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Ohio Man Pleads Guilty to Attempting To Burn Down Church Because of Drag Queen Event

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L: Adobe Stock. R: Screenshot from Facebook / @Community Church of Chesterland UCC

A 20-year-old Ohio man has pleaded guilty to federal charges he faced after attempting to burn down Community Church of Chesterland (CCC) in Chesterland, Ohio, on March 25. Aimenn D. Penny of Alliance threw two Molotov cocktails at the church because the congregation was planning a Drag Queen Story Hour event.

“There is no room in this country for such bias-motivated violence and terror, and the Justice Department will continue to protect all Americans in their free exercise of religious beliefs by vigorously prosecuting those who target houses of worship,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “Our churches should be safe havens for all people, not sites subjected to violence motivated by hate and vitriol.”

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Clarke called it “reprehensible” that Penny would attempt to the destroy the church “for their support of the LGBTQI+ community.”

Ohio Man Faces 20 Years in Prison

On Oct. 23, Penny pleaded guilty to “violating the Church Arson Prevention Act and to using fire and explosives to commit a felony,” according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). When he was arrested earlier this year, Penny was charged with “one count of using fire to commit a federal felony, one count of malicious use of explosive materials and one count of possessing a destructive device.” 

An affidavit from FBI Special Agent Lane Thorum states that Penny is a member of White Lives Matter, “a group with racist, pro-Nazi, and homophobic views.” The document describes Penny referring to Black Americans as the “problem” and saying that he anticipates “and looks forward to – the civil war coming between races.” 

The defendant’s goal in throwing the Molotov cocktails was to “to protect children and stop the drag show event,” said Thorum. CCC had planned and still held a Drag Queen Story Hour on April 1 during which drag queens read stories to children

Penny reportedly grew angry enough to take action against the church after watching videos of drag shows in France. He later said that he wished the Molotov cocktails had “burned the entire church to the ground.” Thorum said that a search of Penny’s home found items that included a Nazi flag and Nazi memorabilia. 

CCC celebrated the news of Penny’s guilty plea, saying, “Thank you to everyone in the community and beyond who has stood with us.”

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Penny is currently scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 29, 2024. He “faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison for the violation of the Church Arson Prevention Act,” says the DOJ, “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.”