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Trio plotted attack on US power grid to set off ‘race war’

The doors of the Department of Justice in Washington DC (Max Pixel/Released)
February 23, 2022

Three men pleaded guilty on Wednesday to planning to attack U.S. power grids in what the Department of Justice said was an effort to further white supremacist ideology and set off a “race war.”

The DOJ announced 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 each pleaded guilty on one count each of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.

According to prosecutors, Frost and Cook met in an online chat group in the fall of 2019, where Frost first shared the idea of attacking a power grid with Cook. Within weeks, the pair began efforts to recruit others in furtherance of this plot.

Prosecutors said Cook’s recruitment efforts consisted of sharing a book list of readings promoting white supremacy and Neo-Nazism. In late 2019, Sawall – a friend of Cook’s – joined in the plan and began helping in the recruitment efforts.

As the conspiracy evolved, each of the three men took on the assignment of shooting at an electrical substation with rifles in a different part of the country in an effort to cause causing power outages across a broad area of the U.S.

Prosecutors said the defendants believed the plan would leave those affected sections of the U.S. without power for months and cost the U.S. government millions to repair. The defendants further believed that the period of powerlessness could contribute to unrest and even racial divisions, setting off a race war and an economic downturn.

All three men met in Colombus, Ohio in February 2020 to further discuss their plan. Frost also provided Cook with an AR-style rifle and the two went to a shooting range to train with the rifle.

Frost additionally provided the trio with necklaces housing a fatal dose of fentanyl, with the intent that they could ingest the fentanyl as a means of suicide if they were caught by law enforcement. Prosecutors said Cook and Sawall both had expressed their willingness to die carrying out the plot.

During the February meet-up, Sawall and Cook purchased spray paint and painted a swastika symbol under a bridge at a park with the words, “Join the Front.”

The trio was caught during this February meet-up on their way to carry out more recruitment efforts. When the three were pulled over during a traffic stop, Sawall swallowed the contents of his fentanyl suicide necklace but actually survived. Following his fentanyl experience, Sawall communicated less and less with the other two and eventually dropped out of the conspiracy altogether, according to his plea agreement.

Despite losing Sawall’s support, Frost and Cook continued to travel together and tried to recruit various juveniles to their plot. During one of the efforts to recruit someone, that individual lost their phone and was unable to join Frost and Cook for an arranged meet-up. A second individual found the lost phone and discovered the recruitment materials. That second individual answered calls from Frost and Cook and informed them he would turn their phone in to the police. At that point, Frost and Cook began efforts to erase their online communications.

Frost and Cook were stopped again by police, this time in Texas, where officers discovered leftover traces of fentanyl.

By August of 2020, the FBI had caught on and raided the residences of Frost, Cook and Sawall, finding a variety of electronic devices containing their communications and recruitment materials.

The defendants all face a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison for their plot. A federal judge will determine their sentences in line with U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors in the case.