Ohio man sentenced to 18 years for firebombing church that hosted drag show

Tony Webster/WIkimedia Commons
Tony Webster/WIkimedia Commons

An Ohio man who attempted to burn down a because it planned to host drag shows has been sentenced to 18 years in prison for violating federal law.

Aimenn Penny, a 20-year-old resident of Alliance, was sentenced on Monday to 18 years in prison plus three years of supervised release for trying to destroy the Community Church of Chesterland, which is affiliated with the theologically liberal United Church of Christ.

Penny pleaded guilty last October to the charges of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act and using fire and explosives to try to commit a felony.

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"This sentence holds Mr. Penny accountable for carrying out violence against an Ohio church because he disagreed with the way congregants chose to express their beliefs," Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the U.S. Justice Department's National Security Division said in a statement Tuesday.

"Such acts of extremist violence have no place in our communities and the Justice Department is committed to bringing to justice those who would use or threaten violence to prevent their fellow citizens from freely exercising their fundamental rights."

Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division said that she hoped "this significant sentence sends a clear and resounding message that this type of hate-fueled attack against a church will not be tolerated in our country."

"This defendant tried to burn down a church simply because its members created space for and provided support to the LGBTQ+ community," stated Clarke.

"The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute such senseless, bias-motivated violence against people exercising their constitutionally protected right to practice their religion and express their beliefs."

In March 2023, Penny threw two Molotov cocktails at the Community Church in hopes of burning down the building in response to its decision to host a drag show.

By the end of the month, Penny was arrested and charged with one count of possessing a destructive device and another count of malicious use of explosive materials.

The arrest came through a joint effort by the FBI Cleveland Joint Terrorism Task Force and the Chester Township Police Department, according to Special Agent in Charge Gregory Nelsen of the FBI Cleveland Field Office.

"The FBI leveraged its task force and its specialized resources to identify, locate and subsequently arrest the subject earlier today," said Nelsen in a statement last year.

"We thank the collaborative work and strong partnership of the Chester Township Police and Lake and Geauga County local authorities who assisted."

Community Church held the drag queen story hour show as scheduled, with the congregation thanking authorities for providing extra security.

"The number of cruisers we hear were present, the 'swat-style' vans, the Chagrin Falls' tactical mobile unit' which we were told was parked nearby ... this overwhelming presence would have put caution in the mind of any group hoping to make an opportunistic threat," stated the church.

"Taking the preparations made by our own team with the Fairmount team, together with the law enforcement contingent, helped make the day a resounding success! And the only memory resulting from the day's event at the church was Joy and Love! So much Love!"

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