Power Down: Far-Right Extremists Discuss Targeting Electricity Infrastructure
Why do far-right actors care about electricity and should you be concerned about your power?
In the past several months, members of the far-right have increasingly discussed the potential of targeting electricity infrastructure by posting memes, videos, and instructional manuals for how to disrupt or disable these systems. But who are these individuals discussing electricity infrastructure, why do they care and how worried should you be?
Image taken from a known far-right Telegram channel. This image featured a sketch of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, and indicators of critical elements at power station
Based on routine monitoring on surface and deep-web platforms frequented by the far-right, it appears that most of the posts originated from followers of accelerationist ideology. While there are exceptions, accelerationism is generally understood to be a more extremist subset of the broader white supremacist movement. Studies examining the literature of accelerationists have noted their belief that society is currently corrupted beyond repair. As such, they believe that the only possible solution is the collapse of the current society, allowing for the eventual emergence of their utopia: pure, white, and uncorrupted. Their name actually comes from their fundamental belief: because they argue that the collapse is inevitable--and indeed preferable--they work to "accelerate" it. For a more detailed explanation of accelerationism as an ideology, check out this post.
Given their interest in expediting the crash of society, accelerationists have often suggested targeting critical infrastructure. For example, members of the Atomwaffen Division, a well-known accelerationist group, planned to "blow up power lines in the Florida Everglades and launch explosives into a nuclear power plant near Miami." Similarly, a marine who was "prematurely discharged" and allegedly associated with The Base, another known accelerationist group, was arrested for lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) about his participation in discussion/plans to carry out "potential attacks upon United States citizens and infrastructure, including water and electricity facilities." More recently, an investigation was triggered when the FBI learned that members of a white supremacist group discussed strategies for attacking power stations if then-President Donald Trump lost the 2020 election.
Why the focus on infrastructure?
The accelerationist fixation on targeting critical infrastructure appears to largely stem from SIEGE, a series of pro-Nazi newsletters produced James Mason in the early 1980's, which has become required reading among followers of accelerationism in recent years. In SEIGE, the author promoted acts of "leaderless, cell-structured terrorism and white revolution," providing potential strategies that individuals and small groups could use to help destabilize the system.
While SIEGE waned in popularity in the 1990s, it has recently seen a surge among younger members of the far-right. As it as regrown in popularity, members of the far-right have fixated on the idea of infrastructure as a "soft target" which can be used to "promote friction, chaos, and anarchy."
What are they saying?
While followers of accelerationism have long discussed the potential for targeting critical infrastructure, in recent weeks there has been a significant up-tick in the presence of content promoting it.
One known accelerationist channel on Telegram posted a highly stylized music video featuring a tour of a power station. Periodically throughout the video, the image would pause and label a particular infrastructure element, while also superimposing an image affiliated with the far-right.
Captured image from video on known accelerationist channel, featuring information about an electricity substation with a swastika superimposed
Captured image from a video on a known accelerationist channel, featuring information about an electricity substation with a photo of a skull half-mask superimposed
Other sections of the video highlighted other symbols as well, including the totenkopf, or "death's head," and masked individuals carrying weapons. Another section of the video featured a superimposed photo of James Mason, the author of SIEGE.
In addition to the video, memes and instructional materials were periodically shared between far-right Telegram channels. One post included an attachment with specific instructions for how to target communication and electrical infrastructure with "a normal flathead screwdriver, a pair of wire cutters, and a small flathead screwdriver."
Telegram post with instructional attachment encouraging followers to "familiarize" themselves with various methods of sabotage
While some channels shared instructional content, others produced meme's encouraging individual-initiative (so-called "lone wolf") attacks against the power grid.
Meme featured on a far-right Telegram channel
Department of Homeland Security Warning
On 26 January 2022, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued an intelligence bulletin to law enforcement agencies across the United States, stating that domestic violent extremist (DVEs) "have developed credible, specific plans to attack electricity infrastructure since at least 2020, identifying the electric grid as a particularly attractive target given its interdependency with other infrastructure sectors."
While they did not specify the ideology of the individual groups that they identified, their warning appears to align with rhetoric seen on multiple far-right Telegram channels.
Should you be concerned?
It is clear that far-right actors have a keen interest in methods for disrupting or damaging critical infrastructure in the United States. While for years members of the far-right community have repeatedly discussed the potential of targeting infrastructure, they have significantly increased their interest, with even the FBI noting that they have various actors and groups have "developed credible, specific plans to attack." But, how worried should you be?
The answer is somewhat. Given the prominence of the discussion among far-right actors, it is possible that an individual or group may attempt to execute an attack. But, as the FBI noted in its bulletin to law enforcement agencies this week, without "significant technical knowledge or insider assistance, small scale attacks are unlikely to cause widespread, multi-state power loss." While the assurance that large scale repercussions are unlikely, it should be noted that an attack on electrical infrastructure could result in "physical damage that poses risks to operations or personnel." Ultimately, while the threat of infrastructure attacks by the far-right is still low, it is imperative to continue monitoring far-right online communities to ensure that