Inside a years-long neo-Nazi plot to attack the U.S. power grid

Two members of an accelerationist neo-Nazi terror network accused of plotting to attack the power grid in preparation for an assassination campaign have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with the government’s prosecution.

Paul James Kryscuk, a former porn actor who used the alias “Deacon” while active in the neo-Nazi group BSN from 2017 through 2020, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to damage an energy facility on Feb. 10, with the possibility of receiving a reduction from a 15-year prison sentence in exchange for “substantial assistance” in the government’s prosecution in the case.

Following Kryscuk’s plea, Marine Corps veteran Justin Wade Hermanson aka “Sandman” entered a guilty plea for conspiracy to illegally manufacture, ship, transport and receive firearms on March 8. Like Kryscuk, Hermanson’s plea deal includes an agreement to cooperate with the government’s investigation and testify against his codefendants should they go to trial. Both men pleaded in the Eastern District of North Carolina, where the case is being tried.

Three codefendants, including BSN leader Liam Montgomery Collins, have yet to be arraigned on charges from a third superseding indictment that include multiple counts of conspiracy to illegally manufacture and transport firearms, and destruction of an energy facility.

Collins and Kryscuk met through Iron March, an international online forum set up to facilitate networking by violent neo-Nazis.

“I have a tightknit crew of ex-Mil and Security I train with,” Collins wrote in a post on Iron March in August 2017, the same month he entered basic training for the Marine Corps. “We do hikes, gym sessions, live firing exercises, and we eventually plan to guy a lot of land. Can’t really specify the name or details because it’s an inner-circle thing, but it will serve its purpose when the time comes. Think of it as a modern-day SS.”

In 2017, Kryscuk outlined a plan for launching a race war that he hoped would lay the groundwork for a future white ethno-state in a post on Iron March, according to the indictment: “First order of business is knocking down The System, mounting it and smashing its face until it has been beaten past the point of death… eventually we will have to bring the rifles out and go to work…. We will have to hit the streets and strike as many blows to the remaining power structure as we can to keep it on the ropes.”

Jordan Duncan, also a Marine Corps veteran, and Joseph Maurino, a member of the New Jersey National Guard who was previously deployed to Qatar, are also defendants in the conspiracy case.

All five defendants were charged in a superseding indictment unveiled in August 2021 with conspiracy to illegally manufacture and transport firearms as part of a plot to instigate civil disorder. The indictment also charged all the defendants, with the exception of Hermanson, with conspiracy to sabotage the power grid. It is unclear why Hermanson was not included.

The indictment describes the purpose of the attack on the power grid as “creating general chaos and to provide cover and ease of escape in those areas in which they planned to undertake assassinations and other desired operations to further their goal of creating a white ethno-state.”

Led by Kryscuk, the members of BSN began to relocate to Boise, Idaho in early 2020 and conducted a live-fire training there in July of that year. When Kryscuk was arrested in October 2020, Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza disclosed that the FBI notified her that her name was on a list found at Kryscuk’s home.

While the broad outlines of the plot by BSN have been known for some time, testimony by a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigation Service, or NCIS, that has not been previously reported provides additional detail about members of the terror network, its targets and tactics discussed to carry out the campaign.

Testifying during Mauro’s detention hearing in Wilmington, NC in August 2021, Special Agent Chris Little told Chief District Judge Richard E. Myers II that a former police officer described to him how the group discussed the Metcalf sniper attack, in which six individuals with AK-47 assault rifles shot out 17 transformers at a substation near San Jose, Calif. that provided electricity to Silicon Valley, as a model for the attack the group hoped to carry out.

Joseph Zacharek, the witness who described the discussion to Little, joined BSN in the fall of 2017 and remained involved until October 2020, when Kryscuk and Collins were arrested by the FBI, Little told the court. Little also told the court that Zacharek, whom he identified by his last name, was a police officer.

A former Army tank crewman, Zacharek joined the Lafayette Police Department in Indiana as a probationary recruit in June 2020, as a wave of protests against racist policing prompted by the murder of George Floyd swept the country. On Oct. 16, 2020, an antifascist researcher doxed Zacharek, revealing that he was a member of Iron March, the same neo-Nazi online forum where Collins and Kryscuk had met. In his bio for Iron March, Zacharek reportedly claimed an interest “in (National Socialist) economics as a way of throwing off the chains of usury and Jewish owned banking,” while reportedlysharing on the site: “It wasn’t until I started working as an EMT in the inner city that I openly questioned the view that all races are equal.”

Within 24 hours of the dox, the Lafayette Police Department announced that Zacharek had been fired.

What was unknown at the time was that Zacharek was also involved with the neo-Nazi terror network set up by Collins and Kryscuk. Although the two men had been indicted on Oct. 14, it would be another eight days before the charges were unveiled.

During the August 2021 hearing, Little testified that Zacharek exchanged text messages with Duncan about how he was going to handle getting doxed.

“Mr. Duncan appeared to be encouraging him to get to Boise, and that’s what Mr. Duncan understood the plan to be,” Little testified. “And it — from being able to communicate with Mr. Zacharek, that stressed him out. He became scared and concerned at that point of being — because of being publicly outed and what that meant within the group.

“He was afraid that the group would think he had talked or given information to law enforcement, and he feared retribution,” Little added.

Law enforcement found Zacharek at his parents’ home in upstate New York around the same time Kryscuk, Collins and Duncan were arrested, Little testified. He began cooperating with law enforcement immediately.

Little also told the court about a Marine named Maxwell Womack, who began providing information about BSN to the FBI and the NCIS in October 2020. Womack had served in the same Marine Corps unit as Collins and Hermanson, and was recruited into the group by the two men, Little testified. Womack has not been charged.

Little testified that Zacharek’s description of the group’s discussion of attacks on the power grid was corroborated by Womack’s description of a video reenactment made by members of BSN.

Charging documents also reference another unindicted co-conspirator identified by the initials “TC.” Little said he reviewed a photograph in which the image of Kryscuk, Duncan, Maurino and “TC” standing together was superimposed on a panoramic view of a large electrical tower. And according to the indictment, Kryscuk passed on information collected by Duncan about explosives to “TC,” and encouraged him to build explosive devices.

Little told the court that “TC” is Collins’ juvenile younger brother. During the same hearing in August 2018, Damon Chetson, the lawyer representing Maurino, said “TC” was facing state charges in Rhode Island.

During the summer of 2020, the government alleges, the neo-Nazi terror cell stalked Black Lives Matter in Boise and openly discussed acting out violent fantasies. The plans to attack the power grid were specifically tied to BSN’s antagonism towards Black Lives Matter, Little told the court.

Little testified about text messages he reviewed in which Kryscuk said he had torn down BLM fliers and wanted to replace it with BSN’s propaganda. According to Little, Maurino suggested a slogan: “The lights go out and so do you.”

“This is significant to me because of the statements made by Mr. Hermanson regarding how the group discussed the use of power outages in their — what he described as operations,” Little testified. “This would be creating an outage that diverts the police, causes chaos from the outage itself, causes damage to equipment, takes a long time to replace and causes an outage of significant length; and then using that to create a favorable operating environment to conduct an assassination or murder of specific person.”

Little testified that Kryscuk carried an envelope with a list of intersections that coincided with power substations in Boise; Portland, Ore., Seattle, San Francisco and other locations in California, along with a fuel depot. On the other side of the envelope, he had written the names of 12-14 individuals, Little said. Kryscuk had screenshots of the addresses for some of the targets, Little testified. One of the addresses, in San Francisco, was “in close proximity” to multiple power substations on the first list.

While the national leadership of Black Lives Matter has previously been identified as a target of the assassination plot, Little also testified that the list included the governor of Oregon, who is Kate Brown, and other local and state politicians. During the hearing, Chetson said one of the targets was an Associated Press reporter.

“I believe it’s a, we’re going to us this to accelerate the fall and make it happen,” Little told the court. “I see that as just from the consistent ideology within the group as far as accelerating and creating that, by using these types of operations to create that kind of chaos, but I do not know of a specific date that was set to do it.”

The FBI did not arrest Hermanson until January 2021 and Maurino until June 2021. Both appear to have provided information to investigators following the arrests of their co-defendants Collins, Kryscuk and Duncan in October 2020.

Following his arrest in New Jersey on state firearms charges, Maurino admitted to an FBI agent during an Oct. 23, 2020 interview that he was “Bishop,” the code name he used in encrypted chats with other BSN members, Chetson said. His lawyer added that Maurino was scheduled to serve at a mass vaccination site in January 2021, but he was administratively discharged from the National Guard after his officers learned about the FBI investigation.

“In February — or March rather — the government simultaneously is engaging in interviews with Hermanson,” Chetson told the court. “They have a conversation with Mr. Hermanson back in October and I think he’s in Okinawa. During that — they spell out for him, you know, you know you can help yourself. Mr. Hermanson begins talking to the government…. Mr. Hermanson tells them things about my client, I’m assuming.”

Consistent with Chetson’s account, much of Little’s testimony during the August 2021 hearing cited Hermanson, who pleaded guilty earlier this month to a single charge of conspiracy to illegally manufacture and transport firearms.

Little testified that he asked Hermanson about the list of assassination targets. Hermanson told the investigator, according to Little’s testimony, that Kryscuk made comments to the group — including Zacharek, the probationary police officer — “that for the group to accomplish their goals, people would have to die.” Asked how they would carry out the murders, according to Little, Hermanson said that Kryscuk told them: “Don’t worry about it. I have a list of 12 to 14 people that we will check off the list.” Or he said, “We will check them off the list.”

Little also testified that, according to Hermanson, he and Kryscuk extensively discussed techniques for using car bombs to carry out assassinations.

Little also testified that Hermanson told him about a plot by the group to infiltrate a New Jersey National Guard armory using Maurino’s uniform and identification card so they could steal M240s, which are belt-fed machine guns that require two people to operate. Collins, BSN’s leader, told Hermanson, according to Little, “that there were two guards that they would need to kill to gain access.” In September 2020, a month before his arrest, Collins traveled from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to Maurino’s house in New Jersey, although Little said he did not know the reason for the visit.

The purpose of Special Agent Little’s testimony in August 2021 was to support the government’s request to hold Maurino in pre-trial detention.

Little testified that he was concerned about Maurino’s potential access to weapons, adding that there were a number of firearms components like a folding stock lower and lower receivers without serial numbers mentioned by Maurino in encrypted Signal chats that had not been recovered.

But Judge Myers, a Trump appointee, made light of some of the government’s evidence — a chat from a Signal thread that Little described as a list of weapons possessed by Maurino.

“I’ll need a list of ammo to get, and then, I got seven Mack 11s,” Assistant US Attorney Barbara Kocher recited. “And then my copy is illegible. To the right, it says, about eight, I think 38s, nine 9s.”

Following Little’s testimony, Judge Myers said, “I’ve got a follow-up question about the Biggie Smalls lyric.”

Both Kocher and Little said they were unfamiliar with the lyrics.

“There’s a lot of other stuff going on here, but that particular one is not compelling,” Myers said. “So, I’ll pass that on for what it’s worth.”

Myers ordered Maurino released to home incarceration in the custody of his mother, later modified to home detention, based on the observation that the defendant had given no indications that he posed a flight risk or a danger to the community in the eight months prior to his arrest when he knew he was under investigation.

As a final accommodation, Judge Myers granted Maurino’s request to travel next week to an Italian restaurant in Old Bridge, NJ to celebrate a christening for the child of his cousin.


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