An Ohio man has been charged with an attempt to burn down a church that was planning to host two drag shows.
According to court documents, 20-year-old Aimenn Penny, of Alliance, Ohio, allegedly threw Molotov cocktails at the Community Church of Chesterland, in Chesterland, Ohio, damaging the church’s sign, shattering glass, and leaving scorch marks on the doors.
Church representatives told police they believe the church was targeted because of two drag events scheduled for April 1.
Investigators found that several individuals had planned to protest the drag shows, and that the church had received hate mail and messages threatening to protest or commit non-specific violent acts against it as retribution.
The FBI’s Cleveland Field Office received a tip that Penny was responsible for the attack on the church. He is a member of the Ohio chapter of White Lives Matter, an organization with “racist, pro-Nazi, and homophobic views.” The group has been involved in other protests of drag events in Northeast Ohio.
After obtaining a court order, police and FBI agents were able to obtain location data for Penny’s phone. Based on that data, police were able to place Penny at the Community Church of Chesterland between 1 a.m. and 1:31 a.m. on March 25, within the time period investigators believe the church was vandalized.
On Friday, Penny was arrested and charged with one count of malicious use of explosive materials and one count of possessing a destructive device.
Following his arrest, the FBI conducted a recorded interview, during which Penny allegedly admitted to building the Molotov cocktails and deploying them at the church in an attempt to burn down the building.
According to the police complaint, Penny claimed his intent was to “protect” children from drag queens.
Penny allegedly told investigators that he became increasingly angry after watching Internet news feeds of drag shows, and decided to attack the church.
He also allegedly said he would have felt better had the Molotov cocktails been more effective in destroying the church.
“As alleged in the charging documents, the defendant used an explosive device to cause harm to a church he found objectionable,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen, of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said in a statement. “It is the solemn duty of the Department of Justice to safeguard the right of all Americans to free expression, and I commend the work of law enforcement in this matter.”
If convicted on the charges against him, Penny would face a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison, and could serve as many as 20 years for the malicious use of explosive materials charge, and up to 10 years on the destructive device charge.
The case remains under investigation.
According to the criminal complaint, as well as other news sources, Penny was previously involved in a protest against a “Drag Queen Story Hour” event in Wadsworth, Ohio, on March 11. There, he allegedly handed out flyers condemning the drag show and promoting the political views White Lives Matter, Ohio.
Penny was also photographed wearing military-style gear, including camouflage pants, a tactical vest, and a jacket with a patch showing a firearm at that event.
According to news reports of the protest, which devolved into a series of melees between event supporters, protesters, and counter-protesters, members of the White Lives Matter, Ohio group allegedly showed up at the protest carrying swastika flags and shouting racial and anti-gay slurs, as well as the phrase “Heil Hilter.”
Last October, the Alliance Police Department observed Penny, visibly armed with a baton and a large hunting knife, placing flyers on police cruisers and other vehicles seeking to “educate” people about his views on violence towards white Americans.
Police confronted him, and Penny allegedly told them that African-Americans were solely responsible for the high crime rate in the country, and said he looks forward to a future civil war between races.
He also said he believes that the United States will not prosper until all other non-white races — or “weaknesses,” as he called them — are gone, and admitted to owning a gun.
A Twitter account purporting to be run by an Aimenn Penny, of Alliance, Ohio, issued a tweet in 2017 stating the following:
“1. Homosexuality is disgusting and a sin 2. Islam is evil and should never be allowed in America 3. school systems are corrupt and broken 4. Atheists hate God because they know he is real, you cannot hate something that does not exist.”
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