A Texas man who bragged about being in the United States Capitol when a pro-Trump mob stormed the building in January has been accused of plotting to blow up an Amazon data center in Virginia, the Justice Department said on Friday.
The man, Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, of Wichita Falls, was arrested Thursday after taking what he believed to be explosive devices from a bomb vendor but were in fact inert items provided by an undercover agent from the FBI in Fort Worth, prosecutors said.
He has been charged with a malicious attempt to destroy a building with an explosive, Prerak Shah, the acting US attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said in a statement. If convicted, Mr Pendley faces 20 years in prison.
Federal officials said they began investigating the conspiracy after a concerned citizen contacted the FBI on January 8 about alarming statements posted on MyMilitia.com, a forum dedicated to organizing militia groups .
A user with the screen name Dionysus wrote that he was planning to “conduct a small experiment” which he said would “attract a lot of heat” and could be “dangerous,” prosecutors said.
According to the statement, when another user asked what Dionysus wanted, he replied: “dead”. A confidential source provided the FBI with the user’s email address, which was registered with Mr Pendley, prosecutors said.
“We are indebted to the concerned citizen who has stepped forward to report the accused’s alarming online rhetoric,” Shah said in the statement. “By reporting his messages to the FBI, this individual may have saved the lives of a number of tech workers. We are also incredibly proud of our FBI partners, who ensured that the accused was apprehended with an inert explosive device before he could inflict actual harm.
As of Friday night, it was not immediately clear whether Mr Pendley had a lawyer.
Prosecutors said a search of Mr Pendley’s Facebook account showed he told an associate he was on Capitol Hill on Jan.6, when swarms of Trump supporters attacked police and disrupted Congress while certifying the results of the presidential election. .
Mr Pendley told the associate he did not enter the building but took a piece of glass from a window on the Capitol. Mr Pendley later told an undercover officer he took a cut-off shotgun to Washington, but left it in his car that day.
In late January, Mr Pendley began using Signal, an encrypted messaging app, to communicate with another confidential source, prosecutors said. This source told the FBI that Mr Pendley said he planned to use plastic explosives to bomb Amazon Web Services data centers, an attack that he hoped “would kill about 70% of the Internet. “.
On March 31, the confidential source introduced Mr. Pendley to someone who he said was his supplier of explosives. In fact, the man was an undercover FBI agent.
During recorded conversations, Mr Pendley told the undercover officer he believed the attack would destroy web servers used by the FBI, CIA and other federal agencies, prosecutors said. Mr Pendley said he hoped the attack would anger “the oligarchy”.
On April 8, Mr Pendley met with the undercover FBI agent to pick up what he believed to be explosive devices, but which were in fact inert objects, prosecutors said. After the officer showed Mr Pendley how to arm and detonate the devices, Mr Pendley loaded them into his car, prosecutors said. He was later arrested by FBI agents, prosecutors said.
The Justice Department said investigators who searched Mr Pendley’s home found hand-drawn maps, notes and memory cards relating to the planned attack as well as masks and wigs, a pistol which had been painted to look like a toy gun and machete. with “Dionysos” on the slide.