An Ohio man who threw Molotov cocktails at a church was sentenced to 18 years in prison

An Ohio man who prosecutors said tried to set fire to a church in a fit of rage by throwing Molotov cocktails at it last year because it planned to host two drag shows was sentenced Monday to 18 years in prison. federal authorities said.

The man, Aimenn D. Penny, 20, of Alliance, Ohio, who was arrested and charged after the March 25 episode, pleaded guilty in October violating the Church Fire Prevention Act and using fire and explosives to commit a felony, according to federal prosecutors, who recommended a 20-year prison sentence.

“We hope this landmark sentence sends a clear and loud message that this type of hateful attack on the church will not be tolerated in our country,” Kristen Clarke, who heads the Justice Department’s civil rights division, it said in a statement on Tuesday.

John W. Greven, Mr. Penny’s lawyer, said in an interview Tuesday that his client intended to appeal the sentence. He called Mr Penny’s case a “classic example” of a young person looking for acceptance and turning to the internet to find it.

“I feel he’s been brainwashed by some people because there’s really nothing in his past to suggest he would do something like this,” Mr Greven said. “Everywhere is sad.”

Chesterland Community Church planned to host two drag shows on April 1, 2023. Days before the scheduled events, on March 25, the church reported to local police that the building had been damaged by Molotov cocktails during the night, according to a criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District Ohio. There were burn marks on the front door and the sign in front of the building, according to the complaint. The inscription on the property was also damaged.

The drag shows – one drag show intended for adults and one drag story hour for families – were held as planned.

“I’m not going to pretend that his violent and hateful actions didn’t scare some people,” Jess Peacock, the church’s pastor, said at Monday’s sentencing hearing. “It is. A few people left the church, and the preschool that operated out of our building decided to find a new facility.”

The FBI’s Cleveland field office learned during the investigation that Mr. Penny was responsible for the attack and was a member of a group in Ohio called White Lives Matter, which has “racist, pro-Nazi and homophobic views,” the statement said. on appeal.

Earlier that month, members of the group attended an event in Wadsworth, Ohio, where they carried swastika flags and chanted racial and homophobic slurs and “Heil Hitler,” according to the complaint. Mr. Penny attended the event and was wearing camouflage pants, a tactical vest and a jacket with a firearm patch, according to the complaint.

Drag shows that challenge gender assumptions have become a battleground over gender and identity in the United States in recent years. Supporters see the family shows as an opportunity to welcome young people who may not feel comfortable in traditional gender roles, while opponents, often conservatives and Republicans, argue that performers aim to target and sexualize children.

Several states, including Tennessee, Idaho and Texas, have considered legislation that would curb the performances. In November, the Supreme Court refused to revive a Florida law that restricted the performances.

The Anti-Defamation League and LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD said Tuesday they found at least 41 other anti-LGBTQ+ episodes targeting religious institutions from August 2022 to August 2023.

The data reflects “a growing rise in anti-LGBTQ+ hate and extremism in the US,” Kelly Fishman, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement. “We hope this sentence sends a strong message that such hate crimes will never be tolerated.”

Chesterland Community Church prides itself as an “open and affirming congregation of the United Church of Christ,” according to its Facebook page. Church community encourages people to always be who you are, and claims that “legislation cannot tell you who you are,” and neither can “religious extremists.”

In a statement posted on Facebook on Tuesday, the church said it was “relieved to finally be able to embrace some closure on what happened last year, but we are not celebrating Mr. Penny’s sentence.”

“It is a tragedy that ignorance and hatred will stop this young man’s life for nearly 20 years,” the church wrote. “It is also tragic that progressive churches, synagogues and mosques must spend so much energy and resources on vigilance against the violence of small-minded people.”

Leave a Comment