An Ohio man who prosecutors said tried to burn down a church in anger 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 episode of March 25, pleaded guilty in October for violating the Church Arson Prevention Act and for using fire and explosives to commit a crime, according to federal prosecutors, who had recommended a 20-year sentence.
“We hope this important sentence sends a clear and resounding message that this type of hate-motivated attack on a church will not be tolerated in our country,” said Kristen Clarke, who heads the department’s civil rights division. of Justice. said in a statement 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 seeking acceptance and turning to the internet to achieve it.
“I feel like he’s been brainwashed by some people because there’s nothing in his past that would indicate he would do something like that,” Mr Greven said. “It’s sad everywhere.”
Chesterland Community Church had planned to host two drag shows on April 1, 2023. A few days before the planned events, on March 25, the church reported to local police that the building had been damaged by Molotov cocktails overnight, according to a report. criminal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. There were burn marks on the front door and a sign outside the building, according to the complaint. A sign on the property was also damaged.
The drag shows – a drag show aimed at adults and a drag story hour for families – went on as planned.
“I’m not going to pretend that his violent and heinous actions didn’t scare some people,” Jess Peacock, the church’s pastor, said at Monday’s sentencing hearing. “It was. A few people left the church and the preschool that operated in our building chose 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 an Ohio group called White Lives Matter, which has “racist views , pro-Nazi and homophobic,” according to the complaint.
Earlier that month, members of that group attended a drag event in Wadsworth, Ohio, where they waved swastika flags and shouted racist and homophobic slurs and “Heil Hitler,” according to the complaint. Mr. Penny attended this event and wore camouflage pants, a tactical vest and a jacket with a firearm patch, the complaint states.
Shows featuring drag performers in which assumptions about gender are challenged have in recent years become a battleground over gender and identity in the United States. Supporters see family shows as opportunities to welcome young people who don’t feel comfortable in traditional gender roles, while opponents, often conservatives and Republicans, argue that the performers aim to target children and to sexualize them.
Several states, including Tennessee, Idaho and Texas, have considered legislation that would limit performances. The Supreme Court refused in November to reinstate a Florida law that restricted performances.
Chesterland Community Church prides itself on being “an open and affirming congregation of the United Church of Christ,” according to its Facebook page. The ecclesial community encourage people always be themselves, and asserts that “legislation cannot tell you who you are”, nor can “religious extremists”.
In a report posted on Facebook On Tuesday, the Church said it was “relieved to finally be able to put an end to what happened last year, but we do not celebrate Mr. Penny’s sentence.”
“It is a tragedy that ignorance and hatred put this young man’s life on hold for nearly 20 years,” the Church wrote. “It is also tragic that progressive churches, synagogues and mosques must devote so much energy and resources to vigilance against violence by mean-spirited people. »