A group of white supremacists raised alarm bells with the FBI by discussing ways to attack the country’s power grid in the event President Trump were to lose re-election, according to a mistakenly unsealed search warrant affidavit obtained by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.
The three men—described as a 17-year-old from Ohio, a student at Purdue University, and a Wisconsin man—are said to have wound up on the FBI’s radar in late 2019 after a rifle-toting Canadian with “Nazi” and “white power” imagery on his phone was stopped from entering the U.S.
The Canadian man reportedly proceeded to tell U.S. border agents he was trying to visit the Ohio teenager, whom he’d met and been communicating with over an encrypted app. In light of some of the content on the Canadian’s phone—including a discussion about taking out student loans to facilitate some “off the grid” training—his plans raised red flags with federal investigators, who began looking into the group with whom he’d been chatting.
It was not immediately clear if federal investigators believed the men were likely to carry out any of the schemes they discussed. The details laid out in the affidavit paint a picture of a ragtag group of men from different backgrounds fantasizing about outlandish schemes to, as one of them allegedly put it, “wreak havoc” across the country.
An informant is said to have tipped investigators off to information about bomb-making and military operations shared by the Ohio teenager online. According to the informant, the teen had suggested a mission he dubbed “Lights Out,” wherein they would form a group of 18 people called “The Front” and shoot up electrical substations.
The teen’s mother is also said to have forced him to take down several Nazi flags he had in his room, and the affidavit described him as talking about creating Nazi cells across the country, similar to the neo-Nazi Atomwaffen Division.
A couple months after the group allegedly began discussing their “Lights Out” plans, other people were reportedly recruited on online messaging boards, where the rhetoric veered off into the extreme: “Martyrdom is the path to Valhalla,” one of the men under FBI scrutiny allegedly wrote.
“If you truly want a fascist society I will put in the effort to work with you but recruitment is long and not going to be easy,” the man allegedly told an informant he believed was a potential recruit.
In February, the Ohio teen is said to have met up with the two other members of the group while federal agents surveilled their every move. The group was thought to be transporting parts to build untraceable assault rifles, and when police stopped their vehicle, they spotted parts for an AR-15, two magazines and ammunition, and a Nazi flag, according to the Journal Sentinel.
The teen reportedly got thrown out of his house later that same month and wound up in Tennessee. There, police reportedly confiscated an AR-15 part from him when he was arrested for trespassing at a Home Depot.
It remains unclear if the group met up again or continued to discuss what authorities dubbed “white supremacist extremist” plots.
The search warrant affidavit was filed in March, shortly after the teen’s trip to Tennessee.
The affidavit was mistakenly unsealed earlier this month, and has since been resealed, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, which included it in their filing for a search warrant in the case.
None of the three men named in the affidavit have been charged with a crime, and the investigation is said to be ongoing.
Jennifer Thornton, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio, which is overseeing the case, told the Journal-Sentinel that there was “no imminent public safety threat related to this matter.”
The affidavit listed conspiracy, solicitation to commit a violent crime, distribution of information relating to explosives, destruction of an energy facility, and providing material support to terrorists as potential crimes being investigated, the Journal-Sentinel wrote.
Details about the FBI’s concerns over the group come shortly after a report from the Department of Homeland Security identified white nationalist violence as the “most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland.”
“I am particularly concerned about white supremacist violent extremists who have been exceptionally lethal in their abhorrent, targeted attacks in recent years,” Acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf wrote in the foreword to that report in October.