Ohio Man Gets 18 Years for Firebombing Church That Planned Drag Events

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COLUMBUS (DOJ / News Release) – An Ohio man was sentenced yesterday to 216 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release for attempting to burn down a church because of its support for the LGBTQ+ community.

Aimenn D. Penny, 20, of Alliance, Ohio, was arrested and charged last year with one count of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, 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. On Oct. 23, 2023, Penny pleaded guilty to the church arson hate crime and using fire and explosives to commit a felony.

According to court documents, on March 25, 2023, Penny made Molotov cocktails and drove to the Community Church of Chesterland (CCC), in Chesterland, Ohio. Angered by the church’s plan to host two drag events the following weekend, 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.

“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,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “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.”

“We hope 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,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “This defendant tried to burn down a church simply because its members created space for and provided support to the LGBTQ+ community. 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.”

“Aimenn Penny will spend the next 18 years in prison because he committed crimes fueled by hate, attempting to burn down a church because its members supported the LGBTQI+ community,” said U.S. Attorney Rebecca C. Lutzko for the Northern District of Ohio. “Hate crimes like Penny’s hurt not only the individual target, but the entire community, causing people to fear attack based on who they love and undermining the sense of safety within places of worship. Violent, bias-motivated extremism has no place in our country, and our office will aggressively prosecute those who commit such crimes.”

“Aimenn Penny is being held accountable for trying to burn down a house of worship because he disagreed with the church hosting certain events,” said Executive Assistant Director Larissa L. Knapp of the FBI’s National Security Branch. “Individuals who commit acts of violence, destroy property, and interfere with the free exercise of religion will face justice for those crimes. As in this case, the FBI, together with our law enforcement partners, will use our lawful authorities to protect our communities from such violence, and ensure those responsible pay the price.”

The FBI Cleveland Field Office investigated the case.

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