Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi clinic in Memphis. (Photo courtesy of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi.)
Two weeks after traveling to the U.S. Capitol to participate in the Jan. 6 insurrection, a Tennessee man fired into the door of a Planned Parenthood clinic under construction in Knoxville. Less than a year later, he burned the clinic down.
Federal court documents unsealed Monday identify Mark Thomas Reno as the man authorities say is responsible for targeting the Knoxville Health Center.
Reno was indicted earlier this year on charges he fired shots at the John J. Duncan Federal office building in downtown Knoxville on July 3. His connection to the violence against the reproductive health clinic was not made public at the time.
When politicians use hateful rhetoric against abortion providers and support extreme laws, like the total abortion ban we have in Tennessee, it shouldn't surprise us that some people believe real world violence is justified. Fires need fuel and politicians are all too eager to provide it.
– Ashley Coffield, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi
Reno died Aug. 15 after suffering a “medical episode” in jail, court records show. He was 63.
Ashley Coffield, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, on Monday thanked federal law enforcement agencies and the Knoxville Fire Department for their work investigating the incidents.
Coffield also drew a line from violent rhetoric by elected leaders to the acts of violence that, in this instance, targeted a clinic providing abortions and reproductive health care.
“The man who was arrested in this case is not the only one who holds responsibility,” Coffield said. “When politicians use hateful rhetoric against abortion providers and support extreme laws, like the total abortion ban we have in Tennessee, it shouldn’t surprise us that some people believe real world violence is justified. Fires need fuel and politicians are all too eager to provide it.”
No staff or patients were at the clinic when the attacks occurred. The Jan. 22, 2021 shooting, on the 48th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, occurred just before 6 a.m., before the clinic opened. Reno fired a shotgun from the driver’s seat of his car into the front entrance, shattering a glass door, according to court records .
On Dec. 31, Reno set fire to the clinic, destroying it, federal authorities said. The clinic at the time was under construction, with no staff or patients present. A crime scene analysis determined the fire was set with gasoline.
Surveillance footage helped authorities trace a red pick-up truck at the scene to Reno. An FBI search warrant of Reno’s home and two vehicles, including a red GMC Sierra, recovered a red gasoline container. In his home, authorities found two books containing instructions on how to make an IED, or improvised explosive device. A search of Reno’s cell phone uncovered a recent photograph of the clinic, a screenshot between “unknown individuals over a social media application discussing the arson,” and an internet search for Planned Parenthood facilities, court records said.
The search of Reno’s phone also uncovered a message to an individual not identified in court records. The message included a link to a story about the arson and a message that said, “we were busy in THE CULT OF JESUS.”
Reno returned to the clinic on April 26 last year during a public demonstration, and his conversation with a plain-clothed Knoxville police officer, who did not identify himself to Reno, was captured on secretly recorded audio.
“Reno made several statements about the destruction of the Center and a plan to burn the Center when reconstruction begins,” court records said.
During the same conversation Reno indicated he had a plan to burn down a separate clinic, the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, and “discussed destroying other infrastructure targets to include federal buildings,” court records said.
On July 3 of this year, Reno fired shots into the John J. Duncan Federal Building, court records said. By then, law enforcement had secretly placed a tracking device in Reno’s car.
Reno was arrested July 18. A week later he was indicted by a federal grand jury on one count of destruction of property.
Coffield, in a video press conference with reporters on Monday, lobbed criticism specifically at Gov. Bill Lee, who has yet to publicly comment on the violence at the Knoxville clinic last year.
“The governor has not once condemned this violence, not against our health center and not against the federal building that was also attacked in Knoxville,” she said. “He says he is satisfied with the state’s abortion law knowing that pregnant people are traveling out of state for basic lifesaving healthcare.”
“If this feels like a failure of leadership, we can send a message at the ballot box on Nov. 8,” she said.
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