Destruction of Moore County substations carry steep penalties, especially if linked to domestic terrorism

Those responsible for shooting up two Duke Energy substations in Moore County, cutting off electricity to more than 40,000 people, could face decades in prison if apprehended and convicted.

Destroying or conspiring to destroy an energy facility, like a substation, carries carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison if the damage exceeds $100,000 or causes a “significant interruption or impairment of a function” of the facility. If convicted, the perpetrators could also be fined up to $50,000 on each count.

However, if someone dies as a result of the act — such if a home oxygen supply runs out — the penalty is life in prison.

On Saturday evening, Moore County law enforcement responded to calls that the substations had been heavily damaged by multiple rounds of gunfire, and power had gone out through most of the area.

Duke Energy reported that it could be Thursday before the substations are repaired and power is restored. The utility has not provided a full cost estimate of the damage, but media accounts quoted the Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields as saying it is likely in the millions of dollars.

Between the two substations — West End and Carthage — is roughly a 15-minute drive. The outages occurred roughly 45 minutes apart, according to the local newspaper, The Pilot.

Police have not publicly identified a motive, although the FBI and SBI have joined the investigation. Around the same time of the shootings at the substations, protesters were demonstrating against a drag show at the Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines; the show continued for about an hour by candlelight, according to a Tweet by Naomi Dix, one of the performers and organizers.

Sheriff Fields said in a press conference that investigators have not tied the destruction to opposition to the drag show. However, Emily Grace Rainey, a far-right activist and vehement opponent of the event, posted on Facebook, telling her followers, “you know what to do,” WRAL reported.

Rainey also posted on Twitter that she knew why the power went out. Sheriff Fields said during a press conference that he visited Rainey, asked her several questions and “had a word of prayer” with her, but determined using “good law enforcement” that she was not responsible.

It’s difficult to know what to make of Rainey’s social media posts. Her Instagram feed is rife with anti-vaxxer, hard-line Catholic and prepper posts (“worship God, rebuild His kingdom, and when required, use force to defend it.”) She is also trained in military psychological operations, which specializes in the sowing of information and disinformation against American adversaries.

Rainey resigned from the US Army last year, where she had attained the rank of captain, after receiving a reprimand for a protest near Fort Bragg, according to CBS News. She subsequently led 100 people to the Jan. 6 rally-turned-riot outside the US Capitol, but has not been charged with entering the building.

If those responsible for taking down the Moore County power grid did so to disrupt the drag show, then it’s possible that could meet the definition of domestic terrorism under the USA Patriot Act.

It defines domestic terrorism as acts that intend “to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government through intimidation or coercion, or affect the conduct of a government through mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.”

Convictions on domestic terrorism charges could carry additional penalties if prosecutors choose to pursue them.

Although Congress did not pass a 2019 bill strengthening those penalties, Christina Cress, a North Carolina energy lawyer noted on Twitter that “three men in Ohio pleaded guilty to crimes related to plotting an attack on U.S. power grids in furtherance of white supremacist ideology. They were charged with conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists in violation, were sentenced to 15 years in federal prison, lifetime supervised release, a $250K fine, and forfeiture of all property seized during the investigation of the case.”

This story has been corrected to show the distance between the two substations is a 15-minute drive, not 15 miles. It also clarified that Congress did not pass the 2019 legislation.

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Destruction of Moore County substations carry steep penalties, especially if linked to domestic terrorism