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Former Marine pleads guilty to firebombing Planned Parenthood to 'scare' abortion patients

A former active-duty Marine pleaded guilty to the 2022 firebombing of a California Planned Parenthood clinic.

Chance Brannon, 24, admitted to throwing a molotov cocktail at the entrance of a clinic in Costa Mesa, Orange County, on March 13 last year. Brannon and two co-conspirators, Tibet Ergul, 22, and Xavier Batten, 21, also planned to a second Planned Parenthood clinic, an electrical substation, and an LGBTQ pride event at Dodgers Stadium. Brannon was stationed at Camp Pendleton at the time of the attack.

Brannon pleaded guilty to all four counts of conspiracy, malicious destruction of property by fire and explosives, possession of an unregistered destructive device, and intentional damage to a reproductive health services facility.

He faces a mandatory minimum sentence of five years each for two of the counts and a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison. A sentencing hearing is planned for April 15, 2024.

“This defendant exemplifies the insidious danger posed by domestic extremism,” U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in a press release. “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."

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Brannon and co-conspirators planned multiple attacks

Brannon, Ergul, and Batten intended to carry out the attack to scare and intimidate patients away from seeking abortions, deter doctors and staff from carrying out the procedure, and encourage similar attacks, according to court documents. The three also considered other targets, including the Anti-Defamation League of San Francisco.

No one was wounded in the attack, but the clinic was forced to reschedule around 30 patient appointments.

Ergul took credit for the bombing in a text to an acquaintance after he sent a picture of his gloved hand holding the makeshift explosive and said he wished he "could've recorded the combustion," according to a criminal complaint.

An FBI agent reviewed security camera footage of the incident and saw two people dressed in black hoodies with covered faces light a device on fire and throw it towards the entrance of the clinic before they fled.

Two months later, after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, ending federal abortion protections, Brannon told Batten he knew how to "get away with" a similar attack. He and Ergul made plans to target another abortion clinic, but abandoned them after they saw police in the area.

Brannon and Ergul also planned to disrupt the Orange County power grid by attacking an electrical substation, with the goal of starting a "race war," according to charging documents.

Brannon kept plans for the attack on a thumb drive disguised as a military dog tag reading "Semper Fidelis," the motto of the Marines, according to a plea agreement

The thumb drive contained a list of gear he planned to use in the attack, including a rifle with a Cyrillic message on the folding stock that translates to a racist message calling for the death of Black people. Also on the drive were recordings from the 2019 Christchurch shooting, in which Australian far-right extremist livestreamed the killing of 51 people in two New Zealand mosques.

Brannon and Ergul were arrested on June 14 of this year, two days before an LGBTQ pride celebration at Dodgers Stadium that the pair discussed attacking. The two researched methods of detonating a remote device in the stadium's parking lot or electrical room, sharing their research in a document titled "WW2 sabotage manual," court records show.

Authorities recovered an unmarked rifle and multiple unregistered silencers in Brannon's possession after he was arrested.

Ergul and Batten each pleaded not guilty to charges against them. Their trial is scheduled to begin on March 19, 2024.

Cybele Mayes-Osterman is a breaking news reporter for USA Today. Reach her on email at cmayesosterman@usatoday.com. Follow her on X @CybeleMO.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ex-Marine Chance Brannon pleads guilty to Planned Parenthood firebombing