A Texas man who boasted that he was at the U.S. capital when swarms of Trump supporters stormed the building on Jan. 6 pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges of plotting to blow up an Amazon data center in Virginia, said prosecutors.
The man, Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, of Wichita Falls, Texas, was arrested in April after picking up C-4 plastic explosive bombs and detonating cords from an explosives supplier in Fort Worth, but prosecutors said it were actually inert objects provided by a secret FBI agent.
In a conversation recorded by a secret agent on March 31, Mr. Pendley said he hoped to anger “the oligarchy” to provoke a reaction that would persuade Americans to act against what he saw as a “dictatorship,” prosecutors said. .
Prosecutors claimed during the same conversation that he was on the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 attack. According to him, although he did not enter the building, he came prepared with a sawn-off rifle which he left in his car.
When authorities later searched his home in Wichita Falls, they found an AR-15 receiver with a sawn-off barrel, a pistol painted to look like a toy gun, masks, wigs and notes and flashcards that related to the planned attack on the Prosecutors, the Amazon Center in Ashburn, Va., about 35 miles northwest of Washington, said.
Prosecutors said a search of Pendley’s Facebook account revealed that he also told a staff member that he was at the Capitol on January 6 and that although he did not enter the Capitol, took a glass from a window on the building.
On an appearance before Magistrate Judge Hal R. Ray Jr. of the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Texas, Mr. Pendley on Wednesday pleaded guilty to a malicious attempt to destroy a building with an explosive. He faces five to twenty years in federal prison. His sentencing was set for Oct. 1.
Pendley’s attorney, George Lancaster, on Wednesday did not immediately respond to a message in which he commented.
“Because of the careful work of the FBI’s secret agents, the Department of Justice was able to expose Mr. Pendley’s twisted conspiracy and arrest the accused before he could actually cause harm,” said Prerak Shah, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said in a statement. “We may never know how many lives of technical workers were saved by this operation – and we are thankful that we never had to find out.”
Federal officials said they began investigating the conspiracy after a concerned citizen contacted the FBI on January 8 about worrying statements posted on MyMilitia.com, a forum dedicated to organizing militia groups.
A user with the screen name Dionysus wrote that he intended to do an “experiment” that he said would “draw a lot of heat” and be “dangerous”, prosecutors said.
When another user asked what Dionysus wanted, he replied, “dead,” prosecutors said. Prosecutors provided the FBI with an e-mail address of the user who contacted Mr. Pendley is registered.
In court documents, Mr. Pendley admits that in January he announced his plan to blow up Amazon web servers to a confidential source of Signal, an encrypted messaging program.
In late February, he sent a list of addresses in the data center to the source, saying he hoped a successful attack could kill about 70 percent of the Internet, prosecutors said.
Mr. Pendley showed the source a hand-drawn map of an Amazon data center in Ashburn that includes suggested routes to and from the building.
He later described how he intended to paint his car black and dial number plates to avoid detection by law enforcement, prosecutors said.
At the end of March, the confidential source Mr. Pendley proposed to a person who he said was his explosives supplier but who was actually a secret FBI employee, prosecutors said.
In recorded conversations, Mr. Pendley told the secret employee that he intended to attack web servers that he said were serving the FBI, the CIA and other federal agencies.
Mr. Pendley said he believes the government will respond to the attack and that U.S. citizens will respond to how unfair the government is, prosecutors said. Mr. Pendley said he hopes “some of the people on the fence are jumping off the fence,” prosecutors said.