Vandals set a fire inside the Madison headquarters of the anti-abortion group Wisconsin Family Action late Saturday or early Sunday, an official with the group said.
Two group staff returned to their office at 2801 International Lane mid-morning Sunday to find shattered glass from a broken window covering a corner office riddled with burned books. The smell of smoke persisted hours after the fire — which damaged the corner office carpet and the wall beneath the window — was set.
The building was also hit with graffiti depicting a coded anti-police slogan and the phrase, “If abortions aren’t safe then you aren’t either.”
Julaine Appling, president of the lobbying and advocacy organization, said she and events coordinator Diane Westphall were getting ready for a Mother’s Day brunch in Watertown when a building staff member informed her of the break-in. A person on the way to the airport before dawn saw smoke rising from the building and called police, Appling said.
A Madison Police Department incident report states, “Flames were seen coming from the facility shortly after 6 a.m.” The report states, and Appling confirmed, that nobody was injured.
“What you’re going to see here is a direct threat against us,” Appling said of the attack, coming just days after a leaked U.S. Supreme Court opinion revealed a majority of the high court had agreed to overturn the landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion across the country. “Imagine if somebody had been in the office when this happened. They would have been hurt.”
Madison Police Department Chief Shon Barnes said the department alerted its federal partners and are investigation the arson with the Madison Fire Department.
“It appears a specific non-profit that supports anti-abortion measures was targeted,” he said in the statement.
Police spokesperson Stephanie Fryer confirmed arson investigators responded in the early morning and “are actively working this case at this time.”
“This is the local manifestation of the anger and the lack of tolerance from the pro-abortion people toward those of us who are pro-life,” said Appling, who told the Wisconsin State Journal that law enforcement found remnants of at least one Molotov cocktail. Police called it an arson investigation.
A Molotov cocktail, which did not ignite, was thrown inside the building, according to police. It also appears a separate fire was started in response, police said.
Democratic Gov. Tony Evers said on Twitter: “We condemn violence and hatred in all forms, including the actions at Wisconsin Family Action in Madison last night. 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.”
Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said she understands that people are afraid and angry in the wake of the leaked draft but said violence isn’t an acceptable response.
“Madison believes strongly in the right to free speech, but it must be exercised nonviolently by all sides in this increasingly contentious debate,” she continued.
Rhodes-Conway also pointed out that pro-abortion rights groups have also been targeted, and called for Congress to pass a bill codifying the protections guaranteed under Roe v. Wade.
In 2012, an anti-abortion activist threw a fire bomb inside Planned Parenthood’s Appleton location. The perpetrator, an anti-abortion rights activist, was sentenced to 11 years in prison. The location closed a few years later, after a mass shooting took place in a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.
“This attack is abhorrent and should be condemned by all,” Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson said.
Republican gubernatorial candidate and former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch slammed the attack, saying “The radicals are trying to stop us but they know we won’t be intimidated from defending life.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate Kevin Nicholson added, “Disgusting behavior from the left.” Candidate Tim Michels called on Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul to “immediately issue unequivocal statements that this will not be tolerated, and offenders will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
From across the aisle, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tom Nelson said, “I am committed to protecting women’s rights — but we must do it the right way. Violence and destruction are not the answer. I’m glad no one was hurt.”
Barnes said the police department will provide an update on the case Monday at 2 p.m.
This is a developing story; check back for updates.