For weeks this spring, 28-year-old Seth Aaron Pendley had plotted an attack on Amazon data centers in Virginia. He’d already taken a sawed-off rifle to the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Now, he hoped to cripple much of the internet and take down government networks.
In April, he finally arranged a meeting with a man promising to provide the C4 explosive devices. When they met in Fort Worth, Texas, the man showed Pendley how to arm and detonate the powerful bombs.
But just as Pendley placed the devices into his Pontiac, federal agents swarmed in and arrested him. The bomb seller was actually an FBI plant who had helped unravel a plan Pendley believed could “kill off about 70% of the internet.”
On Wednesday, Pendley pleaded guilty to planning to bomb Amazon facilities in an attempt to undermine the U.S. government and to spark a rebellion against the “oligarchy” he believed to be running the country.
The case underscores the dramatic rise in domestic terrorism driven by right-wing extremists, and raises concerns about those who participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection plotting new attacks. Domestic attacks peaked in 2020, mostly driven by white-supremacist, anti-Muslim and anti-government extremists. Those far-right attacks have killed 91 people since 2015, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.
Justice Department officials on Wednesday said Pendley’s plans could have injured or killed workers at the Amazon facilities if the FBI hadn’t intervened.
“Due in large part to the meticulous work of the FBI’s undercover agents, the Justice Department was able to expose Mr. Pendley’s twisted plot and apprehend the defendant before he was able to inflict any real harm,” Prerak Shah, the acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Texas, said in a statement. “We may never know how many tech workers’ lives were saved through this operation — and we’re grateful we never had to find out.”
Pendley’s plot against the government began to take shape in January, according to investigators. He said that he traveled to Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6 with a sawed-off rifle concealed in a backpack. As a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, he decided to leave the gun in his car and never entered the building, according to court records. But he later boasted about taking a piece of broken glass from the federal building home to Texas with him.
Not long after the riot, Pendley, using the screen name Dionysus, began posting on a website called MyMilitia.com about his plans to bomb data centers. A concerned citizen forwarded those posts to the FBI.
In February, Pendley began chatting with an informant who told him that he could help connect him obtain C4 explosives. Over the encrypted messaging app Signal, he shared his plans and began to ask “risky questions” about how to execute a bombing.
“If I had cancer or something I would just drive a bomb into these servers lol,” he wrote in one message.
The informant asked if he would be interested in obtaining C4 for the attack.
“Yeah,” Pendley wrote back. “And I’m not telling anyone anything. Even if I gotta wheel a wheelbarrow in that b—- I’m sure we can get it done.”
As the weeks passed, Pendley continued talking to the informant about his plans. He shared hand-drawn maps of the Amazon data centers, with multiple routes in and out of the buildings. Eventually, the informant proposed that Pendley meet with him and another man he claimed could provide C4 for the attack. That man, though, was really an undercover FBI agent.
The trio first met on March 31 in Fort Worth. During the secretly recorded rendezvous, Pendley described his scheme in more detail.
He said he had painted his silver Pontiac black with a temporary, peel-away paint. He planned to drive the now-black car to Virginia and swap the license plates before carrying out the bombing. Then, he would peel the black paint away and replace his plates, making it more difficult for police to connect the car with the attack.
Pendley also described his motives in detail.
“The main objective is to f— up the Amazon servers,” he told the two men, according to court records. “It’s gonna p— all the oligarchy off.”
He said he hoped the U.S. government would overreact to the attack and that the consequences would turn people against the nation’s leaders.
“Hopefully, they let the world know in a weird way by acting too fast that they are a … dictatorship,” he said, according to court records. “And then hope like hell some of the people that are on the fence jump off the fence.”
The undercover FBI agent agreed to meet Pendley one week later to provide the explosives he would need to carry out the attack. On April 8, they met again, and Pendley took several fake C4 plastic explosives and placed them in his car. Then, police arrested him.
Investigators also searched Pendley’s home, where they found wigs and masks, notes, hand-drawn maps and flash cards laying out the details of his plans to bomb the Amazon data centers in Virginia. They also found a sawed-off rifle and a pistol painted to look like a toy gun.
Under his plea agreement, Pendley faces between five and 20 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and three years of probation, and will be banned from owning firearms.
His sentencing hearing is set for October 1.