The Department of Justice announced on Tuesday that Aimenn Penny, 20, has been charged with violating the Church Arson Prevention Act for using Molotov cocktails to try to set fire to the Community Church of Chesterland, in Chesterland, Ohio.
According to law enforcement officials, Mr Penny was a member of the white supremacist group White Lives Matter — a white supremacist, homophobic group based in Ohio. Mr Penny had reportedly demonstrated at a drag event in Wadsworth, Ohio, where he was part of a group wearing Nazi apparel and threatening participants and attendees.
When officials searched Mr Penny’s apartment, they allegedly found a range of Nazi memorabilia and a manifesto. According to the FBI, Mr Penny admitted to planning and carrying out the attack during the search.
Now, Mr Penny is facing steep penalities for his actions. In addition to the indictment for violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, Mr Penny has also been indicted with the on 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.
If Mr Penny is convicted of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, he’ll face up to 20 years in prison with additional minimum sentences looming if he’s convicted of the other charges he faces.
Mr Penny was initially arrested and charged on March 31.
“Violence and destruction are never an acceptable way to express a disagreement with a particular viewpoint,” first assistant US Attorney Michelle M Baeppler for the Northern District of Ohio said in a statement after Mr Penny was arrested. “While, as Americans, we enjoy the right to disagree, doing so peacefully is the only appropriate option.”
Mr Penny’s attempt to burn down the church in Chesterland has come amid a wave of violence against transgender communities around the US and elsewhere in the world. State legislators have introduced a record number of bills targeting the LGBTQ+ in 2023, with a number of states passing bans on gender-affirming care for minors, restrictions on participation in sports, and bans on drag performances in public spaces.
Far right activists and white supremacists have also taken it upon themselves to target drag performances and Pride parades in a number of states including Texas and California, demonstrating outside venues that host drag performances and attempting to get them shut down.
In November, a 22-year-old man killed five people and injured 18 others at an LGBTQ+ club in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in the deadliest crime perpetrated against the queer community in the US since the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, in 2016.