Nearly 29 years ago, a Northern Kentucky man made headlines for planting bombs and setting fires to abortion clinics — and calling himself a “freedom fighter."
John Allen Brockhoeft, born and raised in Kenton County, proudly confessed to setting fire to a Planned Parenthood, a women’s health center and plotting to bomb the same center a year later. Both centers were in Mount Auburn.
Brockhoeft said he chose to target Cincinnati’s abortion providers because Kentucky’s clinics were only in Lexington and Louisville.
"The thing is, though, if a Kentuckian wants to go to an abortion chamber during the day and aggravate 'em from the sidewalk, or go there at night, in a covert operation, under cover of darkness, with gasoline or explosives and really close that place, he pretty well has to go to another state,” Brockhoeft said in his prison blog, The Brockhoeft Report. "Louisville and Lexington were both at least a hundred miles from my home, so it was more convenient to go to Cincinnati, Ohio, only about 15 miles away; or about 10 miles, as the crow flies, as my pa used to say, God rest his soul.”
In December 1985, Brockhoeft set a fire in the basement of the Margaret Sanger Center of Planned Parenthood on Auburn Avenue in Mount Auburn. It caused $75,000 in damage, and the clinic was closed for about six months while the building was demolished and a new structure was built.
At the same time, Brockhoeft set fire to the Women's Health Care Center on East McMillan Street in Mount Auburn, causing $250,000 in damage.
Then, in February 1987, Brockhoeft placed a pipe bomb outside the temporary offices of the Sanger Center, but it was discovered and removed before it exploded.
While he stands by his mission, Brockhoeft did say he was cautious to avoid civilian casualties in the bombings and fire.
"Yes, I did worry about that and I used all the precautions that I could," he said. "Before I would burn an abortion facility, I would go there many nights, make many trips there and watch from a distance to make sure there was no activity in there at nighttime.
"In fact, the night that I burned Planned Parenthood, when I got there and waited a little while to make sure, I discovered the janitor was in there and I had to leave and come back," Brockhoeft said. "I had to leave and come back about three times, I think.”
Brockhoeft ran with a tough crowd of anti-abortion activists, some of whom were sent to prison for murder, among other charges.
Brockhoeft and others called themselves the Army of God.
"One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter,” Brockhoeft said in a 1993 interview with ABC News Nightline.
"First, protests, then arson, and finally, murder,” Nightline reporter Ted Koppel said.
"It's not murder, it's justifiable homicide,” Brockhoeft said.
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents arrested Brockhoeft in Pensacola in 1988. He had steel pipes, explosive chemicals and detonators in his possession and said he planned to blow up a clinic in Florida.
Brockhoeft’s first wife tipped off federal agents in May of 1988, he told us in an interview. As a result, he spent seven years in prison.
When he was arrested in Florida, agents searched Brockhoeft’s Hebron home for other bomb-making materials. They found such materials — and a bunch of stolen mail.
Brockhoeft was a mail carrier in Hebron in the ‘80s, our reports said. Federal agents said they found mail destined to local women’s centers at his residence — some from Women for Women, a family planning clinic, and some from the law firm that represented the Sanger Center.
“It always worried me that he worked in the post office,” said Ann Mitchell, Sanger Center executive director at the time. “That gave him access to mail that would come to us."
As Mitchell’s reaction might indicate, Brockhoeft was known to Planned Parenthood as an active opposer. He was known to law enforcement too; one WCPO report said arson investigators were “well aware of (Brockhoeft)” but “never had enough to link him with anything."
Brockhoeft was arrested outside the Sanger Center for disorderly conduct a few weeks before he was arrested in Florida.
"He's one of several people who has violated, for instance, an injunction for picketing on Vine Street," Mitchell said. "He's continued to be troublesome."
In 2013, on the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, WCPO caught up with Brockhoeft, who was living in Adams County. At the time, he was working as a truck driver.
He said didn't regret setting fires or planting bombs.
"I lost seven years of my life, but I gained a beautiful young wife who loves me, and six more children, besides the three I already had," he said. "I couldn't imagine life without any one of those children…I never would've met this woman, my wife, if I hadn't (gone to prison). She wrote to me in prison, out of the blue."
Decades after his release from prison, Brockhoeft's anti-abortion rhetoric was ardent as ever.
"If you had asked me 30 years ago if this slaughter would go on for 40 years, I would've said no, God would bring judgment down before that," Brockhoeft said. "But here we are, 40 years later. I am still positive the Lord will give us victory someday. When? I don't know.
"I think it will happen one of two ways: Either God's judgment coming down on our nation, or a great revival and people taking to the streets and demanding an end to it."
Brockhoeft is 66 and lives in Peebles.
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