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Investigators scouring online conspiracy theories for motive in N.C. substation attack

The FBI is assisting local authorities as they sift through online conspiracy theories to see if any served as a motivation for the "targeted attacks" on two Duke Energy substations.

Detectives probing the "targeted attacks" on two power stations last weekend that left thousands of North Carolina residents in the dark have been searching online for a possible motive, two senior law enforcement officials briefed on the matter told NBC News.

The FBI is assisting local authorities as they sift through a host of online conspiracy theories to see if any served as a motivation for Saturday's gun attacks on two Duke Energy substations that knocked out power to thousands of homes and businesses in Moore County, the officials said.

Almost immediately after the power went out around 8:15 p.m. Saturday, the prevailing theory that took hold on social media was that the outages were intended to shut down a drag performance at a theater in downtown Southern Pines, N.C.

There had been weeks of threats and loud protests by far-right activists against the "Downtown Divas" drag show that was scheduled to take place that night at the Sunrise Theater.

Suspicions were further raised by a cryptic post from a vehement opponent of drag performances.

Officials are also looking at other theories, such as the possibility that the attack was carried out by an ex-employee or another motive that has yet to present itself.

“We are looking at everything right now,” Fields said Monday. “There’s absolutely nothing off the table. We’re investigating all leads. We have cooperation from federal and state law enforcement agencies that are assisting us with this and there’s no stone that we’re leaving unturned.”

Some 75,000 people in central North Carolina suddenly lost power Saturday after a suspect or suspects drove up to two Duke Energy power substations and disabled them by opening fire, police said.

Less than an hour later, Emily Rainey wrote on her Facebook page, "The power is out in Moore County and I know why."

In a follow-up post, along with a photograph of the Sunrise Theater, she wrote: “God will not be mocked.”

Rainey, who NBC News has tried repeatedly to reach for an explanation, is a former U.S. Army psychological operations officer who left the military while under investigation for leading a group of people from North Carolina to the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. She has also been a vocal opponent of drag shows in the state. 

Image:
Patrons dine by candlelight Monday at Red's Corner during the Moore County power outage in Southern Pines, N.C.Kaitlin McKeown / The News & Observer via AP

Officials have announced that a $75,000 reward is being offered for information leading to the shooter or shooters. Meanwhile, Duke Energy reported Wednesday that power had been restored to all customers.

“We are pleased to complete this work for the citizens of Moore County and surrounding counties a full day ahead of what we initially estimated,” Jason Hollifield, Duke Energy’s general manager, Emergency Preparedness, said in a statement. “The complexity of repairs required was extensive, and we appreciate our customers’ patience and understanding during a situation we know has been challenging for them, their families and the community as a whole.”