Man Pleads Guilty to Plotting to Bomb Amazon Data Center

Prosecutors said that Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, of Wichita Falls, Texas, had also boasted that he was at the Capitol on Jan. 6 when Trump supporters stormed the building.,

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A Texas man who had boasted that he was at the United States Capitol when swarms of Trump supporters stormed the building on Jan. 6 pleaded guilty on Wednesday to plotting to blow up an Amazon data center in Virginia, prosecutors said.

The man, Seth Aaron Pendley, 28, of Wichita Falls, Texas, had been arrested in April after he went to pick up what he believed were bombs made of C-4 plastic explosives and detonation cords from an explosives supplier in Fort Worth, but were actually inert objects provided by an undercover F.B.I. agent, prosecutors said.

In a conversation recorded by an undercover agent on March 31, Mr. Pendley said he had hoped to anger “the oligarchy” enough to provoke a reaction that would persuade Americans to take action against what he perceived to be a “dictatorship,” prosecutors said.

During that same conversation, Mr. Pendley claimed to have been at the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, prosecutors said. He said that although he had not entered the building, he came prepared with a sawed-off rifle, which he left in his car, prosecutors said.

When the authorities later searched his home in Wichita Falls, they found an AR-15 receiver with a sawed-off barrel, a pistol painted to look like a toy gun, masks, wigs, and notes and flashcards related to the planned attack on the Amazon data center in Ashburn, Va., about 35 miles northwest of Washington, prosecutors said.

Prosecutors said a search of Mr. Pendley’s Facebook account revealed that he had also told an associate that he was at the Capitol on Jan. 6 and told that person that, although he had not entered the Capitol, he had taken a piece of glass from a window on the building.

On Wednesday, in an appearance before Magistrate Judge Hal R. Ray Jr. of U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Mr. Pendley pleaded guilty to a malicious attempt to destroy a building with an explosive. He faces five to 20 years in federal prison. His sentencing has been set for Oct. 1.

Mr. Pendley’s lawyer, George Lancaster, did not immediately respond to a message on Wednesday requesting comment.

“Due in large part to the meticulous work of the F.B.I.’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.”

Federal officials said they had begun investigating the plot after a concerned citizen contacted the F.B.I. on Jan. 8 about alarming statements posted on MyMilitia.com, a forum dedicated to organizing militia groups.

A user with the screen name Dionysus wrote that he was planning to “conduct a little experiment” that he said would “draw a lot of heat” and could be “dangerous,” prosecutors said.

When another user asked what Dionysus wanted, he responded, “death,” prosecutors said. A confidential source provided the F.B.I. with the user’s email address, which was registered to Mr. Pendley, prosecutors said.

In court papers, Mr. Pendley acknowledged that he had disclosed his plan to blow up Amazon web servers to a confidential source on Signal, an encrypted messaging app, in January.

In late February, he sent the source a list of data center addresses and said he hoped a successful attack could “kill off about 70 percent of the internet,” prosecutors said.

Mr. Pendley then showed the source a hand-drawn map of an Amazon data center in Ashburn that included proposed routes to and from the building.

He later described how he had planned to paint his car black and switch license plates to evade detection by law enforcement officials, prosecutors said.

In late March, the confidential source introduced Mr. Pendley to a person he claimed was his explosives supplier, but who was, in fact, an undercover F.B.I. employee, prosecutors said.

In recorded conversations, Mr. Pendley told the undercover employee that he planned to attack web servers that he believed provided service to the F.B.I., the C.I.A. and other federal agencies, prosecutors said.

Mr. Pendley said he believed that the government would overreact to the attack and that the response would awaken the American people to how unjust the government was, prosecutors said. Mr. Pendley said he hoped that “some of the people that are on the fence jump off the fence,” prosecutors said.

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