In the days after the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill, one man struck an alarming note on the MyMilitia.com message board. “I’m not a dumbass suicide bomber,” he posted under the handle Dionysus. But he would “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.” Over the following months, prosecutors say, that man, whose real name was Seth Pendley, focused his anger at Amazon, concocting a plot to destroy an Amazon Web Services data center in northern Virginia with C-4 plastic explosives.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation took Pendley, 28, into custody on Thursday; court documents say that he admitted to orchestrating the plan at the time of his arrest. The case offers another unsettling revelation into how the increasingly heated rhetoric from the far-right has translated into real-world 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 intense scrutiny from the far right. The company announced on January 9 that it would cut ties with Parler, the “free-speech” social network that had become a haven for harassment and extremism and hosted many participants in the January 6 attack. “Sounds like war,” wrote one Parler member in a post spotted by Buzzfeed News editor John Paczkowski. “It would be a pity if someone with explosives training were to pay a visit to some AWS data centers – the locations of which are public knowledge.”
Two days later, Insider reported that an AWS executive sent a memo to employees urging vigilance in the wake of the Parler ban. “If you see something, say something—no situation or concern is too small or insignificant,” wrote Chris Vonderhaar, AWS VP of infrastructure.
In public and private posts online, court documents say, Pendley claimed to have been at the Capitol on January 6, but not to have entered the building. He expressed disappointment that his fellow protesters weren’t more aggressive. “I feel like we all went into this with the intentions of getting very little done,” Dionysus wrote on MyMilitia.com. “How much did you expect to do when we all willingly go in unarmed.”
The MyMilitia.com posts were concerning enough that someone tipped off the FBI; investigators subsequently obtained access to Pendley’s Facebook messages through a search warrant and began physical surveillance of his house in Wichita Falls, Texas. “We are indebted to the concerned citizen who came forward to report the defendant’s alarming online rhetoric,” acting US attorney Prerak Shah said in a statement. “In flagging his posts to the FBI, this individual may have saved the lives of a number of tech workers.”
In late January, Pendley allegedly began communicating with an associate over the encrypted messaging app Signal about his plans to attack AWS. “If I had cancer or something I would just drive a bomb into those servers lol,” Pendley wrote on February 19, according to the criminal complaint. He ultimately hoped to “kill off about 70 percent of the internet.” (AWS has over 30 percent of global cloud market share.) What Pendley didn’t realize is that 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 topographical 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 provider. There, Pendley allegedly outlined his plan to bomb AWS data centers in Northern Virginia that he believed provided services for the CIA, FBI, and other federal government agencies. Prosecutors say he had planned to fabricate special boxes that would direct the force of the blasts.