It was almost 3 a.m. on Friday when a young Delaware man crossed the street and approached a rectangular building with a bright blue banner pinned to its stucco facade declaring, “Health Care Happens Here,” in bold white lettering.
On Monday, federal prosecutors charged 18-year-old Samuel James Gulick with three crimes connected to the Newark, Del., arson and vandalism. He had been arrested by FBI agents on Saturday after federal officers traced the Toyota to Gulick’s family home in Middletown, Del., according to a criminal complaint.
Investigators this week found links to far-right extremism on Gulick’s social media accounts that go beyond antiabortion fervor. An FBI agent investigating the crime said they discovered Gulick’s personal Instagram page, which was flooded with “strong antiabortion ideology,” including several posts comparing the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Roe v. Wade to the genocidal policies enacted by the Nazis in the Holocaust. On Tuesday, an archived version of Gulick’s Instagram account surfaced showing references to other extreme ideologies, posts about guns and veiled threats against abortion providers, according to BuzzFeed News.
In one post that compared Democrats who support access to abortion to Nazis, Gulick suggested murder: “When will we start shooting? Its about time we kill these genocidal demons.”
Before throwing the firebomb at the reproductive health clinic, Gulick allegedly pulled a tube of red spray paint from a plastic bag and scrawled the words, “Deus Vult” in a clumsy, capitalized script. On each side of the Latin phrase for “God wills it,” he crudely drew two religion-linked symbols, a Marian Cross on the left and a Chi Rho on the right.
Gulick’s Instagram bio also included the “Deus Vult” phrase he allegedly painted on the Planned Parenthood clinic. The Latin slogan was a battle cry used during the Crusades that has been linked to far-right activists and white supremacists who co-opted the phrase to hint at their fantasies about a religious war between Christians and Muslims.
That phrase and Crusades-linked imagery appeared at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in 2017. Those symbols have also been used by supporters of a newer far-right movement growing online and on college campuses known as “America First” or “Groyper Army,” a reference to a meme called “Groyper,” which is associated with the alt-right symbol Pepe the Frog.
Medieval scholars have denounced the use of Crusades-linked imagery by white supremacists, saying the extremists are misrepresenting history to spread propaganda.
“By using imagined medieval symbols, or names drawn from medieval terminology, they create a fantasy of a pure, white Europe that bears no relationship to reality,” members of the Medieval Academy said in a statement after the “Unite the Right” rally. “This fantasy not only hurts people in the present, it also distorts the past.”
The arrest in Delaware comes months after federal officials apprehended another 18-year-old in Ohio for targeting a Planned Parenthood in August. FBI agents seized 15 rifles, 10 semiautomatic pistols and 10,000 rounds of ammunition from Justin Olsen, who had posted similar far-right memes using the screen name “ArmyOfChrist.” His posts included nods to a Christian war against Muslims, “Antifa,” feminists, leftists and others.
Both Gulick and Olsen shared posts threatening or deriding members of the LGBTQ community, women and liberals. They also appeared fascinated with the deadly FBI raids at Waco, Tex., and Ruby Ridge near Naples, Idaho, which have become rallying points for members of the sovereign citizen movement and several militias affiliated with the Patriot movement. Both men also joked in posts about killing federal law enforcement agents.
A Planned Parenthood employee eventually discovered the damage Gulick had left behind hours before. The fire put itself out in under a minute, but left the wall surrounding the window burned and the glass shattered. The red graffiti marred the side of the clinic facing the street.
“The safety of patients and staff is our top priority, and Planned Parenthood of Delaware has strong measures in place to ensure that our health centers are safe, supportive, welcoming environments for all people to get the high-quality health care they need,” Ruth Lytle-Barnaby, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Delaware, said in a statement Tuesday.
The Newark clinic sits on the same corner as a building used by the University of Delaware and just blocks from the college’s main campus. If the fire had caught and spread, it could have ignited a student housing complex, Lytle-Barnaby told BuzzFeed News. She said she has noticed the extremists who harass her Planned Parenthood clinic online have been getting younger, more hateful and increasingly obsessed with eugenics.
Planned Parenthood of Delaware was already familiar with some of the extremist views Gulick repeated on Instagram as early as last March, when a rabbi penned a blog post analyzing the tendency for some zealots to compare abortion to the Holocaust.
The growing vitriol spilled off the computer screen and onto the side of the clinic’s walls when Gulick drove up armed with spray paint and an explosive on Friday.
“It was determined to be an act of domestic terrorism,” Lytle-Barnaby said.