Former Marine Gets 9 Years for Planned Parenthood Attack

Former Marine Gets 9 Years for Planned Parenthood Attack

Planned Parenthood signage is displayed outside of a health care clinic in Los Angeles, Calif., on May 16, 2023. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images)

City News Service

City News Service

4/15/2024

Updated: 4/15/2024

SANTA ANA, Calif.—A former Camp Pendleton Marine was sentenced April 15 to nine years in federal prison for his role in a firebombing attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic in Costa Mesa.
Chance Brannon, 24, of San Juan Capistrano, pleaded guilty Nov. 30 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, have also pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
Mr. Brannon’s attorney, Kate Corrigan, argued for a five-year sentence while Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathrynne Seiden recommended between 78 and 97 months.
Mr. Ergul and Mr. Brannon ignited and hurled a Molotov cocktail at the clinic entrance at 1520 Nutmeg Place during the early morning hours of March 13, 2022. They returned to the clinic about two hours later, according to the FBI.
The two “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 court papers.
One of the weapons Mr. Brannon planned to use was a Zastava ZPap M70 rifle “with a handwritten Cyrillic message on the folding stock which roughly translates to ‘Total [racist epithet for black people] Death,” prosecutors wrote in the plea agreement. A zip file authorities found 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 said.
Mr. Brannon told U.S. District Court Judge Cormac Carney, “I’m not going to dispute the facts of the case.”
He added, “All I can tell you was it was stupid and out of control.”
Mr. Brannon said he understands how the public “saw it as terroristic and horrible.” He also said he understands if the judge would have trouble believing he has changed his thinking.
“All I can do is live my life better,” he said. “And to do better for the world and others.”
He said he wished to do more volunteer work in the future.
“I have tried to be as productive as possible in custody,” he said.
Ms. Corrigan argued that her client was on the autism spectrum, which has led to “rigid thinking” that saw the defendant go “down a rabbit hole.”
Ms. Corrigan noted that much of what prosecutors presented as evidence against her client came from Mr. Brannon, who has been cooperative with authorities since his arrest. She said he was forthcoming about the discussed attack on the Dodger game, which alleviated concerns since they were arrested two days before the LGBT event.
Mr. Brannon has met with representatives from Parents for Peace, a support group for families of those who have fallen prey to extremists.
“He’s come to understand what he did was, at best, stupid and thankfully didn’t hurt anyone,” Ms. Corrigan said.
She argued that Mr. Ergul’s plea deal called for a punishment of 63 to 71 months behind bars and she pointed to three other firebombing cases in which the defendants received five-year sentences. Anything beyond that would create a “huge diversity,” Ms. Corrigan said.
Ms. Seiden said, however, Mr. Brannon’s case was different from the other defendants in the case and the others Ms. Corrigan cited. For example, Mr. Brannon was caught with weapons, one which was illegal under federal law and another under state law, Ms. Seiden said.
Mr. Brannon was also a student of “other terrorists,” she said.
“He was studying mass acts of terror,” Ms. Seiden said.
He also advised and “tutored” the others, she said. Mr. Brannon also had a plan of “robbing Jewish homes in L.A.,” which the other defendants were not involved in, Ms. Seiden said.
Plus, Mr. Brannon was an active-duty Marine at the time, Ms. Seiden said.
Judge Carney noted that when Mr. Brannon grew disappointed in not being deployed into combat he called embassies in Russia and China offering to be a “mole.” The judge referred to it as “treasonous” behavior.
In his sentencing memo, Judge Carney said Mr. Brannon is “highly intelligent” and has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and long-term depression.
He grew up with a “supportive stepfather” and a “loving, very involved mother who, as an experienced clinical psychologist, has expert knowledge in resources and treatment available for children with his mental health diagnoses,” Judge Carney said.
“On the other hand, Mr. Brannon’s diagnoses contributed to developmental delays, behavioral struggles from an early age, and rigid thinking,” Judge Carney said. “While in many situations Mr. Brannon exhibits what the court perceives to be genuine thoughtfulness, generosity, and a desire to make a positive impact on his community and the world, in other contexts he exhibits equally troubling behaviors that have grown from poor self-esteem as a child to hatred of others put into action as an adult.”
When FBI agents questioned Mr. Batten in September 2022, Mr. Brannon called him a “dumbass” and told him to “stop talking to the feds,” because it would make it “harder to say I was hacked, etc., as a defense,” Judge Carney said.
While in the Marines, Mr. Brannon “one Marine recalled [Mr. Brannon] making comments about killing women who had abortions,” Judge Carney said.
The firebombed clinic was forced to close and 33 patients had to reschedule appointments, Judge Carney said.
Judge Carney said he believes Mr. Brannon can turn things around for himself with the familial support, but he added he was concerned the defendant could also relapse.
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