But according to the feds, the 28-year-old hit a problem before he could blow up the Amazon data centers: the person meant to sell him the explosives was actually working for the FBI.
When they met last week in Fort Worth to make the exchange, the agent showed Pendley how to arm and detonate the supposed bombs, which were actually “inert devices,” court documents say.
Pendley placed the devices in his vehicle, and then FBI agents swooped in and arrested him, whisking him away on a federal charge of malicious intent to destroy a building with an explosive. The charge could land him in prison for up to 20 years.
The investigation started after a tipster reported Pendley to the FBI on Jan. 8, two days after hundreds of supporters of former President Donald Trump swarmed the U.S. Capitol and carried out a deadly riot.
On Facebook, in private messages, Pendley had bragged about attending the riot, although he claimed he never entered the Capitol building along with the others. Pendley also told Facebook friends that he had brought with him a sawed-off AR rifle that he ultimately decided to leave in the car, court documents allege.
Once back in his hometown of Wichita Falls, around two hours northwest of Dallas, Pendley reportedly began discussing violent plots on MyMilitia.com, a website that far-right militia groups and other vigilantes use to organize and plan actions.
Writing under the screen name “Dionysus,” Pendley allegedly said in one post: “I’m not a dumbass suicide bomber but even if I only have a handful of fellow patriots I will happily die a young man knowing that I didn’t allow the evils in this world to continue unjustly treating my fellow Americans so disrespectfully.”
In later posts, Pendley supposedly reiterated his willingness to die in order to “conduct a little experiment.”
While surveilling his home in Wichita Falls, FBI agents said they observed Pendley regularly coming and going with a black rifle case in his possession.
Unbeknownst to Pendley, he had been communicating on the messaging app Signal with a confidential FBI informant since late January.
“The Justice Department is determined to apprehend domestic extremists who intend to commit violence, no matter what political sentiment drives them to do so.” - Prerak Shah, acting U.S. Attorney
On Feb. 19, he informed the source of his plans to attack Amazon data centers. “Oh yeah, if I had cancer or something I would just drive a bomb into these servers lol,” he allegedly wrote, explaining that he hoped to “kill off about 70% of the internet” with the explosive attack.
The FBI alleges that Pendley had eventually decided his target would be at least three Amazon data centers in northern Virginia, and that he drew up a map of the state and its Amazon locations. Pendley said he chose those locations because they provide services to the federal government.
During a March 31 conversation with a confidential source and an undercover agent, Pendley allegedly explained his motivations. He hoped the federal government would overreact to the attack, which would convince Americans they live under a dictatorship.
“Hopefully, they let the world know in a weird way by acting too fast that they are in a fuckin’ dictatorship, and then hope like hell some of the people that are on the fence jump off the fence,” he said, according to court documents.
In a press release, acting U.S. Attorney Prerak Shah thanked the “concerned citizen” who flagged Pendley to the FBI. “In flagging his posts to the FBI, this individual may have saved the lives of a number of tech workers,” Shah said.
Thanking the FBI, Shah added, “The Justice Department is determined to apprehend domestic extremists who intend to commit violence, no matter what political sentiment drives them to do so.”
In the release, FBI’s Dallas Special Agent in Charge Matthew J. DeSarno called on the public to continue reporting “suspicious or threatening behavior to law enforcement.”
Though Pendley's charges are unrelated to the Capitol riot, the FBI's Dallas office has already arrested at least 20 individuals on charges related to their alleged participation in the raid on the building.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center watchdog, there were at least 566 active antigovernment groups around the country last year. Of that total, 29 were located in Texas.
Like Pendley, many militiamen threw their weight behind former President Trump and have expressed contempt for the Democratic Party. In fact, the Oath Keepers militia group allegedly played a central role in planning and executing the storming of the U.S. Capitol earlier this year.
In the past, some Texas-based militia groups have flocked to the border and attempted to block migrants from crossing into the country.
Elsewhere, the vigilante groups have plotted to kidnap or even kill politicians. Last year, militias in Michigan allegedly hatched a plan to kidnap that state's governor, Gretchen Whitmer, over the coronavirus shutdown.