Moore County Power Substation Attack: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

moore county power substation attack

North Carolina Governor/Twitter Governor Roy Cooper with a Duke Energy worker in Moore County, North Carolina.

Tens of thousands of people are without electricity after two power transmission substations were damaged by gunfire in an intentional attack in Moore County, North Carolina, on Saturday, December 3, 2022, officials say. The outages affected 40,000 customers and are expected to last until at least Thursday, December 8, 2022, according to Duke Energy.

Duke Energy said that almost all of its Moore County customers were without power at the height of the incident Saturday night. According to officials, more than 7,000 customers had their power back by Monday afternoon. The incident remains under investigation by local, state and federal authorities, including the FBI. No arrests have been made and authorities said no one has claimed responsibility for the incident.

The power substations were “targeted,” officials said at press conferences on Sunday and Monday. The “extensive damage” was discovered Saturday night, the Moore County Sheriff’s Office said. Moore County is home to about 100,000 people and 11 municipalities, including the cities of Carthage, Pinehurst and Southern Pines.

The outages were first reported about 7 p.m. Saturday night, the sheriff’s office said in a press release. Schools have been closed through at least Tuesday, emergency shelters have opened up and a curfew has been put in place for the entire county from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m., the sheriff’s office said, all while temperatures are in the 40s.

“As utility companies began responding to the different substations, evidence was discovered that indicated that intentional vandalism had occurred at multiple sites,” the press release said. “Moore County Sheriff’s Deputies and various other law enforcement agencies within the county responded to the different areas and are providing further site security. Anyone with any information about this act of violence should contact the Moore County Sheriff’s Office at 910-947-2931.”

1. Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields Said the Shooter or Shooters ‘Knew Exactly What They Were Doing’

Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said at a Sunday press conference, “We faced something last night that we’ve never faced before, but I promise you we’re going to get through this and we’re going to get through it together. Moore County is very strong and we’re very united here in Moore County and we’re not going to let this hold us back and I can promise you to the perpetrators out there, we will find you.”

Fields said, “Evidence at the scene showed that a firearm had been used to disable the equipment.” Fields said the outages began in the Carthage area and then spread to the greater majority of central and southern Moore County. A spokesperson for Duke Energy said the damage caused to two substations overwhelmed other parts of the power system and caused issues elsewhere, leading to the widespread outages.

The sheriff said the shootings were “targeted” and not “random.” The sheriff added, “The person or the persons knew exactly what they were doing,” Fields told reporters. He said it appears the perpetrators were trying to shut down power to as much of the county as they could.

According to NBC News, the attacks occurred at two substations located about five miles apart, one in Carthage and the other in West End. A gate was damaged at one of the facilities, Duke Energy said. Fields said gunshots damaged equipment at both locations, but he did not say how many shots were fired.

Fields said at the Sunday press conference, that at the Carthage location, “They pulled up, somebody did, and they opened up fire on the substation.” He said at the other location, “It was a gate and they went through a gate and got to the substation and shot it as well.”

Jeff Brooks, a Duke Energy spokesperson, said at the Sunday press conference, “Last night, between 7 and 8 p.m., one of our substations went offline. It was followed shortly thereafter by another substation. During our investigation of the outage, we did determine that there had been intentional impact on the substation, damaging multiple pieces of equipment in the substation, and causing power to go out there. Unlike, perhaps a storm where you can go in and re-route power somewhere else, that was not an option in this case, so repair has to be completed. In many cases some of that equipment will have to be replaced.”

2. Authorities Said They Are Investigating to Find Who Is Responsible & to Determine a Motive for the Attack, Including Whether a Southern Pines Drag Show Was Targeted

Authorities said they are investigating to find who is responsible for the shootings and to determine a motive. Fields said no motivation has been determined yet and no groups have taken responsibility for the attacks. Asked by reporters if the attacks rise to the level of domestic terrorism, Fields said, “I can’t answer that,” but said they were “looking at all avenues,” to figure that out. He said the suspect or suspects could face both state and federal charges, which he said would “carry a little more bite.”

When asked on Sunday if the attacks were connected to a drag queen show at a theater in Southern Pines on Saturday, Fields told reporters, they are “absolutely” looking into that. But when asked if there is evidence of a connection he said, “None that I’m aware of. Is it possible? Yes. Anything is possible. But we’ve not been able to tie anything back to the drag show.”

The drag show was being held at Sunrise Theater in Southern Pines. It was the target of online protests from right-wing activists in the lead-up to the event. It was initially open to children and teenagers, but was changed to 18+ after online threats, according to the Southern Pines Pilot and the Fayetteville Observer. The newspaper reported that the event was a fundraiser for Sandhills Pride, which benefits the local LGBTQ community. The event continued even after the power went out, the newspaper reported.

Fields added, “Folks, we’re living in some challenging times. Challenging times that I never thought in my 40 years in law enforcement that I thought we’d be seeing things and dealing with things we’re dealing with. But unfortunately, we’re going to have to deal with this.”

When asked about the motivation behind the attacks, Fields said, “Cowardly is what I’d call it. But we don’t have anything. No motivation. Nobody, no group, has stepped up to acknowledge or accept that they’re the ones who done it. So I call them cowards.”

3. The Attack Caused Millions of Dollars of Damage, Officials Said

Fields said the damage caused to the power transmission substations is going to be “in the millions,” for Duke Energy to repair. He said there will also be a high cost for local businesses and residents.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper said at a Monday press conference, “What happened here Saturday night was a criminal attack. And federal, state and local law enforcement are actively working to bring those responsible to justice. … I’m sure that we will learn more about motives of this intentional attack. An attack that damaged an entire community. Regardless of motive, violence and sabotage will not be tolerated.”

Cooper added, “I have been impressed with the resilience and the community spirit of the people of Moore County. I’m grateful for their public spirit and their help for each other. Helping to serve meals to the people down at the substation who are working to make repairs, helping each other in the community.

He added. “And I am deeply appreciative of the first responders, the 911 operators, the good work that they were doing today in Moore County, making sure they had all of those positions filled with personnel who were handling the load. The law enforcement, the people who are helping with traffic, with traffic lights being out, the healthcare providers, the emergency personnel and others who are doing their very best to get us past this.”

4. A Right-Wing Activist Was Questioned by the Moore County Sheriff’s Office After She Posted on Facebook That She Knew Why the Power Had Gone Out

emily rainey capitol north carolina

FacebookEmily Rainey.

Adding to the speculation that the drag show in Southern Pines was targeted by anti-trans conservative activists was a Facebook post from a former U.S. Army officer, Emily Grace Rainey, who now leads the group Moore County Citizens for Freedom. Rainey, who led a group of North Carolinans to the pro-Trump rally at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, wrote in a Saturday night Facebook post, “The power is out in Moore County and I know why.”

Rainey added a photo of the Sunrise Theater and wrote, “God will not be mocked.” She later followed up with another post, “The Moore County Sheriff’s Office just checked in. I welcomed them to my home. Sorry they wasted their time. I told them that God works in mysterious ways and is responsible for the outage. I used the opportunity to tell them about the immoral drag show and the blasphemies screamed by its supporters. God is chastising Moore County. I thanked them for coming and wished them a good night. Thankful for the LEOs service, as always.”

Fields said at the Sunday press conference, when asked about Emily Rainey, “I can say that there was an individual that put some information on Facebook that was false. I urge citizens, please don’t put false information out there. That takes time for us to run that down. And yes, we had to go and interview this young lady, and had a word of prayer with her, but it turned out to be nothing.” When asked how they determined it was false, Fields said, “good law enforcement.”

On Sunday, Rainey wrote on Facebook, “Now that my name has been officially cleared by law enforcement, I WILL be filing libel and slander lawsuits. I will also be turning all death threats into law enforcement. And one more thing, I stand by everything I have said. God will not be mocked. Because of lukewarm Christians and public displays of blasphemy and immorality in Moore County many innocent people are suffering. God uses bad people (like the Babylonians in 598 BC and whoever shot the power station) to chastise a people or a region. We brought this on ourselves.”

5. Federal Authorities Have Disrupted Plots to Attack the Power Grid & Other Infrastructure, Including a 2022 Case That Led to Multiple Arrests, While a 2013 Attack Damaged Substations in California

Threats to the power grid and other essential infrastructure have been a concern for federal authorities for several years. In February 2022, federal prosecutors announced three men pleaded guilty in connection to a white supremacist plot to damage the power grid.

The Department of Justice said in a press release, “According to court documents, Christopher Brenner Cook, 20, of Columbus, Ohio; Jonathan Allen Frost, 24, of West Lafayette, Indiana, and of Katy, Texas; and Jackson Matthew Sawall, 22, of Oshkosh, Wisconsin, each pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew Olsen said in a statement, “These three defendants admitted to engaging in a disturbing plot, in furtherance of white supremacist ideology, to attack energy facilities in order to damage the economy and stoke division in our country. The Justice Department is committed to investigating and disrupting such terrorist plots and holding perpetrators accountable for their crimes.”

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Parker, of the Southern District of Ohio, added in a statement, “These defendants conspired to use violence to sow hate, create chaos, and endanger the safety of the American people. As this case shows, federal and state law enforcement agencies are dedicated to working together to protect this country against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

The DOJ said in the release:

As part of the conspiracy, each defendant was assigned a substation in a different region of the United States. The plan was to attack the substations, or power grids, with powerful rifles. The defendants believed their plan would cost the government millions of dollars and cause unrest for Americans in the region. They had conversations about how the possibility of the power being out for many months could cause war, even a race war, and induce the next Great Depression.”

In February 2020, the co-conspirators met in Columbus, Ohio, to further discuss their plot. Frost provided Cook with an AR-47 and the two took the rifle to a shooting range to train.

The attack in North Carolina is similar to a 2013 sniper rifle shooting that damaged a PG&E substation on Metcalf Road in Coyote, California. The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office said that April 16, 2013, shooting caused $15 million in damage to the substation near San Jose.

Gunmen struck 17 substations, the sheriff’s office said. They also cut fiber-optic telecommunications cables that were used by AT&T, according to the sheriff’s office. During that incident, the power company was able to re-route power from nearby plants and only some local residents lost power.

PG&E and AT&T have both offered $250,0000 rewards for information leading to arrests in the infrastructure attacks, but no suspects have been identified in the nearly 10 years since the shootings.

At the press conference Monday, Governor Cooper told reporters, “I’m always concerned about critical infrastructure and I certainly think we need to learn from this incident as to what we may need to do. Because these kinds of things cannot happen. We cannot tolerate this type of wide power outage to so many people.”

According to The Pilot, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Monday they are watching the investigation and are on alert for “copycat” attacks. Kirby said, “We’ve obviously been monitoring this very, very closely and we’re in contact with local officials. In fact, local officials and specifically local law enforcement are getting federal support on the investigation. So we’re going to obviously let that investigation play out.”

Kirby added, “I think we’ve heard the President talk about this many times. He’s made critical infrastructure security and the resilience of that infrastructure, that regardless of whether it’s from natural threats, or manmade threats, he’s made it a priority since the very, very beginning.”