Man who firebombed church hosting drag events faces lengthy jail term

Damaged sign

An Ohio man is set to face a lengthy jail sentence after attempting to burn down a church that was supportive of LGBTQ+ rights and hosted drag story hour events.

Aimenn D. Penny had firebombed the Community Church of Chesterland with a Molotov cocktail on 25 March, in an attempt to light the church on fire.

Although Penny’s explosives did destroy a sign outside the church, he otherwise, thankfully, managed to do very little damage to the building. There were no reported injuries from the incident.

Community Church of Chesterland drag event
The Community Church of Chesterland in Ohio held its Drag Queen Story Hour despite an attempt to burn the church down. (Facebook/Community Church of Chesterland)

Following his arrest, federal agents found that the 20-year-old had been in possession of a “hand-written manifesto that contained ideological statements, a Nazi flag, Nazi memorabilia, a White Lives Matter of Ohio T-shirt, a gas mask, multiple rolls of blue painters tape and gas cans,” according to a criminal complaint.

The criminal complaint notes that the “White Lives Matter” group holds “racist, pro-Nazi, and homophobic views.”

Elsewhere in the court document, it was said that Penny had claimed he was “trying to protect children and stop the drag show event.”

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It continues: “Penny stated that night, he became angrier 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.”

Penny pleaded guilty on Monday (23 October) to arson and obstruction of persons in the free exercise of religious beliefs, violating the Church Arson Prevention Act.

Community Church of Chesterland Molotov cocktail damage
Damage from the Molotov cocktail was visible on the exterior of Community Church of Chesterland. (Jess Peacock/Community Church of Chesterland/Facebook)

As a result, he now faces up to 20 years behind bars, according to the US Justice Department.

His sentencing has been scheduled for 29 January 2024.

Commenting on the plea, US Attorney Rebecca C Lutzko for the Northern District of Ohio said:  “By pleading guilty, Aimenn Penny has admitted that he attempted to burn down the Community Church of Chesterland because he disagreed with a planned LGBTQI+ event.

 “Violence is never appropriate to settle differences in beliefs. All members of our community are entitled to peacefully assemble, worship, and express themselves freely, without fear of violence or intimidation, and the United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio will aggressively prosecute criminals who threaten that right.”

Meanwhile, Jess Peacock, a pastor for the Community Church of Chesterland, told NBC News in a statement that the congregation was pleased with the case outcome.

“From the very beginning, we said that we held no ill will against Mr. Penny,” they told the news outlet.

“We were very disappointed by the actions he took.”

Thankfully, Penny’s attack didn’t stop the Community Church from going aheaf with its drag events that had been scheduled: a drag performance at a local restaurant and a drag story hour for children at the church. That being said, the church did take measures to increase its security after the attempted arson attack.

“While we hold no ill will against Mr. Penny, we do think there needs to be repercussion when people use violence to prevent anyone from living their lives,” said Peacock.

According to the church’s website, which proudly features rainbow-colored backgrounds, it welcomes and serves all those in need and is home to an “amazing group of supportive, friendly people”.