An Ohio man pleaded guilty yesterday to violating the Church Arson Prevention Act and to using fire and explosives to commit a felony as part of his plan to burn down a church that was planning to host drag show events.
Aimenn D. Penny, 20, of Alliance, made Molotov cocktails on March 25 and drove to the Community Church of Chesterland.
The church was planning to host two drag events the following weekend.
According to a press release from the Department of Justice, “Penny threw two Molotov cocktails at the church, hoping to burn it to the ground. Through Penny’s guilty plea, he admitted to using force through fire and explosives, intending to obstruct CCC congregants in their enjoyment and expression of their religious beliefs.”
“Attempting to burn down the Community Church of Chesterland for their support of the LGBTQI+ community is reprehensible,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “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.”
Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division echoed Clarke’s sentiments, saying that his plan was antithetical to “core American values of freedom of expression and worship.”
“Mr. Penny admitted to attempting to burn down a church because he did not like the way congregants chose to express their beliefs,” said Olsen. “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 is now facing 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, according to the DOJ.
Penny’s sentencing is scheduled for January 29, 2024.