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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Man tried to burn Ohio church because of planned drag events

An Ohio man threw two Molotov cocktails at a church, hoping to burn it down, because he was angry the church planned to host two drag events, officials said.

Aimenn D. Penny, 20, was arrested earlier this year after he tried to set the Community Church of Chesterland on fire on March 25. He pleaded guilty Monday to violating the Church Arson Prevention Act and to using fire and explosives to commit a felony.

“Our churches should be safe havens for all people, not sites subjected to violence motivated by hate and vitriol,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

Penny’s Molotov cocktails were made with a vodka bottle and a beer bottle, according to the criminal complaint. Gasoline was used as an accelerant.

Investigators determined that Penny is a member of White Lives Matter, which was described in the criminal complaint as a “group with racist, pro-Nazi, and homophobic views.” Members of the group, including Penny, had shown up in protest to a Wadsworth, Ohio, drag event on March 11.

The FBI interviewed Penny after he threw the Molotov cocktails at the church in Chesterland, according to the criminal complaint. He told them he was trying to protect children.

“Penny stated that night he became more and more angry after watching internet videos of news feeds and drag shows in France and decided to attack the church,” according to the complaint. “Penny stated that he would have felt better if the Molotov cocktails were more effective and burned the entire church to the ground.”

The Molotov cocktails left scorch marks on the church’s front door, according to the complaint. There were also scorch marks on a sign on the building’s exterior. A sign on the southeast corner of the property was damaged.

Penny is set to be sentenced on Jan. 29. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for the violation of the Church Arson Prevention Act and a 10-year mandatory prison sentence that will run consecutively with any other prison term imposed for using fire to commit a federal felony.

Drag events have spurred protests and new laws in recent years. Tennessee placed strict limitations on drag performances in a law that was ruled unconstitutional in June. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a law in May barring minors from attending drag shows.

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