In the days after the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill, a man struck an alarming note on the MyMilitia.com bulletin board. “I am not a stupid suicide bomber,” he posted under the pseudonym Dionysus. But he “would happily die a young man knowing that I did not allow the evils of this world to continue to unfairly treat my fellow Americans so disrespectfully.” Over the next few months, prosecutors say the man, real name Seth Pendley, focused his anger on Amazon, concocting a plot to destroy Amazon Web Services data centers in northern Virginia with plastic explosives. C-4.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation arrested Pendley, 28, on Thursday; court documents indicate he admitted to orchestrating the plan at the time of his arrest. The case offers another disturbing revelation of how increasingly fiery rhetoric from the far right has translated into real threats. How did Dionysus want his “little experiment” to end, another MyMilitia.com member asked? “Death.”
Pendley’s posts came at a time when Amazon was under scrutiny from the far right. The company announced on January 9 that it would sever ties with Speak, the social network of “freedom of expression” which has become a haven of harassment and extremism and which has welcomed many participants in the January 6 attack. “It looks like war,” wrote a member of Speaking in a post. spotted by John Paczkowski, Editor-in-Chief of Buzzfeed News. “It would be a shame if someone with explosives training visited some AWS data centers – the locations of which are common knowledge.”
Two days later, Insider reported that an AWS executive sent a note to employees urging them to be vigilant in the wake of the Talk ban. “If you see something, say something – no situation or concern is too small or trivial,” wrote Chris Vonderhaar, AWS vice president of infrastructure.
In public and private online posts, according to court documents, Pendley claimed to have been on the Capitol on January 6, but not to enter the building. He expressed his disappointment that his fellow demonstrators were not more aggressive. “I feel like we all got into this project with the intention of doing very little,” Dionysus wrote on MyMilitia.com. “How much did you expect to make when we all voluntarily enter unarmed.”
The messages from MyMilitia.com were worrying enough that someone alerted the FBI; Investigators subsequently gained access to Pendley’s Facebook messages through a search warrant and began physical surveillance of his home in Wichita Falls, Texas. “We are indebted to the concerned citizen who has stepped forward to report the accused’s alarming online rhetoric,” US Prosecutor Prerak Shah said in a statement. “By reporting his messages to the FBI, this individual may have saved the lives of a number of technicians.
At the end of January, Pendley reportedly began communicating with an associate through the encrypted messaging app Signal about his intention to attack AWS. “If I had cancer or something like that I would put a bomb on these servers lol,” Pendley wrote on February 19, according to the criminal complaint. He ultimately hoped to “kill about 70% of the Internet.” (AWS has over 30% of the global cloud market.) What Pendley didn’t realize was that the person he was texting was an FBI informant.
The plot continued from there, according to court documents. On February 22, Pendley said he had ordered a topographic map of Virginia, where several AWS data centers are located. The following month, FBI agents observed that Pendley painted his silver Pontiac black, allegedly as part of a strategy to conceal his identity during the attack.
On March 31, Pendley met in person with the associate and an undercover FBI agent posing as an explosives supplier. There, Pendley reportedly laid out his plan to bomb the AWS data centers in northern Virginia that he said provided services to the CIA, FBI and other federal government agencies. Prosecutors say he planned to make special boxes that would direct the force of the blasts.