A Texas man who boasted about being on the U.S. Capitol steps during the Jan. 6 insurrection has been arrested by the FBI and accused of planning to detonate a bomb at a data center outside Washington in the hopes that doing so would cripple not just Internet traffic but also the FBI, CIA and other government agencies, officials said Friday.
Justice Department officials said Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, was arrested Thursday after he allegedly attempted to take material from someone he thought was an illicit supplier of explosives, but who in fact was an FBI agent. Pendley’s planned target was an Amazon Web Services building in Ashburn, Va., authorities said.
According to a criminal complaint, Pendley came to the attention of authorities after someone alerted the FBI to ominous posts he had made on a website called MyMilitia.com. As the FBI investigated further, they found Pendley had claimed online to have been at the Capitol on Jan. 6 but said he did not enter the building, and shared video that seemed to indicate his presence outside the building, according to court papers. He told one associate online that he had kept a piece of broken glass from the Capitol, the papers said.
The case highlights a growing concern among law enforcement and terrorism experts that the insurrection could inspire further domestic terrorist attacks. Officials praised the unidentified person who alerted them to Pendley’s online posts.
“We are indebted to the concerned citizen who came forward to report the defendant’s alarming online rhetoric, said Prerak Shah, the acting U.S. attorney in Dallas. “In flagging his posts to the FBI, this individual may have saved the lives of a number of tech workers.”
Shortly before his arrest, Pendley allegedly told the undercover FBI agent that he wanted to attack the Amazon data center because he believed it provided computer services to major U.S. government agencies, and that an attack on the building could take down most of the Internet in America, as well as harm government operations and anger “the oligarchy.”
Pendley also claimed in that secretly recorded conversation that he had brought a gun with him when he came to Washington on Jan. 6 but left it in his car when he realized others were not carrying firearms because of the city’s strict gun laws, according to court papers.
On Thursday, Pendley met with the undercover agent in Fort Worth, Tex., and took from him a number of devices he was told were explosives, and was told how to detonate them, according to an FBI affidavit filed in the case. After placing the inert devices in his car, Pendley was arrested.
After the arrest, Pendley admitted “to having orchestrated the plan to attack the AWS data centers” and a subsequent search of his home found a sawed off AR-style weapon, notes and hand-drawn maps about the planned attack, wigs and masks, and “a pistol which had been painted to look like a toy gun,” according to the affidavit.
Pendley was charged with attempting to destroy a building with an explosive, which carries a potential 20-year prison sentence. He remained in custody after making an initial court appearance Friday in Texas and could not be reached for comment.
In a statement, AWS thanked the FBI and said the company constantly reviews “various vectors for any potential threats. We will continue to retain this vigilance about our employees and customers.”