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(LifeSiteNews) — In the summer of 2021, Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi (PPTNM) began a $2M renovation of their facility in a residential neighborhood of Knoxville, Tennessee. The renovation included a new addition which doubled the size of the center from 4000 to 8000 square feet. Because the new addition was under construction, the door openings were blocked with plywood, but the windows were merely covered with plastic sheeting.

Early on the morning of December 31, 2021, an arsonist climbed through an unsecured window of the new addition and made his way to an exam room in the rear of the building. He poured gasoline around the area, and then ignited a fire which tore through the building. He escaped by the same window through which he had entered.

When firefighters arrived, they found all the doors locked, so they had to break in to fight the fire. They kept the fire from spreading to nearby homes, but the Planned Parenthood building was completely destroyed. It was insured by AXA XL Insurance.

I was on vacation in Florida with my family when I first heard about the fire on New Year’s Day A friend texted me a link to a local news piece. I texted back, “Oh my word. I pray it wasn’t arson…”

Whether it was arson or a construction accident, I knew this would be a national story. I contacted an editor at LifeSiteNews with whom I had worked in the past, and I volunteered to cover the story. Indeed, the fire was covered by every media outlet in the country, from The Tennessee Star to The New York Times.

Within days, the Knoxville Fire Department announced that it was arson.

Planned Parenthood’s security had cameras captured the arsonist, his truck, and the fire. The arsonist appeared to be a tall, thin man. He drove a red GMC Sierra crew-cab pick-up truck manufactured sometime in the mid 2000s. The truck had one headlight out—the one on the driver’s side.

Several weeks later, Tennessee Right to Life held its annual march on January 23, 2022. Arson investigators were among the crowd looking for suspects. An investigator for the Knoxville Fire Department struck up a conversation with a man named Mark Reno, because Reno drove a red 2006 GMC Sierra. Reno told the investigator that he was a member of Church Militant Resistance, an action arm of the Catholic media outlet Church Militant. He also told the investigator that the neighborhood was a better place since the Planned Parenthood center had burned down.

On April 26, 2022, the same KFD investigator engaged Reno again at another pro-life gathering near the Planned Parenthood property. This time, the investigator wore an audio-video recording device and surreptitiously recorded Reno on FBI equipment. During his conversation with the KFD investigator, Reno made brash, obscenity-laced statements threatening federal institutions and law enforcement. He also admitted attending the protest at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Sometime after this conversation, the Knoxville Fire Department lost interest in Reno as a suspect in the Planned Parenthood arson. However, the FBI continued to investigate Reno because of his participation in the protest at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. They reviewed video from that fateful day, but they could find no evidence that Reno had ever entered the Capitol building. Nevertheless, the FBI used the April 26 recording to secure court authorization to surveil Reno, and they placed tracking devices on his red GMC Sierra pick-up and his black Ford Fusion sedan.

An FBI Agent named Thomas Calhoon twice interviewed a priest of Holy Ghost Catholic Church. Calhoon asked the priest questions about Reno, who was a member of the parish. The priest sensed that Agent Calhoon already had a theory and was merely searching for data to support it. (I learned this from the priest himself.)

Mark Reno was not an East Tennessee native. He and his wife had moved here from Albuquerque, New Mexico, in March of 2020. An avid fisherman, Reno was planning to enjoy his retirement outdoors. He had maps of local lakes and rivers hanging in his home and garage. His children and grandchildren had also moved from New Mexico to east Tennessee around the same time.

This brings us to the summer of 2022. On June 24, the Supreme Court rendered its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Because of trigger laws already in place, this decision effectively rendered all abortion illegal in Tennessee. Our city’s last remaining abortion clinic, the Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health, closed its doors two months later, after 47 years in operation. Planned Parenthood likely would have suffered the same fate, had it remained open. And Planned Parenthood could not have sold their building for anything close to what they had invested in it, because of its residential location and limited parking.

Then, on July 18, 2022, the FBI arrested Mark Reno at his home in Jefferson City, Tennessee, on charges that he fired shots at the John J. Duncan federal building on the corner of Locust Street and Cumberland Avenue. The FBI alleged that on Sunday, July 3, Reno had left Holy Ghost Catholic Church after Mass, drove downtown, and used a .22 caliber rifle to shoot three windows of the Duncan building from his car while driving south on Locust Street.

RELATED: New Knoxville Planned Parenthood security video casts doubt on FBI case against pro-lifer

Although the security guard heard a loud noise when the windows broke, no one else reported gunshots in the area. No bullets or shells were ever recovered from the scene. All damaged windows were double-paned. The exterior pane had a discernable point of impact from which cracks radiated, but the inner panes were undamaged. The total value of the damage was $5440.

No firearm owned by Reno was ever linked to physical evidence at the scene. All the FBI’s evidence against Reno pertained exclusively to his black Ford Fusion sedan. Citing tracker data, street cameras, and building security video, the FBI alleged that Reno was driving his sedan south on Locust Street, adjacent to the Duncan building, precisely when the windows were broken and that he drove away immediately afterward. The FBI further alleged that security video showed that “an object pointing in the direction of the damaged lobby windows was briefly extended and then retracted through the driver’s side window” of Reno’s car.

Reno’s Ford Fusion sedan was the only physical evidence allegedly linking him to the crime scene, but the FBI did not seize this vehicle when they arrested him in July. The FBI just left it at his residence, as if they never intended to prosecute him.

Reno was indicted by a grand jury on July 26, 2022. We can surmise the government’s case from its evidence list. The evidence list included the surreptitious April 26 recording of Reno and many photos of his firearms and ammunition. The government’s case was essentially this: By his own admission, he was at the riots on January 6, 2021, and he has made threatening statements against federal institutions and personnel; we have his car near the building at the time of the damage, and he had a lot of guns and ammo. That would have been enough for any grand jury. Notably lacking from the evidence list, however, was anything from the actual crime scene—any photographs of the damaged windows or any security video, especially the video (or still images taken therefrom) showing an object “briefly extended and then retracted through the driver’s side window” of Reno’s car.

Though he had no recent criminal history, Reno was denied bail and incarcerated at the Laurel County Correctional Center in London, Kentucky.

RELATED: FBI claims a Catholic pro-lifer shot at a federal building. Where’s the proof?

Although he was in reasonably good health when he was arrested on July 18, Reno died 28 days later on August 15, 2022. He was only 63 years old. While incarcerated, he received none of his prescribed medications. He sent a message to his daughter: “I think I’m going to die in here.” When prison guards found him unresponsive, they transferred him to a local hospital. His family arrived at the hospital just after he expired. They were told that he bled to death from an ulcer, but they never received an autopsy report.

Meanwhile, I regularly pestered the Knoxville Fire Department for updates on the Planned Parenthood arson investigation. (They never had any.) I spoke to assistant chief Mark Wilbanks on September 29, 2022. At that time, he told me they had no suspects and hadn’t had any leads since June.

Yet even as Wilbanks and I spoke, the FBI was moving to name Mark Reno as the Planned Parenthood arsonist.

On the morning of November 1, 2022, my phone lit up with messages: The FBI had named a suspect in the Planned Parenthood arson. I immediately called Wilbanks at the Knoxville Fire Department. Having just heard from him that they had no suspects, I asked, “Does this accusation surprise you?”

“Yes,” he said.

I pressed further, “Did this accusation come from the Knoxville Fire Department?”

“No,” he answered.

No one at the Knoxville Fire Department has taken my calls since that day.

Because Reno was dead, the FBI made its accusations against him by means of an affidavit written by FBI Agent Thomas Calhoon – the same agent who had interviewed the priest at Holy Ghost Catholic Church. The nominal purpose of the affidavit, dated September 13, 2022, was to justify a warrant for civil asset forfeiture of Reno’s 2012 Ford Fusion sedan, his red 2006 GMC Sierra pick-up, and the firearm he allegedly used to shoot at the Duncan building. (Bizarre fact: The FBI already had the firearm.) However, the true purpose of the affidavit was for the FBI to lay out its case against Mark Reno in an official court record.

FBI Agent Calhoon made false statements about crucial evidence in his affidavit. Calhoon twice stated that the arsonist drove away from the scene without headlights. But the Planned Parenthood security footage showed that the arsonist always drove with headlights on, but one headlight was out.

There’s more. Agent Calhoon wrote that in the conversation recorded by the KFD investigator on April 26, 2022, Reno had indicated that “he had conducted surveillance on the remaining clinic (Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health) and had developed a plan to burn this clinic.” Here’s the excerpt from Calhoon’s affidavit:

Excerpt from affidavit submitted to U.S. District Court (FBI Agent Thomas Calhoon)

I have not yet heard this April 26 recording for myself, but there is strong circumstantial evidence that it does not capture Mark Reno saying anything about burning abortion clinics.

If Reno had really said that he was planning to burn Knoxville’s last abortion clinic, this would have been absolutely extraordinary. Unforgettable. No one who heard this recording could fail to note that a white Catholic man openly said he was planning to burn an abortion clinic. But many people have heard this recording, and none of them ever noted this sort of talk.

First, the KFD investigator who made the recording heard it, but KFD later dismissed Reno as an arson suspect.

Another FBI agent heard it; she cited the April 26 recording in her affidavit to justify charging Reno with shooting at the Duncan building. If she heard Reno talking about burning down an abortion clinic, she didn’t think it was worth mentioning to justify his arrest.

The federal government introduced the April 26 recording as evidence in Reno’s detention hearing (for the charge of shooting at the Duncan building). Magistrate Judge Jill McCook released a statement supporting the decision to detain Reno until his trial. This statement reviewed all the reasons why Reno was a threat to the community and a flight risk, yet there is no mention of Reno planning to burn an abortion clinic. Surely, if the judge had heard Reno say anything of this sort on the recording, she would have mentioned it among the other reasons for his detention.    

Finally, Reno’s family were in court for the detention hearing at which the April 26 recording was played. None of them recalled hearing him talk about burning abortion clinics.

Perhaps no one else noted such an extraordinary statement because he never said it. And if Reno didn’t say it, then Calhoon contrived it.

In fact, Reno wasn’t the arsonist. He didn’t enter the building through a window, and he didn’t set the fire. A side-by-side comparison between the arsonist captured by Planned Parenthood’s security cameras and a profile photo of Mark Reno provided to me by his family clearly exonerates Reno.

Now, everything I have relayed to this point in the story happened prior to November 2, 2022. Since then, I have been working diligently to get records.

After getting the runaround for months from the City of Knoxville and the FBI, I retained a local attorney with expertise in getting public records, Mr. Adam Strachn.

Through counsel, I petitioned the City of Knoxville for their records. This action yielded the Planned Parenthood security videos, the fire department’s final report on the arson, hundreds of photographs of the burned structure, the 911 call report, and the 911 call recordings. We have closed out our case against the City of Knoxville.

I met with the family of Mark Reno at Einstein Brothers Bagels on Campbell Station Road. We talked for hours as old friends, though we had just met. I listened to their story, and they gave me photographs of Reno for comparison with the security footage of the arsonist.

I made two FOIA requests to the FBI. The first was for the April 26, 2022, recording of Mark Reno. Incredibly, the FBI denied my request on the grounds that releasing it would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.” This would be hilarious if it weren’t deadly serious. The FBI publicly accused Mark Reno of arson after he was dead, but they denied my request for supporting evidence on the grounds that it would violate his privacy.

I appealed the denial; the FBI denied my appeal on the same grounds.

On the advice of counsel, I made a second FOIA request for all records related to either the Planned Parenthood arson OR Mark Reno. The FBI nominally approved this request, but they have not yet published a single responsive record. I asked our U.S. Representative, Mr. Tim Burchett, for help in this matter, and his office sent a formal query to the FBI. In response, the acting FBI Deputy Assistant Director, James Klipfer, stated: “The request’s estimated date of completion is April 2026.” That’s more than two years from now.

Thus, on January 31, 2024, I sued the FBI for satisfaction of my record requests. As of this writing, we are holding for the FBI’s formal response.

So this is where we are today. A newly renovated, multi-million dollar Planned Parenthood clinic was destroyed by arson six months before abortion was outlawed in Tennessee. The FBI accused a pro-life Catholic man of a crime he didn’t commit, but only after the man had died in a federal prison under mysterious circumstances. The FBI could dispel obvious conspiracy theories by releasing their records, but they have refused to do so. Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood is rebuilding a new, smaller building on the same property. They are planning to re-open this summer.

The Knoxville Fire Department should come forward with its reasons for dismissing Reno as a suspect in the Planned Parenthood arson. The FBI should immediately publish all records related to this crime, but especially the surreptitious recording of Mark Reno made on April 26, 2022. I want to know how the FBI got it wrong, naming Reno as the arsonist, and I want to know what caused his death. And I still want to know who really burned down Knoxville’s Planned Parenthood.

Mark Reno, left, genuflecting before a Eucharistic procession in Knoxville