recruit others and began sharing reading material that promoted white supremacy and neo-Nazism. By late 2019, Mr. Sawall, a friend of Mr. Cook’s, also joined the efforts, prosecutors said.
As part of their plot, each man focused on substations in different regions of the country, and how to attack the power grids with rifles, according to court documents. The three men discussed that by knocking out power across the country for an extended period, civil unrest would spread, a race war could break out and the next Great Depression could be induced, according to court documents.
“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,” Mr. Cook’s plea agreement said. “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.”
In February 2020, the three men met in Columbus for more talks about their plot, according to court documents. When they met, Mr. Frost gave Mr. Cook an AR-47, and the two men trained with the rifle at a shooting range, according to court documents.
Mr. Frost also gave Mr. Cook and Mr. Sawall suicide necklaces that he had filled with fentanyl, which were to be ingested if they were caught by the police, according to court documents.
While they were in Columbus, Mr. Sawall and Mr. Cook bought spray paint and used it to write the phrase “Join the Front” on a swastika flag under a bridge at a park, according to court documents. The men had more plans to spread propaganda while they were in Ohio until they encountered the police during a traffic stop, during which Mr. Sawall ingested his suicide necklace but survived, according to a plea agreement.
It was not immediately clear on Wednesday night why Mr. Sawall and Mr. Cook had been stopped by the police at that time. A call to federal prosecutors on Wednesday evening was not immediately returned.
The F.B.I. searched the homes of the three men in August 2020. Agents found multiple firearms, chemicals that could have been used to create an explosive device, and Nazi-related books and videos, according to court documents.