Texas Man Charged With Intent to Attack Data Centers
A Wichita Falls man who allegedly plotted to blow up a data center in Virginia has been charged with a malicious attempt to destroy a building with an explosive, announced Acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Prerak Shah.
Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, was arrested on Thursday after allegedly attempting to obtain an explosive device from an undercover FBI employee in Fort Worth. He was charged via criminal complaint and made his initial appearance in federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Cureton Friday morning.
“We are indebted to the concerned citizen who came forward to report the defendant’s alarming online rhetoric. In flagging his posts to the FBI, this individual may have saved the lives of a number of tech workers,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Prerak Shah. “We are also incredibly proud of our FBI partners, who ensured that the defendant was apprehended with an inert explosive device before he could inflict real harm. The Justice Department is determined to apprehend domestic extremists who intend to commit violence, no matter what political sentiment drives them to do so.”
“The FBI’s highest priority is ensuring public safety and we thoroughly investigate all credible threats,” said Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno. “We continually ask the public to report suspicious or threatening behavior to law enforcement, and in this instance, that vigilance may have prevented injuries and the destruction of property.”
According to the complaint, the investigation began after a concerned citizen contacted the FBI on Jan. 8 about alarming statements posted on MyMilitia.com, a forum dedicated to organizing militia groups.
A user who went by the screenname “Dionysus” stated he was planning to “conduct a little experiment,” that he said would “draw a lot of heat” and could be “dangerous.” When another user asked what outcome Dionysus desired, he responded, “death.”
A confidential source provided the FBI with the user’s email address, which was registered to Mr. Pendley.
A subsequent search of the defendant’s Facebook account showed that he had boasted about being at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
In private messages, he allegedly told friends that although he did not actually enter the Capitol building, he did reach the “platform,” where he swiped a piece of glass from a broken window and interacted with police. He said he brought a sawed-off AR rifle to D.C., but left the weapon in his car during his movement to the Capitol.
In late January, Mr. Pendley began using Signal, an encrypted messaging app, to communicate with another confidential source. The source told the FBI that Mr. Pendley allegedly stated he planned to use C-4 plastic explosives to attack prominent tech company's data centers in an attempt to “kill of about 70% of the internet.”
On March 31, the confidential source introduced Mr. Pendley to an individual who he claimed was his explosives supplier. In actuality, the man was an undercover FBI employee.
In recorded conversations, Mr. Pendley allegedly told the undercover he planned to attack web servers that he believed provided services to the FBI, CIA, and other federal agencies. He said he hoped to bring down “the oligarchy” currently in power in the United States.
On April 8, Mr. Pendley again met with the undercover FBI employee to pick up what he believed to be explosive devices. (In actuality, however, the undercover gave Mr. Pendley inert devices.) After the agent showed Mr. Pendley how to arm and detonate the devices, the defendant loaded them into his car. Mr. Pendley was then arrested by FBI agents who monitored the delivery of the inert devices.
A criminal complaint is merely an allegation of wrongdoing, not evidence. Like all defendants, Mr. Pendley is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
The FBI’s Dallas Field Office, Wichita Falls Resident Agency and FBI’s North Texas Joint Terrorism Task Force conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Boudreau of the Northern District of Texas is prosecuting the case with the assistance of Trial Attorney Alexandra Hughes of the National Security Division.
UPDATE (4/14/21): Mr. Pendley has been ordered detained pending trial.