2 MEN SENTENCED TO PRISON FOR DOMESTIC TERRORIST PLANS TO ATTACK POWER GRIDS
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Two men were sentenced in federal court here today for conspiring to attack power grids throughout the United States to promote their white supremacy ideology.
Christopher Brenner Cook, 21, of Columbus, Ohio, was sentenced to 92 months in prison. Jonathan Allen Frost, 25, of Katy, Texas, and West Lafayette, Indiana, was sentenced to 60 months in prison. Jackson Matthew Sawall, 22, of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, was also charged and pleaded guilty in February 2022. His case remains pending.
Cook and Frost engaged in a plot to attack the country’s energy infrastructure, damage the economy, and stoke division in American society in the name of white supremacy. “Revolution is our solution” was a recurring theme in the defendants’ communications to one another.
“These defendants plotted armed attacks against energy facilities to stoke division in furtherance of white supremacist ideology and now they are being held accountable,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “The Justice Department will not tolerate the use of violence to advance any extremist ideology and we remain determined to protect our communities from such hateful acts of terror.”
“At the root of every terrorist plot – whether foreign or domestic – is hate,” said U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker. “As a society, we must be vigilant against online radicalization, which is a powerful tool used by extremists to recruit both juveniles and adults.”
“The individuals sentenced today created a suicide pact to sow hatred and commit terrorist acts intended to destabilize our country,” stated FBI Cincinnati Special Agent in Charge J. William Rivers. “Through rigorous investigation and law enforcement partnerships, their radical plan was halted. Today’s sentence is a message to anyone with similar plans that they will be disrupted and held accountable for conspiring to commit violence.”
According to court documents, in fall 2019, Frost and Cook met in an online chat group. Frost shared the idea of attacking a power grid with Cook, and within weeks, the two began efforts to recruit others to join in their plan.
As part of the recruitment process, Cook asked literary questions and circulated a book list of readings that promoted the ideology of white supremacy and Neo-Nazism.
The conspirators had a separate propaganda group named “The Front” that planned to take credit for the power grid attack should it occur successfully. The defendants also created exclusive subgroups for individuals who passed the defendants’ additional screenings. The first subgroup was called “Lights Out.”
As part of the conspiracy, each defendant was assigned a substation in a different region of the United States. The plan was to attack the substations, or power grids, with powerful rifles. The defendants believed their plan would cost the government millions of dollars and cause unrest for Americans in the region. They had conversations about how the possibility of the power being out for many months could cause war, even a race war, and induce the next Great Depression.
The defendants’ commitment to their radical ideology turned from ideas to concrete actions in furtherance of the attacks.
In February 2020, the co-conspirators met in Columbus, Ohio, to further discuss their plot. Frost, who had obtained several untraceable automatic rifles, provided Cook with an AR-47 and the two took the rifle to a shooting range to train.
Frost also provided Cook with a suicide necklace during the Columbus meeting. The necklace was filled with fentanyl to be ingested if and when the defendants were caught by law enforcement. Cook expressed his commitment to dying in furtherance of the mission.
Upon arriving in Columbus, Cook and Sawall purchased spray paint and painted a swastika flag under a bridge at a park with the caption, “Join the Front.” The defendants had additional propaganda plans for their time in Ohio, but they were derailed during a traffic stop.
Court documents detail that Cook and Frost continued in furtherance of the conspiracy to travel together after their Ohio meeting, and traveled to Oklahoma and Texas in March 2020, where Cook stayed in different cities with various juveniles he was attempting to recruit for their plot.
Frost circulated a “meetup guide” to the group with guidance on recruiting juveniles to their cause because “[T]hey are 99% not a Fed…”
When law enforcement searched each defendant’s residence, they discovered multiple firearms, chemicals, components capable of building explosives, violent extremist Nazi material, and information about U.S. power infrastructure and substations.
The men were each charged by a Bill of Information and pleaded guilty in February 2022 to conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.
Assistant United States Attorney Jessica W. Knight and Trial Attorney Justin Sher with the Department of Justice’s National Security Division are representing the United States in this case.
U.S. Attorney Parker commended the cooperative investigation by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in Columbus, Milwaukee, Indianapolis and Houston, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Eastern District of Wisconsin and Northern District of Indiana.