RANDOLPH COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — In the six months since someone opened fire on an EnergyUnited substation in Randolph County, laws have been passed and rewards have been offered. Still, the investigations into this shooting and similar cases across the state drag on.
Early in the morning on Jan. 17, shots were fired at a substation on Post Road in Randolph County. The attack required repairs that EnergyUnited says cost upwards of $250,000 but did not knock out the power to any customers in the area.
“EnergyUnited is committed to strengthening the grid, enhancing security and improving system resilience. We actively monitor for ways to improve our plans and processes so we can continue to deliver reliable, affordable and sustainable electric service to our members. The cooperative is continuing to assess learnings from the incident and risk mitigation strategies that are member-focused. We appreciate our members’ ongoing support during this investigation.”
The cooperative confirmed that they have reviewed and updated their security measures, but for security purposes did not provide specifics.
“We are working with our fellow cooperatives, other utilities and government entities to implement measures to help protect the grid,” a representative for EnergyUnited said.
The FBI said in a statement “FBI agents and Randolph County Sheriff’s Office deputies continue to follow tips and develop investigative leads to determine who is responsible for shooting the electrical substation on January 17, 2023.”
One of multiple North Carolina attacks
On Nov. 11, shots were fired into a Carteret Craven Electrical Co-Op substation in Maysville, leaving over 12,000 customers without power for around two hours. CCEC initially identified the case only as “vandalism” with CEO Jake Joplin saying, “Those who did this should do the right thing and come forward now instead of waiting to get caught.” On March 24, the FBI confirmed that the vandalism was a shooting. CCEC did not respond to a request for an estimate of the cost of this shooting for the co-op.
Three weeks later, in Moore County, over 45,000 Duke Energy customers lost power for days after shots were fired into substations in Carthage and West End on Dec. 3. Duke Energy did not provide specifics about the financial impact of this shooting when asked.
The timing of the Moore County shootings, as well as social media posts, fueled rumors that the attacks may have been in opposition to a Southern Pines drag show that had been at the center of recent controversy. Law enforcement, however, has not released any confirmed motivation or ideological connection.
Just over a month after Moore County, shots were fired into the Pleasant Hill Substation in Randolph County, though it did not impact power for any customers at the time. Randolph County Sheriff’s Office says they are continuing to work with the FBI in the investigation and that deputies do check on area substations during routine patrols.
The FBI says that the investigation into all of these shootings is ongoing, and the governor’s office says that they “continue to work with law enforcement to further investigations into these shootings and emphasize the importance of smart investments to make the energy grid and its systems resilient and capable of recovering quickly from any damage.”
As it stands, the FBI is offering a $25,000 reward for information on each of the three separate incidents. The state is also offering a $25,000 reward for information about the Moore County shootings, as is the sheriff’s office.
“The state continues to offer a cash reward for information concerning the Moore County substation shootings that occurred in December 2022. There are no other rewards being offered at this time for similar shootings,” Jordan Monaghan, deputy communications director for Gov. Cooper, said.
North Carolina lawmakers take action
A congressional hearing about infrastructure safety took place on June 16 in Moore County, where Sheriff Ronnie Fields and U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson (R-Southern Pines) expressed dissatisfaction with the FBI’s communication with them during the investigation.
“I did not get the help I thought I would get,” Fields said at the time.
Hudson said, in apparent agreement with Fields, “I’m not satisfied with the cooperation and the work of the FBI. I think the FBI needs to do more.”
In June, North Carolina lawmakers unanimously passed SB 58, called the “Protect Critical Infrastructure” bill, which was co-sponsored by state Sens. David Craven (R-Montgomery) and Amy Galey (R-Alamance), who both represent areas that include Randolph County. Cooper signed the bill into law on June 19, saying, “We must protect critical infrastructure that keeps electric power and clean water available in our communities, and this bill sends a message to criminals that these irresponsible acts will not be tolerated.”
In a provided statement, Craven expressed similar sentiments about the new law.
“Attacking an electrical substation is a serious crime that needs to be treated as such. Before Senate Bill 58, attacks on our critical infrastructure, which can cause widespread chaos, were punished with a slap on the wrist. That was unacceptable. Having this law finally on the books sends a clear message to criminals – If you go after our critical infrastructure you’ll be on the hook for damages and put behind bars.”State Sen. David Craven
State Rep. Brian Biggs (R-Randolph) also shared his support for this and similar laws in the country, saying he appreciated the work of the sponsors who got it passed.
“The strengthening of penalties for the acts of terrorism that led to the creation of this bill is something that was needed following multiple similar events around North Carolina and the country. We can not allow our critical infrastructure to be attacked without consequence.”State Rep. Brian Biggs
EnergyUnited voiced support for the law in their statement, as well.
“The cooperative supports the legislative objectives of SB 58, which toughen penalties associated with attacks on critical infrastructure,” they wrote.
Investigators have not confirmed that the North Carolina shootings are connected to any particular ideology. However, the destruction of electrical infrastructure is a frequent feature of far-right nationalist discussion, as outlined in a Talking Points Memo article published in April, and multiple neo-Nazi banners were hung up publicly in North Carolina within weeks of the shootings.
Just two weeks after the Moore County shooting, during the lead-up to Hannukah, banners including neo-Nazi slogans and a link to a Telegram channel affiliated with the known hate group National Socialist Resistance Front were hung up over U.S. Route 1.
Within days of the shooting in Jones County, the Telegram channel shared a photo of a man superimposed over a substation with the same slogan featured on the banner.
Across the country, there are several cases of men with neo-Nazi ties plotting similar substation attacks moving through the federal court system.
Two men were sentenced in April to years in prison for plotting substation attacks in Ohio and Texas.
Former Fort Bragg Marines are moving through the federal courts in Eastern North Carolina after moving to Boise, Idaho, and allegedly planning multiple substation attacks in 2020. Recently, Joseph Maurino pleaded guilty and a trial date was set for the remaining men, one of whom may have had confidential documents on his computer when he was taken into custody, according to documents reviewed by RawStory.
This year, neo-Nazi founder of the former Atomwaffen Division, Brandon Russell was charged with a plot to shoot multiple Baltimore-area substations with his girlfriend, Sarah Clendaniel. Russell shared a YouTube video that went into the engineering details of the Moore County substation shooting with a person to explain their strategy for their planned attack, court documents showed. The warrants also outlined Russell and Clendaniel discussing that substation shootings would have the most impact in the summer or winter when extreme temperatures drive up energy usage. Russell and Clendaniel have both pleaded not guilty.
In 2013, a shooting in California where 17 transformers were targeted cost $15 million dollars, though PG&E avoided a blackout. A document about this shooting allegedly circulated in neo-Nazi circles within a few weeks of the Moore County shootings. No one has been arrested in connection to that shooting.
“The FBI continues to offer a reward of up to $25,000 for information leading to the identification, arrest, and conviction of the person(s) responsible for shooting at the electrical substation. Call 1-800- CALL FBI or submit a tip online at tips.fbi.gov,” the FBI said in a statement.