Bus driver charged in attack on Madera Planned Parenthood
MADERA — A Chowchilla school bus driver has been charged with firebombing a Planned Parenthood office here last September, and authorities said Thursday he also is responsible for vandalism and menacing signs left at the city’s Islamic center.
Donny Eugene Mower, 37, of Madera, was arrested Wednesday on federal charges of attacking a reproductive health clinic. If convicted, he faces a minimum of five years in prison.
The September firebombing came several weeks after someone threw a brick at the Madera Islamic Center and left signs there, including one that read, “Wake up America, the enemy is here.”
An entity calling itself the “American Nationalist Brotherhood” took credit for both incidents, but U.S. Attorney Ben Wagner said Mower is its only member. Wagner said his office is determining whether also to prosecute Mower for hate crimes.
“I am here to assure members of the mosque that there is nothing to fear,” Wagner said at a news conference at the Islamic Center. He was joined by members of the Islamic community, Planned Parenthood representatives and law enforcement officials.
Madera County Sheriff John Anderson called the case “a crime we’re not going to stand for in Madera County.”
Anderson said Mower left numerous signs throughout the Madera area and wrote a letter to Anderson asking the sheriff to join American Nationalist Brotherhood in its fight against Muslims, homosexuals, abortion centers and drug dealers.
Anderson asked the FBI to take the lead in solving the case. But it was sheriff’s crime scene investigator Josefina Roderick who found a critical clue — a fingerprint on one of the signs.
The state Department of Justice matched the print to Mower, who was fingerprinted for a job as a bus driver with the Chowchilla Union High School District.
District Superintendent Ron Seals said Mower was hired in 2005 as the lead custodian and relief bus driver. He said Mower was a good employee. But Seals knew Mower was under investigation because the FBI alerted him. The bureau took possession of a computer that Mower used, Seals added.
When Mower was initially confronted by the FBI on Jan. 12, he admitted that he had typed and distributed more than 50 letters and signs relating to the brotherhood, according to a criminal complaint. He said he placed signs at the Islamic center and Planned Parenthood, but denied throwing the brick at the Islamic center or firebombing the clinic.
When the FBI questioned him again on Jan. 19, Mower once again denied involvement in the firebomb attack. Mower told an agent that he was working with a “buddy,” whom he would not identify.
Then on Jan. 21, Mower contacted agents and said he acted alone and firebombed the clinic and threw the brick, the complaint says.
Mower made a brief appearance Thursday afternoon in federal court in Fresno. U.S. Magistrate Judge Dennis Beck explained the charges, appointed Assistant Federal Defender Victor Chavez to represent Mower and ordered him held in the Fresno County Jail pending a detention hearing, which is scheduled for this morning. Mower did not enter a plea, and Beck set a preliminary hearing for March 24.
Patsy Montgomery, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood, said she was not surprised by the connection between her organization and the Islamic center.
“In the past, when people were arrested for hate crimes against Planned Parenthood, there has been some connection with white supremacist groups,” she said. Montgomery said that prior to the firebomb attack, the office received warnings from the American Nationalist Brotherhood.
“We had been getting threats. We just kept it quiet,” she said.
Mower had the word “peckerwood” — the name of a white supremacist gang — tattooed across his lower back, but Wagner said investigators do not have evidence that he is a gang member.
Basim Elkarra, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Sacramento, attended the news conference and called on political leaders to choose their words more carefully. He said inflamed rhetoric could provoke such attacks. He noted the incidents at the Islamic center coincided with protests about a proposed Islamic center near the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York City. He added that the current House hearings on radical Islam also may spark violence.
Abdullah Salem, the director of Madera’s Islamic center, said he was happy that the case was solved but added he still worried about the motivations of the perpetrator.
“We feel bad for people who feel hatred,” he said. “If they understood Islam, they would not attack mosques — or churches or synagogues.”
Original post: Bus driver charged in attack on Madera Planned Parenthood