A man in Columbia, Missouri has been charged with allegedly attempting to burn down a Planned Parenthood clinic last month, according to federal officials Monday.
Wesley Brian Kaster, 42, was arrested Saturday after a search of his car by investigators uncovered evidence connecting him to the fire at the Planned Parenthood Columbia Health Center, The Associated Press reports. No one was hurt in the incident, which occurred in the early morning hours of February 10. The fire was extinguished by the clinic’s sprinkler system, The Hill reports.
Kaster now faces a charge of using fire or an explosive to maliciously damage a federally-funded building, but this may change. In February, the FBI said it was investigating the fire as a potential hate crime.
“All I can say at this point is that it is an ongoing investigation and we are early in the process,” Don Ledford, a U.S Attorney’s Office spokesman said Monday. “A complaint is a temporary charge; this case will be presented to a federal grand jury in the near future, which could return an indictment with different or additional charges.”
Authorities indicate they believe Kaster broke the front door of the Planned Parenthood—Columbia Health Center and threw a “Molotov cocktail-type device inside.”
The device didn’t cause a fire, but authorities allege Kaster returned to the scene an hour later, carrying something in his hand. Surveillance footage showed smoke pouring from the video a short time later.
Firefighters found remnants of the Molotov cocktail along with two five-gallon buckets near spilled gasoline found inside the clinic.
Kaster has been assigned a public defender and his preliminary hearing is set for Monday.
In an affidavit filed along with the charging documents, FBI Curtis Bryant said surveillance video showed a minivan parked around 2:30 a.m. February 10 and the suspect, alleged to be Kaster, broke the clinic’s glass door. The suspect then placed what looked like two stacked five-gallon buckets. Then the suspect threw the Molotov cocktail through the door. Then after standing on the sidewalk for a while, he went back inside the building but then fled as two unidentified pedestrians approached.
The suspect returned around 4:00 a.m. and was carrying an “undiscernible” item and approached the building’s front door. Smoke began billowing out about a minute after the suspect fled, the documents say.
While Planned Parenthood is regularly targeted by anti-abortion activists, abortions make up only three percent of the services provided by this agency. Yet it and other organizations that provide these services were attacked with alarming regularity in 2017, notes the National Abortion Federation (NAF). Emboldened by the political environment, the percentage of trespassing, death threats/threats of harm by anti-abortion extremists nearly doubled, and incidents relating to obstruction rose from 580 in 2016 to over 1700 in 2017, NAF reports. The agency also reported an increase in hate mail, harassing phone calls, clinic invasions, as well as the first attempted bombing in a number of years.
In Colorado Springs, Colorado, three people died in a shooting at a Planned Parenthood in November 2016.
Federal funding for the organization has long been a divisive issue for Congressional Republicans, who have sought to cut all federal funds. Democrats have pushed to protect funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides healthcare for women. And as it stands, current federal law prohibits funding from being used for abortion.
The video below discusses the charges against Kaster.
Featured image by Tik Tok Top via YouTube video