No arrests made in suspected arson of Madison anti-abortion group office

No arrests have been made in the suspected arson over the weekend at the office of an anti-abortion group, Madison Police Department Chief Shon Barnes said.
Published: May. 9, 2022 at 10:14 AM CDT|Updated: May. 9, 2022 at 2:39 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - No arrests have been made in the suspected arson over the weekend at the office of an anti-abortion group, Madison Police Department Chief Shon Barnes announced in a news conference Monday.

Barnes was joined by Madison Fire Dept. Asst. Chief Che Stedman, as well as agents with the FBI and ATF, during the 2 p.m. news conference.

“I want to start off by saying there is no room for hate or violence in Madison, in fact there’s no room for hate or violence anywhere in our country,” Barnes said. “Hate or violence do not advance any cause and unfortunately we’re investigating the fruits of hate and violence in the form of an arson where a specific nonprofit group was targeted for their beliefs regarding the issue of abortion.”

An early MPD report indicated investigators suspect the Sunday morning incident was targeted at the non-profit organization, Wisconsin Family Action. Barnes recalled how a passerby headed to the Dane County Airport noticed flames coming from the building around 6 a.m. Sunday.

When the Madison Fire Department and officers arrived, they noted a ground-level window had been broken. Firefighters were able to extinguish the fire within five minutes and Barnes noted that two Molotov cocktails were found at the scene. Investigators are working to determine what type of liquid was used in the devices.

According to police, MFD investigators are still working to nail down the cause. The report noted one of the Molotov cocktails that had been thrown into the building, but did not ignite, was found and a second fire appeared to have been started after the firebombing failed.

Robert Payne with FBI Milwaukee stated that this is an ongoing investigation and his agency is working with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Wisconsin to discuss potential charges. Barnes noted that this suspected arson is not being investigated as a terroristic threat, nor is there any indication that it was an inside job.

possible arson at Wisconsin Family Action
possible arson at Wisconsin Family Action(Marcus Aarsvold)

Graffiti was also found at the scene, in the 2800 block of International Lane, that included an anarchy logo, the numbers “1312,” and the words “if abortions aren’t same then you aren’t either.” While the numbers 1312 can have other meanings, they are commonly used as substitutes for the letters ACAB, which stands for “All Cops Are Bad.”

“The message to Madison residents it that there is no place in Madison for any type of hate speech, for any type of violence, or any type of property destruction, to advance any cause,” Barnes said. “If you’re thinking about doing something like that, I would recommend that you not. It doesn’t look good for your cause, it doesn’t look good for our community and that’s not what we expect.”

Officers recovered multiple pieces of evidence at the scene and have turned them over to federal partners. These agencies will conduct forensic processes on those items, Barnes stated. Law enforcement is also combing the area near the building for any digital evidence, such as surveillance footage.

Anyone with information on this suspected arson is urged to call the Madison Area Crimestoppers at 608-266-6014.

possible arson at a pro-life building in madison
possible arson at a pro-life building in madison(Marcus Aarsvold)

WFA President Julaine Appling said that she never thought those who oppose the organization’s views would take things this far, adding that she does not feel safe in the building any longer.

“We’ve done nothing to warrant this. Nothing to warrant a direct threat because of our position on life,” she said. “That’s not the America I know. That’s not how we respond.”

The fire came just days after the leaked draft of a Supreme Court decision appeared to indicate the Justices were set to overturn the landmark Roe vs. Wade decision. The leak, which was first reported by Politico on Monday, has sparked protests around the country ever since.

In a statement released Sunday morning, MPD Chief Shon Barnes acknowledged the heated atmosphere that followed the document’s leak and condemned the apparent arson.

“Our department has and continues to support people being able to speak freely and openly about their beliefs,” he said. “But we feel that any acts of violence, including the destruction of property, do not aid in any cause.”

Barnes added that his department has reached out to federal authorities and MPD is conducting its investigation alongside them and the Madison Fire Department.

In its own report, MFD reported that firefighters had responded around 6 a.m. to the WFA office after receiving reports of flames coming from the offices. Firefighters managed to get the blaze under control quickly, the report said. No injuries were reported.

On Monday, Sen. Democratic senator Tammy Baldwin issued a statement via Twitter saying, “I fully reject this act of violence and vandalism, and I support the investigation by law enforcement to hold those responsible for these crimes accountable.”

A day earlier, Baldwin’s counterpart in the Senate, Ron Johnson retweeted pictures from the scene and wrote that “(t)his attack is abhorrent and should be condemned by all.”

Gov. Tony Evers also issued a statement around the same time as Johnson’s in which he condemned the incident and rejected using violence against someone with different viewpoints.

“Violence is not the way forward. Hurting others is never the answer,” he said.

Possible Arson at Pro-Life organization
Possible Arson at Pro-Life organization(Marcus Aarsvold)

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