An Ohio man with white supremacist ties was sentenced Monday to 18 years behind bars for attempting to burn a church to the ground because it planned to host drag events for the community.
The man, 20-year-old Aimenn Penny, pleaded guilty in October to charges that included using explosives to commit a felony and violating the Church Arson Prevention Act.
Penny lobbed two Molotov cocktails at the Community Church of Chesterland last March. Photos from the scene show burn marks on the building’s exterior walls, a destroyed sign, and a broken vodka bottle and beer bottle. Penny was apprehended a few days later.
He was a member of a “White Lives Matter” group in northern Ohio, according to an FBI affidavit that described the organization as “racist, pro-Nazi and homophobic.”
Prosecutors say Penny was angry about a pair of events the church was slated to host: a drag brunch and a drag story hour. He regarded the events as many far-right extremists do, believing without evidence that drag events are harmful to children and young adults. White supremacist and other extremist groups have been rallying outside children’s drag events around the country, some of them waving swastika flags and disturbing signs.
The Chesterland events went off smoothly.
“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,” U.S. Attorney Rebecca Lutzko said in a statement.
“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,” she continued. “Violent, bias-motivated extremism has no place in our country, and our office will aggressively prosecute those who commit such crimes.”