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Biochemist Pleads Guilty to Attack on Wisconsin Pro-Life Group

DNA from a burrito matched evidence left at the scene of the firebombing.
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Biochemist Pleads Guilty to Attack on Wisconsin Pro-Life Group
Image: Alex Shur/Wisconsin State Journal via AP
The Wisconsin Family Action offices were set on fire in 2022.

A 29-year-old biochemist has pleaded guilty to firebombing a pro-life group’s headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin.

Hridindu Sankar Roychowdhury confessed to federal authorities that he threw two Molotov cocktails through the window of Wisconsin Family Action’s offices in May 2022, the week after the leak of a draft of the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

One of the firebombs—a Mason jar filled with flammable liquid—didn’t break. The other set a bookcase and one side of the pro-life group’s ground floor office on fire.

Roychowdhury, who identified himself on social media as an anarchist, said he also spray-painted the warning message left on the outside of the building. “If abortions aren’t safe,” it said, “then you aren’t either.”

The attack was one of more than 50 across the country targeting pro-life groups and pregnancy centers last summer. A decentralized terrorist organization named Jane’s Revenge claimed credit for many of the threatening messages, broken windows, and fires across the country, including the one in Wisconsin.

A “communiqué” released after the attack demanded “the disbanding of all anti-choice establishments, fake clinics, and violent anti-choice groups within the next thirty days.”

Jane’s Revenge claimed the “extreme tactics” were justified in part by historic attacks on abortion clinics—which once averaged about 10 bombings and arsons per year.

“We will not sit still while we are killed and forced into servitude,” the online message said. “We are forced to adopt the minimum military requirement for political struggle.”

Wisconsin Family Action is a pro-life advocacy group that focuses on state-level lobbying and elections. It is part of the Family Policy Council, affiliated with Focus on the Family and the Family Research Council, which had its offices in Washington, DC, attacked by an armed man planning to kill as many people as possible in 2012.

Julaine Appling, president of the Wisconsin pro-life group, said if anyone had been in the office when the Molotov cocktails were thrown through the window, they would have been hurt.

“We ought to be able to take different sides on issues without fearing for our lives,” she said.

Police had nothing, initially, connecting the attack to Roychowdhury, a biochemist who had just earned a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin–Madison with his research on high-throughput enzymatics. Law enforcement didn’t get a break in the case until nine months later, when an officer at the state capitol noticed a message spray-painted at an anti-police protest there that looked similar to the message left at the pro-life headquarters.

Reviewing security camera footage, police tracked the protestor to a white Toyota pickup. They traced the truck to Roychowdhury’s home in Madison and then started following him, court documents show.

In March 2023, an officer saw Roychowdhury throw away a fast-food bag in a public trash can. Inside, there was a half-eaten burrito. The DNA on the burrito matched DNA left on a broken window, the glass jars, and a black and silver lighter left at Wisconsin Family Action.

Roychowdhury was arrested later that month at Logan International Airport in Boston. He had a one-way ticket to Guatemala City, according to the US Department of Justice.

The biochemist has no known association with abortion rights groups. He grew up in New Mexico and moved to Wisconsin for graduate school. He started identifying as an anarchist on social media during Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd.

In August 2020, Roychowdhury tweeted that he wanted to see fires consume the country and 10,000 police officers killed, which he said “still couldn’t atone for what this world has done to black people.”

The following year, Roychowdhury urged anarchists to “keep lighting fires for George Floyd and every one murdered by the occupying colonial forces.”

A few months before the attack on the pro-life headquarters, Roychowdhury locked his social media accounts and took a position at the biotech firm Promega, where he specialized in using machine learning to guide enzymatic evolution.

He now faces 5 to 20 years in prison. His sentencing is scheduled for February 2024.

January/February
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