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Planned Parenthood building ablaze in Knoxville, TennesseeYouTube/Screenshot

News Analysis

(LifeSiteNews) — A man who died in police custody this summer has been accused of burning down an abortion clinic in Tennessee last year.

On November 1, 2022, the United States Department of Justice (DoJ) announced that recently unsealed court documents allege that Mark Reno deliberately set the fire which destroyed the renovated Knoxville Planned Parenthood Center in Knoxville, Tennessee on December 31, 2021.

Mark Reno was arrested by the U.S. Marshals on July 18, 2022, on charges related to a shooting at the John J. Duncan Federal Office Building in Knoxville, Tennessee. Reno remained in custody until he died on August 15, 2022 after suffering a medical episode on August 9, 2022.

The Knoxville Fire Department (KFD) did not consider Mark Reno a suspect in the Planned Parenthood Fire. Since January 5, LifeSiteNews has spoken regularly with Mark Wilbanks, Assistant Chief for the Knoxville Fire Department.

Shortly after the fire, Wilbanks told LifeSiteNews that KFD had determined that the fire had begun from inside the Center. On September 29, Wilbanks told LifeSiteNews that KFD had no suspects in the case, and that KFD had not had any active leads since June of 2022. Wilbanks further stated that he frequently asked KFD investigators for updates on the progress of the investigation.

On the morning of November 1, Wilbanks told LifeSiteNews that he was surprised by the allegations contained in the DoJ press release that day. The suggestion that Reno was responsible did not come from the Knoxville Fire Department.

On October 31, the U.S. District Court (Eastern District of Tennessee at Knoxville) ordered the release of an affidavit made pursuant to a warrant to seize property belonging to Reno. The affidavit was made by a special agent for the FBI and filed with the court on September 26, 2022, approximately six weeks after Reno’s death.

The September 26 FBI affidavit alleges that Reno set fire to the Planned Parenthood Center, and that he traveled to and from the center that morning in his 2006 red GMC Sierra pick-up truck. The evidence for the allegation includes data and material gathered during a search of Reno’s property on July 18 when he was arrested for shooting the Knoxville Federal Office Building.

In the July 18 search, FBI agents recovered a gasoline container and seven matchbooks from Reno’s truck. FBI agents also found a text message on Reno’s cell phone in which Reno sent another individual a link to a news article about the Planned Parenthood fire followed by a message “we were busy in THE CULT OF JESUS.”

READ: Planned Parenthood abortion center in Tennessee set ablaze on purpose, fire dpt. finds

The September 26 affidavit further describes a conversation with an undercover KFD investigator, surreptitiously recorded on April 26, 2022:

“During the conversation, Reno made several statements about the destruction of the Center and a plan to burn the Center when reconstruction began. Reno also indicated that he had conducted surveillance on the remaining clinic (Knoxville Center for Reproductive Health) and had developed a plan to burn this clinic.”

Finally, the September 26 affidavit asserts that a member of Reno’s family identified Reno and his vehicle from screenshot images of the arsonist and vehicle taken from surveillance video although it isn’t clear when the family member made the identification.

Pursuant to the warrant for Reno’s arrest on July 18, another FBI special agent filed an affidavit on July 15 with the same court. This July 15 FBI affidavit does not assert any connection between Reno and the Planned Parenthood fire. The July 15 affidavit does mention the same conversation recorded on April 26, but describes it differently, making no mention of any abortion center:

“During the video and audio recorded statement on April 26, 2022, which I have reviewed, RENO made a number of statements about identifying targets and destroying property, including government buildings. In substance and in part, RENO told Officer-1: ‘I mean, we have plenty of targets… there should be no Department of Education… federally speaking, all education is done by the states so why the Feds in on it at all. Department of uh, Energy – don’t need it… I mean, I me—I mean, the government’s here for de—for defense, roads, and privacy of communication. …that’s all that it’s… entitled to do in the constitution… it’s not entitled to do anything else… get rid of it all… [expletive]. It ain’t gonna happen… How we gonna—well you’re not gonna get the genie in the bottle… You’re not getting the genie back in the bottle… So—it’s [expletive] war… it’s war to the end now.’

READ: FBI could be targeting Americans with covert action, but we have no way of knowing

“During the same surreptitiously recorded conversation on April 26, 2022, Reno also admitted to being at the attack on the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021, and using multiple tactics to avoid detection, to include a fake walking cane, not bringing his phone, and wearing glasses.”

Major questions remain regarding Reno’s involvement in the Planned Parenthood fire. Why didn’t KFD consider Reno a suspect, especially if an investigator for KFD recorded the April 26 conversation as described in the September 26 FBI affidavit? How did Reno gain access to the inside of the building, where KFD investigators believe the fire began?

After his arrest on July 18, did FBI agents interview Reno about the Planned Parenthood fire? Did they visit him to see if his appearance was a reasonable match to surveillance video from the night of the fire?