No suspects in arson of Madison anti-abortion group, police say

By: - May 10, 2022 5:58 am

Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes gives an update on the investigation of an arson at the Madison offices of Wisconsin Family Action. (Screenshot | City of Madison)

Madison police and federal investigators said in a Monday afternoon press conference that they don’t have any suspects in the arson of the Madison offices of Wisconsin Family Action, an anti-abortion advocacy group. Officials said they are still analyzing forensic and video evidence of the event, which occurred early Sunday morning. 

On Sunday, two molotov cocktails were thrown through the first floor office window and several messages were spray painted on the outer walls, including anti-police slogans and the phrase “if abortions aren’t safe then you aren’t either.”

A small fire was started in the office. Madison Police Chief Shon Barnes said Monday that the fire department was able to put out the fire within five minutes of arriving on the scene. 

Barnes and FBI officials said that the incident was being investigated as an attack on the First Amendment rights of Wisconsin Family Action. 

The event occurred just days after a draft opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court leaked, showing the court’s conservative majority intends to overturn Roe V. Wade, the 1973 court decision that guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion. 

“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. “And 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.”

Following the incident, which occurred prior to 6 a.m. on a weekend and resulted in zero injuries, Wisconsin Family Action President Julaine Appling said it was a “direct threat” against the group. 

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and numerous other Democrats criticized the arson, saying violence isn’t an appropriate response to political disagreements. 

“We condemn violence and hatred in all forms, including the actions at Wisconsin Family Action in Madison last night,” Evers said on Twitter. “We reject violence against any person for disagreeing with another’s view … We will work against overturning Roe and attacks on reproductive rights by leading with empathy and compassion. We will defend what we believe in with our words and our voices — in the streets, in halls of government, and at the ballot box. In Wisconsin, we must lead by example.”

Nevertheless, Republican officials and organizations from across Wisconsin and the country expressed outrage at the incident and the perceived lack of condemnation from Democrats. 

“Biden’s refusal to denounce left-wing violence and intimidation is dangerous and ensures it will not stop,” Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, said in a statement. “These far-left radicals know they have permission from Biden and Democrats to commit violence against pro-life organizations, harass churchgoers, and threaten and obstruct the Supreme Court. Biden and Democrats are responsible as long as they remain silent.” 

After the incident, Appling said she had never threatened anyone in her work against abortion rights. 

“I’ve been doing this for 25 years,” Appling told the Capital Times. “A lot of people disagree with me on a lot of issues. And I disagree with them. But I’ve not broken into their office, I’ve not threatened them bodily, I’ve not threatened their families or anything like that. We disagree. It’s OK. We should be able to put our positions out publicly.”

In 2012, a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Appleton was bombed by an anti-abortion activist and in 2016 the clinic was closed following a shooting at a clinic in Colorado with Planned Parenthood officials saying it was too expensive to provide adequate security for patients and staff at the Appleton facility. 

Appling celebrated the closure. 

“Any time we keep a Planned Parenthood facility shuttered, it’s in the best interest of women in the area,” she said.

The National Abortion Federation, which tracks attacks against abortion providers, has recorded more than 13,000 incidents of violence against providers since 1977.


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Henry Redman
Henry Redman

Henry Redman is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner who focuses on covering Wisconsin's towns and rural areas. He previously covered crime and courts at the Daily Jefferson County Union. A lifelong Midwesterner, he was born in Cleveland, Ohio and graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a degree in journalism in May 2019.