Three men espousing white supremacist and neo-Nazi beliefs conspired to sow civil unrest by attacking power stations throughout the U.S. while expressing a willingness to die for their cause, federal authorities said Wednesday.
Each of the three pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists during a virtual court hearing before a federal judge in Columbus.
Christopher Cook, 20, of Columbus, Ohio; Jonathan Frost, 24, of Katy, Texas, and West Lafayette, Indiana; and Jackson Sawall, 22, of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, were charged through bills of information and currently are not in custody.
They face a maximum of 15 years in prison at sentencing.
A statement of facts that accompanied their plea agreements detailed how the three men had begun to formulate a plan to take out electric substations with high-powered rifles and attempted to recruit people to join the plot.
The men wanted to create chaos by leaving people without power for months in the hope it would cause the next Great Depression and create “a ripe opportunity for potential (white) leaders to rise up,” according to the statement of facts.
Frost’s attorney, Sam Shamansky, said Frost has “accepted responsibility for his conduct and is cognizant of the potential harm,” and “has completely disavowed his racist and white supremacist views.” Cook’s attorney, Peter Scranton, declined to comment. A message seeking comment was left with Sawall’s lawyer Wednesday.
According to the statement of facts, Frost and Cook initially met online in a chatroom called “The Front” where Frost raised the idea of attacking the power grid. Sawall, a friend of Cook’s, later joined their group and helped recruit young people who were less likely to be law enforcement officers. Those who passed muster were invited to join another online chat group called “Lights Out.”
Frost traveled to Columbus in February 2020, where he gave Cook an AK-47 rifle with no serial number and provided Cook and Sawall with “suicide necklaces” made of the powerful synthetic painkiller fentanyl.
Their plans to hang propaganda posters, record themselves spray painting a mosque and cut down a telephone pole in Columbus went awry during a traffic stop that led Sawall to use his suicide necklace. He survived and later ended his association with Cook and Frost, according to the statement of facts.
The plot further unraveled the following month when Cook accompanied Frost on a trip back to Texas for spring break. A planned meeting with a recruit in Oklahoma failed to occur after the recruit lost his phone. Someone who found the phone and saw that it contained Nazi propaganda answered Cook and Frost’s calls and told them the phone would be turned over to police.
The pair were then stopped in Texas, where fentanyl residue from Frost’s suicide necklace was found in the vehicle along with electronic devices and inexpensive “burner” cellphones meant to be used and discarded.
FBI agents searched the men’s homes in August 2020. Agents found an unassembled rifle in a pantry at Cook’s home and extremist material on his electronic devices. Agents seized a laptop containing documents describing The Front and a description of the group’s recruitment process at Sawall’s residence.
Agents found multiple firearms at Frost’s home in Texas, including what the statement of facts described as an AR-15 pistol with no serial number, as well as material to build an explosive device, Nazi-related videos, books and images, and information about U.S. power stations.