An Alliance, Ohio, man who was federally charged with trying to firebomb a church with Molotov cocktails in protest of the church’s plans to host drag shows, pleaded guilty Monday to violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, and using fire and explosives to commit a felony.
The Department of Justice said 20-year-old Aimenn D. Penny made Molotov cocktails before driving to the Community Church of Chesterland in Chesterland, Ohio, on March 25.
The church was planning to host two drag shows in support of the LGBTQI+ community the following weekend, which angered Penny.
When Penny arrived at the church, he threw two Molotov cocktails at the building with hopes of burning it to the ground, the DOJ said, attributing the information to court documents.
He was arrested and charged with violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, using fire to commit a federal felony, malicious use of explosive materials and possessing a destructive device.
By pleading guilty, Penny admitted to using fire and explosives with force, and intending to stop congregants of the church from enjoying and expressing their religious beliefs.
“Mr. Penny admitted to attempting to burn down a church because he did not like the way congregants chose to express their beliefs,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the DOJ’s National Security Division. “Such acts of extremist violence are antithetical to core American values of freedom of expression and worship, and we will not tolerate those who would use force to deny our citizens the free exercise of their rights.”
Penny faces up to 20 years in prison for violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, and a 10-year mandatory prison sentence that runs consecutively with any other prison sentence imposed, for using fire to commit a federal felony.
The sentence, which is scheduled for Jan. 29, 2024, will be imposed by a federal district judge.
“Attempting to burn down the Community Church of Chesterland for their support of the LGBTQI+ community is reprehensible,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said. “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. Our churches should be safe havens for all people, not sites subjected to violence motivated by hate and vitriol.”