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New arrests show why the coming MAGA house attacks on the FBI endanger law and order

On Monday, the Justice Department announced that the FBI had intercepted the plans of two neo-Nazis — 27-year-old “Atomwaffen Division” founder Brandon Russell and his 34-year-old girlfriend, Sarah Clendaniel — allegedly to shoot power stations that provide electricity to the people of Baltimore. Had the plot succeeded per the reported “Bonnie and Clyde” duo’s goals, it could have been lights out for the residents of Baltimore.

Think such domestic terrorism is a fantasy? At least nine actual attacks on power stations have occurred since mid-November: six in Washington state and Oregon and three in North Carolina. One left thousands without power for days.

While the charges in Monday’s alleged plot remain to be proven, it underscores two crucial points acutely relevant today.

First, a well-functioning and trusted FBI is vital to protect public order and well-being.

Yet Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) was hawking “Defund the FBI” T-shirts back in August.

Second, the impending MAGA Congress attacks on the FBI for allegedly exaggerating domestic terrorist threats — designed for partisan gain to undermine trust in the nation’s premier law enforcement agency — pose a serious risk to all of our safety.

In October, a Republican staff report from the House Judiciary Committee, where Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) was the ranking member, laid the groundwork for him attacking the FBI when he took the gavel. The report stated that the Bureau had “create[d] the illusion” of “a groundswell of domestic terrorism cases, giving the impression that the threat of [domestic violent extremism] is present in jurisdictions across the nation.”

Monday’s allegations suggest that the threat is no illusion.

The criminal complaint reportedly stated that Russell and Clendaniel, from Florida and Maryland respectively, were “taking steps” toward shooting up Baltimore’s power stations after a winter storm “when most people are using max electricity.” The conspirators’ reported hope was to “lay this city to waste.

The FBI’s crucial role in holding domestic terrorists to account has been proven in court repeatedly, as has the national scope of the threat.

A year ago, white supremacists Christopher Cook of Ohio, Jonathan Frost of Texas and Jackson Sawall of Wisconsin pleaded guilty to a plot to blow up regional power stations across the United States with an aim of sowing civil unrest. The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force ran the investigation.

More famously, leaders of the extremist Michigan Wolverine terrorist group were convicted last year in their plot to kidnap Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Again, the FBI did the investigating. In the defendants’ federal trial, according to the BBC’s reporting, FBI agent Timothy Bates testified “that he had posed undercover as a bomb-maker and infiltrated the plotters’ group,” and that “it was ‘excited’ to buy bombs” if only it had the money.

As the Washington Post reported at the men’s December sentencing, “The case has underscored the escalating threat of extremist violence, particularly from the far right.”

Then there are the November convictions of Oath Keepers Stewart Rhodes and Kelley Meggs for seditious conspiracy. Rhodes is from Virginia and Meggs from Texas, reflecting the national reach of the militant organization.

At their trial, former Oath Keeper Abdullah Rasheed of West Virginia testified that he had gone to the FBI after a video call in which he heard Rhodes and others discuss bringing arms to Washington for Jan. 6. He told the jury that it sounded to him that they “were going to war against the United States government.”

Without an effective FBI that Rasheed trusted, that kind of testimony would not have come to the government. The Bureau reportedly also had an informant inside the extremist Proud Boys, which has members currently on trial in D.C. for seditious conspiracy.

We can acknowledge that the FBI is far from perfect.

As former FBI counterintelligence agent Asha Rangappa wrote in November, an investigation is needed by a committee — with no partisan ax to grind — of the Bureau’s failure to warn the country of Jan. 6 despite more than adequate intelligence. The recent indictment of former New York office counterintelligence agent Charles McGonigal on charges of conspiring with a Russian to launder payments to him underscores both that rotten apples are sure to exist within the Bureau’s ranks and that it has the capability to pick them off.

But make no mistake: It would endanger all of us for MAGA politicians to use either disinformation or isolated bad actors to undermine an agency that has shown us, as recently as Monday, how focused it can be on protecting citizens from far-right militants intent on creating chaos.

Partisan attempts to attack — for political purposes — the institutions that intercept and prosecute terrorists will weaken law enforcement’s focused campaign against serious domestic terrorists.

Bear that in mind in the coming months when Jim Jordan weaponizes his “Weaponization of the United States Government subcommittee” and uses disinformation to blitz an FBI that keeps us safe.

Dennis Aftergut is a former federal prosecutor, currently of counsel to Lawyers Defending American Democracy.

Tags critical infrastructure Critical infrastructure protection Disinformation domestic extremism Domestic surveillance domestic terrorism Domestic terrorism in the United States domestic violent extremists extremists FBI Federal Bureau of Investigation Gretchen Whitmer Jan 6 attack Jan. 6 Capitol attack January 6 attack on the Capitol January 6 Capitol attack Jim Jordan Joint Terrorism Task Force Law and order MAGA Republicans Marjorie Taylor Greene neo-Nazis Neo-Nazism in the United States Oath Keepers partisan politics Power station Proud Boys seditious conspiracy weaponization of government White supremacists

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