An Ohio man’s attempt to set fire to the Community Church of Chesterland over drag events there has raised concerns over safety and the escalating tensions related to such gatherings.
Aimenn D. Penny, a 20-year-old Ohio resident, recently pleaded guilty to charges of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act and using fire and explosives to commit a felony for the crime that occurred March 25. Officials say Penny launched two Molotov cocktails at the church.
An investigation revealed Penny’s association with White Lives Matter, a group described in the complaint as having “racist, pro-Nazi, and homophobic views.” Members of the group, including Penny, had protested against a drag event held in Wadsworth, Ohio, on March 11.
The FBI interviewed Penny after the Molotov cocktail attack. He claimed he was attempting to protect children. According to the complaint, his anger escalated after watching online videos of news feeds and drag shows in France, ultimately driving him to attack the church.
Penny expressed disappointment that his Molotov cocktails hadn’t caused more extensive damage. He also disclosed that he wished he had “burned the entire church to the ground.”
Evidence of the attack was visible, with scorch marks left on the church’s front door and an exterior sign. A sign located on the southeast corner of the church property was also damaged.
Penny’s sentencing hearing is in January. The charges he pleaded guilty to carry a maximum of 20 years in prison for violating the Church Arson Prevention Act and an additional mandatory 10-year prison sentence to run consecutively with any other imposed prison term for using fire to commit a federal felony.
The incident highlights the growing tensions surrounding drag events, which have sparked protests and the enactment of new laws in various states. Tennessee, for example, introduced stringent limitations on drag performances in a law that was ruled unconstitutional in June. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a law in May that prohibits minors from attending drag shows.