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UC Berkeley firebomb suspect, 34, lives with parents, has PhD

A photo illustration shows a man in a cap and gown for a university graduation next to an aerial view of the UC Berkeley campus
Authorities allege Casey Goonan, inset, a 34-year-old PhD grad started several fires on UC Berkeley’s campus and firebombed a university police car. | Source: Jane Tyska/East Bay Times/Getty Images

Casey Goonan was arrested Monday morning at his parents’ $1.1 million home in Pleasant Hill on suspicion of a string of arson attacks at UC Berkeley from June 1 to 16.

Feds, cops and CalFire allege the 34-year-old, a Northwestern University doctorate of African American studies, firebombed a Berkeley campus police car and carried out three other arson incidents on university grounds June 1, as well as last Thursday and Sunday.

Charges were filed Thursday by the Alameda District Attorney’s Office. The felony charges include arson, weapons offenses, possession of a “destructive device,” and violent conduct.

“He will enter a not guilty plea and fight these charges,” his attorney, Jeff Wozniak, said Friday. “No evidence has been presented yet connecting him to these allegations.”

Wozniak confirmed multiple law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, raided the home where Goonan lives with his parents in Pleasant Hill at around 10 a.m. Monday morning. A bio from a 2018 academic journal states Goonan “considers himself a scholar-activist” and an aspiring professor. No social media profiles, including LinkedIn, could be found for Goonan. 

“Casey got his PhD! Onto job apps,” Goonan’s mother wrote in a 2022 Instagram post. He previously completed his undergraduate degree at UC Riverside.

Another bio from 2019 described Goonan as an “abolitionist currently living and working in Chicago.”

A group of people walk and sit near a large, white stone building with columns, arched doorways, tall windows, and a clock tower under a clear blue sky.
A post claiming credit for the arson at UC Berkeley dubbed the school the "university of kkkalifornia berkeley." | Source: Samantha Laurey for The Standard

In online articles, Goonan has described the United States as a “god-awful fascist hell hole” where social injustices are “concealed under the blinders of white supremacist American reason.”

One magazine article titled “Defining Social Reality in a Revolutionary Way” praises the Black Panther Party for establishing “a blueprint for U.S.-based radical organizations experimenting with the scientific, premeditated, and necessarily methodical artistry of social revolution.”

Posts online claiming credit for the torchings point to acts being carried out in protest of the war in Gaza. The post from Sunday titled “retaliation arson attack on construction site at university of kkkalifornia berkeley,” claimed the pro-Palestine group going by the handle Marilyn’s Daughters had looted a university supply building of “thousands of dollars,” firebombed a police car, carried out “experimental burning of dry grass hills on the interior of campus,” torched a building on the campus perimeter, and set fire to a construction site.  

“This was done to further retaliate against the UCPD for attacking students at UCSC and UCLA,” the post states. 

Another post claiming credit for a firebombing writes, “EVERY SINGLE BUILDING ON THE UC BERKELEY CAMPUS DESERVES TO BE INCINERATED.”

“This is a political investigation,” said Wozniak in an email before charges were filed by the district attorney. “It is an investigation focused on Mr. Goonan’s political beliefs in a free Palestine and against the ongoing genocide in Gaza. If charges are filed, Mr. Goonan’s legal team will aggressively fight the charges. It is my hope, however, that [District Attorney Pamela Price] does not engage in this political persecution, does not file charges and that Mr. Goonan is released from jail.”

A police SUV with significant fire damage on the rear passenger side is parked beside a curb. Yellow caution tape surrounds the vehicle.
Federal and local police allege Casey Goonan firebombed a UC Berkeley campus police car and carried out other arson incidents on university grounds. | Source: Courtesy Ariel Nava

Wozniak said the search warrant specifically sought “documents related to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.”

Wozniak is already defending Goonan in a San Francisco felony vandalism case. Prosecutors say Goonan wielded a hammer during a protest outside the Women’s Declaration International USA conference in September last year. Court documents say police saw Goonan smash the Hilton Hotel sign on Kearny Street with a hammer before he was pulled from the crowd and arrested. Protesters had gathered at the conference, which they deemed anti-trangender.

Women’s Declaration International has said that the concept of “gender identity” threatens the rights of women and that transgender women “should not be included in the category women in the context of women’s human rights.”

Goonan pleaded not guilty to felony vandalism, and the case continues; the next hearing is scheduled for Friday in San Francisco. He was scheduled to appear Thursday in Alameda County court for arraignment on arson charges. His bail has been set at $1 million. 

A thread of posts Monday night to X by the Escalate Network encouraged support for “someone” who was “accused of using improvised devices to start fires and damage property in retaliation for police brutality against Gaza solidarity encampments.”

The posts called the actions “logical,” saying that even if the arrested person was innocent, they should be supported “as if they truly did take bold and heroic actions to save millions of lives” and calling the deeds “something we should all aspire to, tactics aside: selfless and urgent action to stop the war.”

Update: This story has been updated to include confirmation charges were filed by the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office on June 20.

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