Ex-US Marine pleads guilty to firebombing California abortion clinic

By Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – An ex-U.S. Marine pleaded guilty on Thursday to federal charges that he firebombed a women’s health and abortion clinic in Southern California last year and admitted in court to plotting several other acts of “domestic extremism,” prosecutors said.

Chance Brannon, 24, was on active duty stationed at the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base in San Diego County when he hurled a Molotov cocktail at the entrance to a Planned Parenthood clinic in the early morning hours of March 13, 2022, according to a federal indictment.

No one was injured, but the clinic’s exterior was damaged.

Brannon, a resident of nearby San Juan Capistrano, has remained in federal custody since his arrest the following June.

He now faces five to 20 years in prison on each of the two most serious charges to which he pleaded guilty – conspiracy and malicious destruction of property by fire and explosive.

He also pleaded guilty to possession of an unregistered destructive device and intentional damage to a reproductive health services facility, which carry maximum prison terms of 10 years and one year, respectively.

Under a plea deal, prosecutors agreed to recommend a measure of leniency for when Brannon is sentenced on April 15, 2024, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles said. The judge is not bound by such recommendations.

In a press statement announcing the guilty pleas, federal prosecutors said Brannon singled out the clinic in Costa Mesa, south of Los Angeles, “to scare pregnant women, deter doctors and staff from providing abortion services and encourage similar violent acts.”

As part of his plea deal, Brannon admitted to scheming with two co-defendants to carry out attacks on three other targets – a second Planned Parenthood clinic, an LGBTQ pride celebration at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, and an electric utility substation in Orange County.

Plans to bomb the power grid were discussed as a way of instigating a race war, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in its statement.

None of those additional plots came to fruition. But prosecutors said Brannon prepared an “operation plan” and “gear list” that he kept on a thumb drive, and he shared a World War Two sabotage manual with one of his collaborators. He was in possession of a short-barreled rifle and two silencers when arrested.

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

Two other men indicted with Brannon – Tibet Ergul, 22, of Irvine, California, and Xavier Batten, 21, of Brooksville, Florida – have pleaded not guilty to the charges they face and are scheduled for trial in March 2024.

Brannon is not obligated to testify against his co-defendants as a term of his plea agreement, according to U.S. Attorney spokesperson Ciaran McEvoy.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Berkrot)