A Texas man who allegedly plotted to blow up a data center in Ashburn has been charged with a malicious attempt to destroy a building with an explosive.
Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, was arrested on Thursday after allegedly attempting to obtain an explosive device from an undercover FBI employee in Fort Worth, the U.S. District Attorney's Office for Northern Texas said in a news release.
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."
According to the criminal 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,” according to the criminal complaint.
A confidential source provided the FBI with the user’s email address, which was registered to Pendley, the release said.
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, the release said.
In late January, Pendley began using Signal, an encrypted messaging app, to communicate with another confidential source. The source told the FBI that Pendley allegedly stated he planned to use C-4 plastic explosives to attack an Amazon Web Services data center in Ashburn to “kill of about 70% of the internet,” the complaint said.
On March 31, the confidential source introduced Pendley to an individual who he claimed was his explosives supplier. In actuality, the man was an undercover FBI employee.
In recorded conversations, Pendley allegedly told the undercover he planned to attack web servers that he believed provided services to the FBI, CIA, and other federal agencies, the criminal complaint said. He said he hoped to bring down “the oligarchy” currently in power in the United States.
On April 8, Pendley again met with the undercover FBI employee to pick up what he believed to be explosive devices, though the undercover agent actually provided an inert device, according to the complaint. After the agent showed Pendley how to arm and detonate the devices, the defendant loaded them into his car, authorities said. Pendley was then arrested by FBI agents who monitored the delivery of the inert devices.
If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in federal prison.
“We would like to thank the FBI for their work in this investigation," an Amazon Web Services spokesperson said in an email. "We take the safety and security of our staff and customer data incredibly seriously, and constantly review various vectors for any potential threats. We will continue to retain this vigilance about our employees and customers.”