News & Politics

Texas Man Planned to Blow Up a Data Center in Virginia, FBI Says

Seth Aaron Pendley hoped to destroy an Amazon Web Services data center in Ashburn, according to an indictment.

An Amazon data center in Ashburn. Photograph by Evy Mages

The FBI arrested a Texas man on Thursday, alleging he hoped to “kill off about 70% of the internet” by destroying an Amazon Web Services data center in Ashburn.

According to a criminal complaint, a confidential informant told the FBI in January that a person named Seth Aaron Pendley had been posting on the website MyMilitia.com about a “little experiment” he hoped to conduct. Asked to elaborate, Pendley, writing under the screen name “Dionysus,” replied, “Death.”

Pendley began to correspond with another confidential informant about a plan the FBI says he was putting together to destroy an Amazon Web Services data center. He ordered a topical map of Virginia and painted his silver Pontiac black using Plasti Dip, a rubber coating that dries quickly, with the idea that he could peel off the new color and evade detection by police. The informant told Pendley they could help him obtain explosives. In a meeting with the informant and an undercover FBI employee on March 31, Pendley described 24 buildings in an AWS complex that he believed accounted for “70 percent of the Internet,” including CIA and FBI servers. “So we f*** those servers, and it’s just gonna piss all the oligarchy off,” the complaint says Pendley explained.

It is true that an enormous part of the world’s data flows through data centers in the Virginia suburbs of DC.

Pendley had also boasted of being in DC during the January 6 Capitol riot, the complaint says, including bragging about bringing a firearm to DC, though he said he left it in his car, dismayed that others weren’t taking a similar stand.

On April 8, Pendley met with the undercover FBI employee, who provided him with what they told Pendley were plastic explosives and detonation cord, according to the complaint. The substances were inert, the Department of Justice says. Pendley was arrested by FBI investigators after he placed the materiel in his car. A search warrant led to investigators discovering maps, an AR “receiver” with the barrel sawed off, flashcards, and notes. They also found a pistol painted to look like a toy gun and a machete with the name “Dionysus” on it, the complaint says.

Here’s the complaint:

Pendley Complaint by Washingtonian Magazine on Scribd

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Senior editor

Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.