Two men were sentenced in federal court Friday for crimes related to a scheme to attack power grids in the United States in furtherance of white supremacy, according to the Justice Department.
Christopher Brenner Cook, 20, of Columbus, Ohio, and Jonathan Allen Frost, 24, of Katy, Texas, and West Lafayette, Indiana, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists. Cook was sentenced was sentenced to 92 months in prison and Frost was sentenced to 60 months in prison. Jackson Matthew Sawall, 22, of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, was also charged and pleaded guilty in February 2022 in connection with the scheme and will be sentenced at a later date.
“These defendants plotted armed attacks against energy facilities to stoke division in furtherance of white supremacist ideology and now they are being held accountable,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “The Justice Department will not tolerate the use of violence to advance any extremist ideology and we remain determined to protect our communities from such hateful acts of terror.”
“At the root of every terrorist plot – whether foreign or domestic – is hate,” said U.S. Attorney Kenneth L. Parker for the Southern District of Ohio. “As a society, we must be vigilant against online radicalization, which is a powerful tool used by extremists to recruit both juveniles and adults.”
“The defendants in this case conspired to provide material support to terrorism by putting plans in place to damage America’s infrastructure, motivated by their adherence to racially or ethnically motivated violent extremist ideology,” said Assistant Director Robert R. Wells of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division. “When individuals move from espousing ideas to planning or committing acts of violence, the FBI will investigate and take action to disrupt their plans. Today’s sentencing demonstrates the commitment we have to working with our partners to bring violent extremists to justice and to protect our communities.”
According to court documents, in fall 2019, Frost and Cook met in an online chat group. Frost shared the idea of attacking a power grid with Cook, and within weeks, the two began efforts to recruit others to join in their plan.
As part of the recruitment process, Cook circulated a book list of readings that promoted the ideology of white supremacy and Neo-Nazism. By late 2019, Sawall – a friend of Cook’s – joined the conspiracy and assisted Cook with online recruitment efforts, operational security and organization.
As part of the conspiracy, each defendant was assigned a substation in a different region of the United States. The plan was to attack the substations, or power grids, with powerful rifles. The defendants believed their plan would cost the government millions of dollars and cause unrest for Americans in the region. They had conversations about how the possibility of the power being out for many months could cause war, even a race war, and induce the next Great Depression.
In February 2020, the co-conspirators met in Columbus, Ohio, to further discuss their plot. Frost provided Cook with an AR-47 and the two took the rifle to a shooting range to train.
Frost also provided Cook and Sawall with suicide necklaces during the Columbus meeting. The necklaces were filled with fentanyl and were to be ingested if and when the defendants were caught by law enforcement. Both Cook and Sawall expressed their commitment to dying in furtherance of their mission.
Upon arriving in Columbus, Sawall and Cook purchased spray paint and painted a swastika flag under a bridge at a park with the caption, “Join the Front.” The defendants had additional propaganda plans for their time in Ohio, but they were derailed during a traffic stop, during which Sawall swallowed his suicide pill but ultimately survived.
Court documents detail that Cook and Frost continued to travel together after their Ohio meeting, and drove to Texas in March 2020. Cook stayed in different cities with various juveniles who he was attempting to recruit for their plot.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jessica W. Knight for the Southern District of Ohio and Trial Attorney Justin Sher of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section are prosecuting this case.
The case was investigated by the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force in Columbus, Milwaukee, Indianapolis and Houston. The U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the Eastern District of Wisconsin and Northern District of Indiana provided valuable support.