Former Marine Pleads Guilty to Firebombing Planned Parenthood While on Active Duty

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A Planned Parenthood sign
A Planned Parenthood sign is displayed on the outside of a clinic during a news conference, Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

A former Marine has pleaded guilty to firebombing a Planned Parenthood in California while he was on active duty and stationed at Camp Pendleton as part of a case authorities labeled "domestic extremism," according to the Justice Department.

Chance Brannon, 24, an ex-corporal, pleaded guilty Thursday to four total counts, according to the Department of Justice: conspiracy, malicious destruction of property by fire and explosives, possession of an unregistered destructive device, and intentional damage to a reproductive health services facility.

Brannon was arrested in June 2023 and has been in custody since then, the law enforcement agency said. He and two other co-conspirators plotted the attack in the early spring of 2022. Only Brannon was in the military, according to the Justice Department.

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"This defendant exemplifies the insidious danger posed by domestic extremism," U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in a released statement. "The defendant, who was a member of the U.S. military, admitted not only to attacking a Planned Parenthood facility but also to planning for attacks on the power grid and a pride celebration at Dodger Stadium. We must never waver in our commitment to protect the American people from violent extremist ideology."

Military.com reached out to the office of Brannon's listed attorney for comment, but did not hear back by publication.

Brannon admitted that he and one of his co-conspirators, Tibet Ergul, 22, discussed starting a race war, according to the Justice Department and court records, and that they had discussed targeting a LGBTQ+ pride event at Dodger Stadium with a remote-detonated device.

They collected a World War II manual and discussed doing dry runs on the stadium in the fashion of Ted Kaczynski, also known as the Unabomber, according to the department. They were arrested two days before the pride event.

Months before the plan to attack the stadium, Brannon and Ergul used a Molotov cocktail to set fire to a Planned Parenthood in Costa Mesa, California, according to court records. In the early hours of March 13, 2022, the pair -- donned in masks and dark clothing -- drove to the facility and threw the incendiary weapon into the entrance.

Ergul later texted an acquaintance taking credit for the firebombing and said that he wished he "could've recorded the combustion" before sending a picture of him holding the Molotov cocktail in Brannon's car.

Planned Parenthood provides reproductive health care services, including abortion. The Justice Department said, according to Brannon's plea agreement, that he chose this target "because he wanted to make a statement against abortion, scare pregnant women away from obtaining abortions, deter doctors, staff, and employees of the clinic from providing abortions, intimidate and interfere with the patients of the clinic, and encourage others to engage in similar acts of protest."

A month later, after a tipster had called the FBI identifying the duo, a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service found Brannon's Dodge Challenger parked in front of the barracks at Camp Pendleton.

Brannon admitted to planning other attacks, including the targeting of another Planned Parenthood in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v. Wade -- a legal precedent that upheld a constitutional right to abortion for decades -- and electrical substations to start a race war, the Justice Department said. He also discussed targeting the Anti-Defamation League, according to court records.

Brannon kept plans to attack the Southern California Edison substation in a dog-tag style thumb drive with "Semper Fidelis" on it -- the Marine Corps motto.

The thumb drive also contained a gear list, which included a rifle with "Total N***** Death" written on it and a recording of the 2019 Christchurch mosque shooting in which a white supremacist killed 51 people in New Zealand. A short-barreled rifle and two silencers, which belonged to Brannon, were not registered.

"This case is yet another unfortunate example of lone actor and small cell 'do it yourself' white supremacist terrorism," Jon Lewis, a researcher at the George Washington University's Program on Extremism, told Military.com on Monday.

"The individuals did not require organized group membership to plot numerous acts of targeted violence in further of hateful ideology," he said. "Laid out in the court records, these individuals plotted to target nearly every enemy in the ongoing 'culture war.' From the Anti-Defamation League to Planned Parenthood to critical infrastructure, these mild extremists were committed to their goal of conducting accelerationist terrorism in the hopes of sparking a race war."

Brannon will be sentenced in April. He faces up to 51 years in prison for all four counts he pleaded guilty to. Ergul, and the third defendant, Xavier Batten, have pleaded not guilty and will go to trial in the spring.

-- Drew F. Lawrence can be reached at drew.lawrence@military.com. Follow him on X

@df_lawrence.

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