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Washington State Clinic Fire-Bombed Days After Anti-abortion Demonstration

Investigators are hoping to recover suspect-video images this week from a server removed from the charred interior of a Planned Parenthood clinic fire-bombed on Friday in Pullman, Wash.

The arson at the small Eastern Washington clinic is the first significant act of violence since the release of inflammatory videos in July by a group linked to anti-abortion extremists. There were smaller arsons on July 19 at a clinic in Aurora, Ill., and on Aug. 1 involving a vehicle parked at a facility under construction in New Orleans.

David S. Cohen, a law professor at Drexel University and an expert in anti-abortion terrorism, told Hatewatch today that he sees a clear connection between the arson violence and the release of the videos. Providers identified in the videos have received death threats and on-line harassment, he said.

In releasing what some describe as deceptively edited videos, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accused Planned Parenthood of illegally selling “body parts from aborted fetuses.”  Dawn Laguens, the executive vice president of Planned Parenthood, told Newsweek that there was “fraud and [a] conspiracy behind” the videos. Last week, the Southern Poverty Law Center released a short report on the extremists behind CMP.

Those videos sparked a new wave of anti-abortion protests throughout the United States, including an Aug. 22 demonstration by 500 protesters outside the clinic in Pullman, home of Washington State University. Demonstrators demanded an end to federal funding of Planned Parenthood.

Nearly two weeks after that demonstration, an arsonist broke out a window at the clinic about 3:30 a.m. on Sept. 4 and threw a flammable object into the building, Tennant said. He declined to describe the device or say if it was a Molotov cocktail.

No suspects have been identified in the overnight arson that rendered the 3-year-old building uninhabitable, causing significant interior damage, Pullman Police Commander Chris Tennant told Hatewatch today.

Asked if security cameras captured images of the arsonist, Tennant said investigators are hoping to recover surveillance photos.  “There are no images available at this point,” he said.

Security cameras outside the building were connected to a server located inside the offices heavily damaged by the fire, the police official said. 

Planned Parenthood officials and investigators were unable to remotely download security images from the server, Tennant said. Computer forensics experts are working to recover the digital surveillance images.

Planned Parenthood officials did not return calls today seeking comment. They have told media outlets that they hope to open a substitute, satellite office soon. Karl Eastlund, the chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, issued a statement immediately after the arson.

 “This is an appalling act of violence towards Planned Parenthood, but unfortunately a predictable ripple effect from the false and incendiary attacks that fuel violence from extremists,” Eastlund said.

Bob Ferguson, the Washington State Attorney General, issued a statement over the weekend, calling the fire-bombing a “cowardly, reckless and criminal act of intimidation and public endangerment.”

“This act of violence has no place in a free society,” Ferguson said.

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