Theory spreads after North Carolina substation attack leaves 45,000 without power

WATCH: Thousands still without power in parts of North Carolina following targeted attack on electrical substations.

Thousands of people in North Carolina remain without power after a “deliberate” and “intentional” attack on electrical substations in Moore County, North Carolina on Saturday, according to officials.

Schools stayed closed for a second day on Tuesday, businesses have been left shuttered, and some local residents continue to battle early-winter temperatures in unheated houses.

On Saturday evening, gunfire damaged two substations in the county, initially leaving 45,000 people without power. A state of emergency was declared over the weekend as residents were encouraged to conserve fuel and adhere to a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew each night.

Duke Energy announced Monday that they had restored power to 7,000 customers, but 38,000 residents still had no electricity. The company noted that the damage to the substations was extensive and that outages may continue through the week.

“Duke Energy will continue to restore service quickly and safely, although many affected customers should prepare for an outage that could extend to Thursday, Dec. 8,” a press release reads.

Jason Hollifield, Duke Energy’s general manager of emergency preparedness, said that the damage to electrical equipment was “beyond repair in some areas.” He added that this “leaves us with no option but to replace large pieces of equipment — which is not an easy or quick task.”

One local fire department in the county has seen an increase in car crashes because of downed traffic lights, and an uptick in fires as people look for alternatives to heating their homes, Southern Pines Fire Chief Mike Cameron told CNN. Emergency shelters have been opened to the public, according to statements from the county.

A view of the substation while work is in progress as tens of thousands are without power on Moore County after an attack at two substations by Duke Electric were shot at in Carthage NC, United States on December 05, 2022.

A view of the substation while work is in progress as tens of thousands are without power in Moore County after an attack at two substations of Duke Electric in Carthage N.C., Dec. 5, 2022.

Peter Zay/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Moore County Sheriff Ronnie Fields said on Sunday that when police responded to the substations, “evidence was discovered that indicated that intentional vandalism had occurred at multiple sites.”

The scene was the same at both sites, and Field added that the person or persons who attacked the substations “knew exactly what they were doing.”

Police have not yet determined a motive for the attack, or identified any suspects to the public, though the incident is being investigated as a criminal act. The FBI is also helping to investigate.

“It is a selfish act. It is cruel,” Carol Haney, mayor of Southern Pines, said on Monday.

“There are so many people that are hurting. The revenue stream has been stopped. If you have health issues, it is critical.

“It is just a horrible, horrible, terrorist, in my opinion, act.”

While no official reason for the attack has been provided, one theory as to why these North Carolina substations were targeted has prevailed on social media: the outages were meant to shut down a drag show.

The “Downtown Divas” drag performance in Southern Pines on Saturday had been the target of protests and harassment from far-right activists for weeks, organizers said. On the day of the show — the same day of the attacks — 40 people came to protest the event, met by 200 counter-protesters, the Fayatteville Observer reported.

However, at Sunday’s press conference, Sheriff Fields said that police have yet to find a connection between the substation attack and the drag show.

The theory was bolstered, in part, by a Facebook post from one of the far-right organizers who demonstrated outside of the “Downtown Diva” show on Saturday. Emily Rainey wrote “The power is out in Moore County and I know why,” less than an hour after outages were first reported.

Rainey is a former U.S. Army psychological operations officer who left the military while being investigated for leading a faction of people to the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, according to the Fayatteville Observer. She has been a vocal opponent of drag shows in North Carolina.

Two hours after making her initial post, Rainey added that deputies from the Moore County Sheriff’s Office had questioned her.

“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,” she wrote.

Some people posted their thoughts to social media, with the idea of a hate-motivated attack obviously a scary one.

Naomi Dix, the drag artist who produced and hosted “Downtown Divas” said she got death threats from right-wing groups about the show, including from Rainey. About an hour into the show on Saturday night, the power went out.

Dix said she kept the performance going for 45 minutes with audience members illuminating the stage with their cellphone flashlights, the Fayatteville Observer reported. Dix said she cannot speculate if there was a connection between the power station attacks and the performance.

“An investigation is being held right now and I have no doubt that the queer community and that the residents of Moore County will hold those who are responsible for that attack responsible,” Dix told NBC.

“It would not surprise me if anything was geared or focused on creating issues for the queer community. I’m not going to say specifically for the drag show because we are more than just a drag show, we are a community of people, so it would not surprise me if the attack was focused on the queer community.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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