A former Camp Pendleton Marine pleaded guilty to federal charges Thursday for his role in a firebombing attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Costa Mesa.
Chance Brannon, 24, of San Juan Capistrano, is scheduled to be sentenced April 15. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy, malicious destruction of property by fire and explosive, possession of an unauthorized destructive device and intentional damage to a reproductive health services facility.
Co-defendants Xavier Batten, 21, of Brooksville, Florida, and Tibet Ergul, 21, of Irvine, are still awaiting trial. Batten is due in court Wednesday for a bond hearing.
Brannon and Ergul pleaded not guilty to federal charges at their arraignment in July. A trial is scheduled in March.
According to Brannon's plea deal, he admitted that he "considered various targets, including the Anti-Defamation League in San Diego."
But he settled on Planned Parenthood "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," according to the plea deal.
Ergul and Brannon allegedly ignited and a threw a Molotov cocktail at the clinic entrance at 1520 Nutmeg Place during the early morning hours of March 13, 2022, according to an affidavit from FBI Special Agent Jennifer Hirsch, who added that the pair returned to the clinic about two hours later. Security video captured the attack.
"This attack was not random," U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said earlier. "It was a planned and concerted effort to attack the clinic on account of the services it provided -- namely reproductive health services. There were repeated discussions prior to the attack and Batten instructed Brannon on how to construct a Molotov cocktail."
The defendants "boasted about what they had done" in messages to each other after the attack, Estrada said.
All three defendants were charged with one count of conspiracy and one count of malicious destruction of property by fire and explosion.
In May of last year, Batten discussed with Brannon about what it would take to bomb another clinic, prosecutors alleged in Brannon's plea agreement.
Brannon advised Batten to put his "phone in airplane mode, plan `quick escape routes,' avoid being identified on camera and obscure his face and skin color," according to the plea agreement's allegations.
After the Supreme Court's ruling in June of last year striking down abortion rights, Brannon and Ergul planned another firebombing of a clinic, but they backed out at the last moment when they saw law enforcement, prosecutors said in the plea agreement.
Brannon and Ergul "also discussed starting a race war by attacking an electrical substation with the goal of damaging the substation and disrupting the functioning of the power grid in Orange County," prosecutors said in the agreement.
Brannon also had a thumb drive that looked like a dog-tag necklace bearing the U.S. Marine Corps motto, "Semper Fidelis," which contained a file with a "plan and gear list for targeting a Southern California Edison substation," prosecutors said.
One of the weapons in his possession was a Zastava ZPap M70 rifle "with a handwritten Cyrillic message on the folding stock which roughly translates to `Total (racist epithet for Blacks) Death," prosecutors said in the pla agreement. It also "contained recordings of the 2019 Christchurch (New Zealand) Mosque Shooting, a mass shooting in which a white supremacist murdered 51 people and injured 40 others," prosecutors said.
The duo were also accused of discussing and researching "how to attack the parking lot or electrical room of Dodger Stadium on a night celebrating LGBTQ pride," prosecutors alleged.
Brannon and Ergul were both also charged with one count of possession of an unregistered destructive device and one misdemeanor count of intentional damage to a reproductive health services facility, which is a violation of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, prosecutors said.
The conspiracy and malicious destruction charges each carry a sentence of five to 20 years in federal prison, prosecutors said. The charge of possession of an unregistered destructive device is punishable by up to 10 years in federal prison. The intentional damage to a reproductive health facility charge carries a maximum sentence of one year in federal prison.
Hirsch said the clinic "was forced to close and cancel dozens of appointments," noting that clinic employees told investigators about 30 appointments had to be rescheduled.
Brannon agreed to pay about $1,000 in restitution for damage to the building.
In January, the FBI offered a reward of up to $25,000 for information leading to an arrest of suspects, prompting a call from a witness who called the FBI in April, Hirsch said. The witness, who was a friend of the suspects in high school, said Ergul sent text messages admitting his involvement in the bombing, according to Hirsch.
She said the text message read, "Boom (fire emoji)" at "1500 Blk nutmeg plaza... Costa Mesa health center/Planned Parenthood clinic."
The FBI agent also said that ErgulOct. 21, 2022, in Tempe, Arizona, on suspicion of aggravated assault, unlawful imprisonment and criminal damage after "punching his roommate in the nose and breaking the doorknob so she could not leave their shared apartment."
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