(WASHINGTON) — A man who allegedly attempted to burn down a church with Molotov cocktails after it planned to hold a series of drag show events has been charged with federal crimes.
The incident occurred on March 25 when the 20-year-old suspect involved in the attack — Aimenn D. Penny of Alliance, Ohio — threw Molotov cocktails at the Community Church of Chesterland in Chesterland, Ohio, in an attempt to burn the church to the ground after learning the church was holding multiple drag show events the following weekend, according to a statement from the Department of Justice.
Penny was initially arrested and charged with federal offenses on March 31 but the Department of Justice formally announced all the charges he would be facing on Monday.
“A federal indictment was returned charging [Penny] with a violation of the Church Arson Prevention Act for using Molotov cocktails against the Community Church of Chesterland, in Chesterland, Ohio, in an attempt to burn the church to the ground,” the Department of Justice said. “He was also indicted on one count of using fire to commit a federal felony, one count of malicious use of explosive materials and one count of possessing a destructive device.”
Penny could face a lengthy jail sentence for his role in the attack, officials say.
“If convicted, Penny faces a maximum penalty of up to 20 years in prison for the violation of the Church Arson Prevention Act. Penny also faces a mandatory minimum of five years and up to 20 years in prison for the malicious use of explosive materials charge and up to 10 years in prison for the possession of a destructive device charge,” the Department of Justice said. “In addition, if convicted of using fire to commit a federal felony, Penny faces a 10-year mandatory prison sentence that will run consecutively with any other prison term imposed.”
Following the attack, the Cleveland Field Office of the FBI gathered information that Penny was part of a White Lives Matter group that espouses racist, pro-Nazi and homophobic views and that at a March 11 drag queen event in Wadsworth, Ohio — just two weeks prior to the Molotov cocktail attack on the Chesterfield Church — Penny joined members of the group who showed up carrying flags with swastikas and yelling homophobic slurs, prosecutors said.
Penny reportedly attended the event wearing military-style gear and carrying a firearm.
According to an affidavit released on March 31 Penny was interviewed by police last October after handing out racist flyers and told authorities that he believed African Americans were a “problem” and that there was a civil war coming between races.
Police found a handwritten manifesto, a Nazi flag and other memorabilia during a search of his home, according to the affidavit.
“PENNY stated that he was trying to protect children and stop the drag show event,” the affidavit said. “PENNY stated that night he became more and more angry 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.”
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brian Deckert and Matthew W. Shepherd for the Northern District of Ohio and Trial Attorneys Jacob Warren and Justin Sher of the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section are prosecuting the case with assistance from Trial Attorney Eric Peffley of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section, the Department of Justice said.
The FBI Cleveland Field Office’s investigation into the incident is ongoing.
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