Aimenn Penny, 20, of Alliance, Ohio, was photographed in March protesting a drag queen story hour event in Wadsworth about two weeks before he is accused of firebombing a church in nearby Chesterland. Photo courtesy of Justice Department
April 25 (UPI) -- Federal prosecutors have charged an alleged White supremacist with attempting to burn down an Ohio church over its plans to hold drag queen events earlier this month.
Aimenn Penny, 20, of Alliance, Ohio, is accused of being behind the firebombing of the Community Church of Chesterland, a town of fewer than 7,5000 people located east of Cleveland.
According to the criminal complaint published last month, on the morning of March 25, church officials reported their facility had been damaged by Molotov cocktails while one of its exterior signs had been destroyed.
The church had told police that they believed the attack was in response to two drag show events they had planned for April, as its representatives had received hate mail and messages of threats to protest and of perpetrating violence against the drag events.
The FBI's Cleveland Field Office received information that Penny was responsible for the attack and that he is a member of Ohio's White Lives Matter group, which the court document states is "a group with racist, pro-Nazi and homophobic views."
About two weeks prior to the attack on the church, members of the hate group attended a similar drag queen story hour event planned for Chesterland in nearby Wadsworth where Penny, wearing military-style tactical gear, attended and distributed White Lives Matter propaganda flyers, the court document states.
Prosecutors said in the criminal complaint that in October, police in Alliance, Ohio, had seen Penny place flyers on police cruisers and civilian cars throughout the city that espoused racist ideology, and that he told law enforcement that "he believes -- and looks forward to -- the civil war coming between races,"
Police connected him to the firebombing of the Chesterland church via his phone as a court order permitted law enforcement to obtain historical location data from the device.
During the execution of a search warrant on Penny's residence on March 31, a hand-written manifesto, a Nazi flag, Nazi memorabilia, a White Lives Matter of Ohio t-shirt and other such items were found.
In an interview with the FBI, Penny admitted to building the Molotov cocktails and that he had thrown them at the church with the intent to destroy it. He also said his motivation was to protect children and stop the drag show event, the criminal complaint said.
"Penny stated that night he became more and more angry after watching Internet videos of news feeds and drag shows in France and decided to attack the church," according to the court document. "Penny stated that he would have felt better if the Molotov cocktails were more effective and burned the entire church to the ground."
Penny was originally charged March 31 with one count each of malicious use of explosive materials and possessing a destructive device.
On Monday, he was charged in a federal indictment with violating the Church Arson Prevention Act and with one count of using fire to commit a federal felony, the Justice Department said in a statement.
If convicted, Penny faces a maximum penalty of up to 20 years' imprisonment for the violation of the Church Arson Prevention Act, a mandatory minimum of between five and 20 years for the malicious use of explosive materials charge, up to 10 years for the possession of a destructive device charge and a 10-year mandatory prison sentence to run consecutively with the other charges on the use of fire to commit a federal felony charge.