News (USA)

White supremacist allegedly firebombed a church hosting drag events. He could go away for 30 years.

Aimenn D. Penny at a March 11 drag event.
Aimenn D. Penny at a March 11 drag event. Photo: Deparment of Justice

An Ohio man faces up to 30 years in prison for firebombing a church that was planning to host a pair of drag events.

Aimenn D. Penny, a 20-year-old member of an Ohio White Lives Matter group, was arrested Friday and charged with one count of malicious use of explosive materials. According to Law and Crime, Penny is suspected of throwing Molotov cocktails at Community Church of Chesterland in Chester, Ohio on March 25. The attack, which left scorch marks on the church’s door, was allegedly in response to drag queen story time events planned for April 1.

During a March 31 search of Penny’s home, FBI agents recorded an interview with Penny in which he admitted to making the Molotov cocktails and throwing them at Community Church of Chesterland, intending to burn the building down.

“Penny stated that he was trying to protect children and stop the drag show event,” according to a criminal complaint filed on Friday. “Penny described using bottles from his bedroom and detailed the ingredients and steps he used to build and use the devices. Penny stated that night, he became angrier after watching internet videos of news feeds and drag shows in France and decided to attack the church. Penny stated that he would have felt better if the Molotov cocktails were more effective and burned the entire church to the ground.”

According to the complaint, Penny was also observed distributing anti-drag flyers at another drag event on March 11 with other members of White Lives Matter Ohio who were shouting racial and homophobic slurs. They also carried a flag with a swastika on it and shouted, “Heil Hitler.”

“Open source searches revealed that individuals plan to be present and armed en masse at the [April 1] events to protest,” the document states.

“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.”

“Violence and destruction are never an acceptable way to express a disagreement with a particular viewpoint,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle M. Baeppler for the Northern District of Ohio added. “While, as Americans, we enjoy the right to disagree, doing so peacefully is the only appropriate option. The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio remains committed to protecting the rights of all citizens to express their viewpoints peacefully.”

Fueled by anti-LGBTQ+ misinformation on social media, over the past year, drag queen story hours and other family-friendly LGBTQ+ events featuring drag performers have become a target for far-right white nationalist groups like the Proud Boys as well Republican politicians. Last month, Tennessee became the first state to pass a law intended to ban drag performances in public spaces. That law was blocked by a federal judge last week, but similar legislation has been introduced in state houses across the country.

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