The Right Is Freaking Out About Jane’s Revenge. But What Is It?
“If abortions aren’t safe, then you aren’t either.”
Over the last three months, a version of that slogan has been spray-painted on the sides of buildings across the country, as the Supreme Court obliterated the constitutional right to abortion and access to the procedure crumbled in the South and Midwest.
It appeared on the side of an anti-abortion facility in Madison, Wisconsin, in early May, just days after the leak of a Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade. Later that month, someone wrote the words, “If abortions aren’t safe, neither are you,” on a similar business in Maryland. The phrase appeared in Washington state. In Florida. On a congressman’s office in Michigan.
Sometimes, another phrase was spray-painted on these buildings, too: “Jane’s Revenge.”
Since May, the shadowy group known as Jane’s Revenge has now been linked to at least 24 attacks, usually involving vandalism, on anti-abortion groups, according to a VICE News review of news reports, social media posts, and police accounts. Most of the targets were crisis pregnancy centers, anti-abortion facilities that attempt to convince people not to end their pregnancies, although at least two were anti-abortion advocacy organizations.
Those attacks include at least four arsons and attempted arsons, including in Madison, where local news reported that investigators found two Molotov cocktails in the ruins of a fire.
The idea of an underground pro-abortion rights group, one that’s unafraid to fight fire with literal fire, has led abortion opponents to claim their side is truly the one under attack right now. Rightwing blogs and pundits have called Jane’s Revenge “domestic terrorism” and a “cult.” Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio demanded that Attorney General Merrick Garland investigate Jane’s Revenge and dubbed it a “left-wing extremist group.”
Abortion foes have even drawn comparisons to the Holocaust.
“This is the pro-abortion Kristallnacht,” announced the CEO of one crisis pregnancy center in the Buffalo, New York, area, comparing the arson attack on his center to the infamous 1938 wave of Nazi violence against Jewish synagogues, businesses, and homes, which also included the mass arrest of some 30,000 Jews. The owner continued, “They broke glass in the middle of night, under cover of darkness, to keep us from doing the work of the Lord, from being the light of the word.”
Despite the right’s attempt to frame the group as a masterminded threat against God and country, there’s little evidence that Jane’s Revenge is anything approaching a unified group carrying out a series of coordinated attacks in the name of abortion rights.
VICE News contacted more than a dozen police departments whose jurisdictions include crisis pregnancy centers reportedly attacked by Jane’s Revenge. Of those that responded, none said that there had been any arrests or major developments in the cases. Local police have closed even at least one investigation—into a Michigan crisis pregnancy center that had its windows broken and the words “Jane was here” written on the building—due to a lack of “investigative leads.”
“I don’t think that there’s any reason to believe, at this point, that it’s a part of some group that’s specifically going around to other places nationally,” said Brooke Reese, public information officer for the Nashville Metro Police Department.
On June 30, a crisis pregnancy center in Nashville had its front window smashed and the words “Jane’s Revenge” spray-painted on the side of the building, according to a police press release. Police also found an “unignited Molotov cocktail-type device” inside the building.
The local FBI office, which is also investigating the case, declined to comment to VICE News.
So far, Jane’s Revenge’s main public face is a “blog” that describes itself as “a news site collecting media related to #janesrevenge,” although some of its posts are signed “Jane’s Revenge,” in an apparent attempt to claim credit for arson and vandalism. Hosted in Amsterdam, the website’s first few “communiqués”—to use its own words—read like rants by a supervillain, with warnings like, “We are everywhere.”
“We are forced to adopt the minimum military requirement for a political struggle,” reads a May 8 blog post. “Next time the infrastructure of the enslavers will not survive. Medical imperialism will not face a passive enemy. Wisconsin is the first flashpoint, but we are all over the U.S., and we will issue no further warnings.”
The apparent rise of Jane’s Revenge has coincided with the national devastation of abortion rights. The end of Roe has choked off access to legal abortion in several states, as well as emboldened anti-abortion legislators to pursue ever-more-intense restrictions, such as blocking people from even providing information about abortion or punishing those who help them cross state lines for the procedure.
Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League, said Jane’s Revenge is similar to the Earth Liberation Front or the Animal Liberation Front, two left-wing, decentralized and leaderless movements credited with numerous attacks in the late 1990s. Their adherents only needed to declare that they were part of the cause for it to be true.
“You have this blog operating as an announcement sort of thing, saying that this incident took place here, at this point,” Pitcavage said of Jane’s Revenge. “But in all likelihood, it’s not like they’re giving orders to people. The people who’ve been inspired by this concept of Jane’s Revenge that emerged could be doing it on their own, anywhere.”
The blog doesn’t explain the origin of the name “Jane’s Revenge.” It could be a reference to Jane Roe, the pseudonym donned by the pregnant plaintiff in Roe v. Wade, or to “Jane,” the nickname for an underground network in 1960s and ‘70s Chicago that performed illegal abortions. (It was a coincidence that Jane Roe shared a name with the Jane network.)
The early posts occasionally used non-American spelling and punctuation, such as “Roe v Wade” and “honourable.” There was no reply to a VICE News message sent to the website’s associated email address.
A few of the posts, however, back up the idea that people who strike in the name of “Jane’s Revenge” are acting on their own, rather than coordinating with a unified group. One post declared, “We are not one group, but many.”
“A few of us up here in so-called ‘Burlington, Vermont’ (colonized Abenaki land) decided it was a good time to remind the tyrants that we are everywhere and that we will not be fucked with,” read another post, which indicated that its posters throw rocks at an unspecified crisis pregnancy center.
VICE News was unable to independently confirm that vandalism ever occurred; the Burlington Police Department didn’t respond to a VICE News inquiry about it.
In its tally of incidents linked to Jane’s Revenge, VICE News only included incidents that were reported on by news outlets, had corresponding photographic evidence, or had been confirmed by local police. The Jane’s Revenge blog also had to claim credit for the incident, or the incident had to involve graffiti that either referenced “Jane” or some version of the slogan, “If abortions aren’t safe, neither are you.”
Many of these incidents appear to have taken place at night, when the buildings housing the anti-abortion groups were empty. This tendency tracks with the tradition of anarchist and militant far-left groups prioritizing attacks on private property, rather than on people. And there’s clearly some cross-pollination between anarchy and Jane’s Revenge: Not only have anarchist and far-left social media accounts and blogs eagerly shared information about incidents attributed to Jane’s Revenge, but some instances of the group’s graffiti have included symbols typically associated with anarchist groups.
On the other side of the ideological spectrum, members of the Proud Boys, a far-right street-fighting gang, have also kept one another updated on Jane’s Revenge-linked activities. Some online channels have even suggested settling their differences “once and for all” by duking it out in person. Jane’s Revenge is, in some ways, like a far-right fever dream—a militant, ideologically opposed enemy that takes action on its own, rather than focusing on protesting far-right extremists.
In a 2021 paper, researchers at George Washington University warned of the possibility of “reciprocal radicalization” between extremist factions in the United States. As right-wing anti-government and racist extremists “shift their focus from political engagement and demonstrations to mass violence, it is possible that AVE [anarchist violent extremist] groups will take the same path,” the reseachers cautioned.
Pitcavage, of the Anti-Defamation League, said that there’s still quite a few unanswered questions about Jane’s Revenge. While the Anti-Defamation League classifies the arson attacks as terrorism, Pitcavage said that he has yet to notice other websites emerge that emulate Jane’s Revenge or see a spike in the number or intensity of Jane’s Revenge incidents.
That’s no guarantee that Jane’s Revenge, or the militant streak it’s inspired within the abortion rights movement, will die out. In 1998, people working on behalf of the Earth Liberation Front set fire to seven structures at a Colorado ski resort, costing $12 million in damages; five years later, the group’s penchant for arson had escalated, as it claimed credit for an inferno that caused $50 million in damages to a California housing project.
But for now, Pitcavage said, Jane’s Revenge incidents remain relatively “minor,” especially when compared to the attacks perpetuated by abortion opponents.
“The amount of harassment, intimidation, and outright violence against abortion providers—even though the amount of that violence today is a lot less than it was in the ‘80s or ‘90s—it is still so extensive that it absolutely and utterly dwarfs the sum total of Jane’s Revenge-type activities,” Pitcavage said. “I don’t say this to excuse any of Jane’s Revenge stuff, but I do think people need to understand that anti-abortion-related violence, harassment, and intimidation exists and goes on as an utterly different order of magnitude.”
An estimated thousands of crisis pregnancy centers are operating in the United States, according to University of Georgia public health researchers. By contrast, just over 800 abortion clinics were operating in the United States in 2017, according to the most recent data available from the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion restrictions. (The vast majority of abortions are performed in freestanding clinics.) Now that abortion clinics across much of the South and Midwest have lost their ability to perform the procedure, thanks to escalating abortion bans, those numbers are sure to have fallen dramatically. Crisis pregnancy centers, on the other hand, are poised to only expand, as more people lose access to abortion and struggle to handle unwanted pregnancies.
The people who work in and around abortion clinics face immense harassment. In 2021, abortion clinics told the National Abortion Federation that they had received 123 reports of vandalism, 123 reports of assault and battery, and 182 reports of death threats or threats of harm. The organization, which tracks violence and harassment against abortion providers in the United States, Canada, Mexico City, and Colombia, also received three reports of arson or attempted arson or bombings—a decrease from the previous year, when clinics reported experiencing nine. In the last eight months alone, at least two abortion clinics have been deliberately set on fire.
Since 1977, there have been at least 11 murders, 42 bombings, and 196 arsons directed against people who provide abortions, those who seek them, and those who try to protect clinics.
“As far as Jane’s Revenge [goes], I think it’s just a few of us that are actually giving a shit,” said one Utah resident who posted photos of a Moab, Utah, crisis pregnancy center that, in early July, was splashed with paint.
The vandalism didn’t include any reference to Jane or to its now-infamous slogan, so VICE News isn’t including the incident in its tally of Jane’s Revenge-linked incidents. (The Moab City Police Department’s chief of police told VICE News that the force doesn’t have “any solid leads right now,” but there’s no evidence Jane’s Revenge is involved.)
But the individual who spoke to VICE News, who declined to give their name, attributed the vandalism to Jane’s Revenge anyway, in a sign of the malleability of the mantle. The individual said that they didn’t commit the vandalism.
“I was going to do it the next night. They beat me to it,” the individual said, adding that they identify as part of the “Jane’s Revenge” movement. “When I say ‘we,’ I’m collectively saying Jane, Jane’s Revenge.”
They added, “We’re all Jane.”
Tess Owen and David Gilbert contributed to this report.
Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.