We reported previously on attacks at four Washington State power substations on Christmas Day. The attacks in the Tacoma area knocked out power to more than 14,000 homes and businesses.
As noted at the time, the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department characterized the attacks as “burglaries.” Meanwhile, NBC hopped straight to “white supremacy” and “right-wing extremism” as the potential motive, referencing prior attacks in North Carolina and unfounded rumors related to those:
Investigators probing the North Carolina attacks were looking at online conspiracy theories to determine whether any played a role, two senior law enforcement officials briefed on the matter said this month.
A prevailing theory was that the outages were intended to shut down a drag performance, “Downtown Divas,” at Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines, North Carolina. Anti-LGBTQ demonstrators targeted the location in the days leading up to the Saturday night event, which continued in the dark before it ended early.
Power infrastructure has long been on the attack wish list of white supremacists and other right-wing extremists who seek American “destabilization,” Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, said in February.
Early this year, three men pleaded guilty in connection with a plot to disrupt the electricity grid, sow civil unrest and economic uncertainty, and ultimately trigger a race war, federal prosecutors said at the time.
Two arrests have now been made in relation to the Washington attacks. The purported motive of the attackers? Break-ins of other businesses.
Matthew Greenwood and Jeremy Crahan have been charged with conspiracy to damage energy facilities and Greenwood faces a separate charge of possessing illegal short-barreled rifles.
According to court documents, Greenwood, 32, and Crahan, 40, plotted to knock out power from four substations. While power was out in the first two facilities, the pair broke into a local business to steal from the cash register, Greenwood allegedly told investigators after his arrest.
The pair reportedly caused roughly $3 million worth of damage and, if convicted, face up to 20 years in prison for their actions. The would-be Hans Grubers were nabbed swiftly:
Investigators identified Greenwood and Crahan almost immediately after the attacks took place by using cell phone data that allegedly showed both men in the vicinity of all four substations, according to court documents. Surveillance images cited in the court documents also showed images of one of the men and of the getaway car.
And, despite NBC’s suppositions, CNN notes:
Though investigators have repeatedly warned in recent months of a rise in threats to critical infrastructure by anti-government groups and domestic extremists, prosecutors did not highlight any association between the two defendants in this case and any such organization.