A US Marine and a second man were arrested on charges of throwing a flaming Molotov cocktail at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Southern California last year, federal prosecutors said.
Chance Brannon, a 23-year-old Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, and Tibet Ergul, 21, are charged in US District Court in Santa Ana with using explosives or fire to damage property.
FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents arrested Ergul, of Irvine, and Brannon, of San Juan Capistrano.
Both men appeared in federal court in Santa Ana on Wednesday. A bond hearing for Ergul was postponed, but US District Court Magistrate Judge Douglas McCormick denied bond for Brannon.
His lawyer, Kate Corrigan, told McCormick she found it “a bit ironic” that officials cited Brannon’s military training as a reason to consider him “dangerous.” He indicated that he specialized as a Farsi language expert.
Corrigan said his client would hand over his passport, could be monitored with a GPS device and had strong local family ties with the means to pay his bail. Brannon has no criminal record, she added.
But Assistant US Attorney Kathrynne Seiden told the court that Brannon crossed into Mexico on foot without notifying Camp Pendleton officials as required. She also said that his biological father owns an online gambling company in Costa Rica that has been investigated for money laundering.
Corrigan responded that Brannon’s parents divorced “two decades ago” and that his father “left the family years ago … and there is no indication that he has heard of any financial or communication ties.”
However, Seiden argued that Brannon “has a very serious motivation” to flee and has the means to do so. And despite being in the military he still “felt emboldened” to commit “an act of domestic terrorism,” he argued.
The officers seized silencers from him, along with a short-barreled rifle, Seiden said. Some of the weapons were prohibited by state law, he added.
Agents also found “neo-Nazi” paraphernalia in his room, as well as a drawing of a service member shooting someone who is Jewish and has money with the caption: “Thank you for keeping America pure,” Seiden said.
In his room there were also writings that included a statement of “an incredible desire to assassinate journalists,” the prosecutor alleged.
Corrigan said the government claimed his client possessed the material but did not create it. He also said it was irrelevant to the Planned Parenthood case.
“I can see if it was a crime against a synagogue,” Corrigan said.
McCormick said Brannon is charged with “very serious charges” and added that he was “gravely concerned” not only about the written material found in the room, but also about the seizure of weapons.
No one was injured in the attack around 1 a.m. on March 13, 2022, but the exterior of the clinic in Costa Mesa was damaged. Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest provider of abortion services, in addition to providing other health services.
“My office takes very seriously this brazen attack targeting a facility that provides critical healthcare services to thousands of people in Orange County,” US Attorney Martin Estrada said in a written statement announcing the arrests.
Abortion has become a fiery political issue in the US following last year’s US Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized the procedure throughout the country.
Since that decision, 14 US states have tried to ban or restrict abortion, sparking fights and protests outside of court.
Surveillance footage captured images of two men in hoodies running into the clinic shortly before 1 a.m. on the morning of the bombing. One of the suspects can be seen carrying something under his left arm.
The FBI issued a poster in January offering a $25,000 reward to help identify the suspects, prompting an individual who attended high school with Brannon and Ergul to come forward, according to the criminal complaint.
That person, who is not listed in the complaint, told investigators that Ergul sent him a text message bragging about his involvement in the bombing, as well as sending him a photo of a hand holding a Molotov cocktail inside a moving car. The FBI identified the vehicle as Brannon’s.
The estimated damage to the clinic building was about $1,050, according to an affidavit from an FBI agent. Clinic employees told investigators about 30 appointments had to be rescheduled.
– Staff and telegraphic reports