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WASHINGTON (WJW) — A 20-year-old Alliance man who the FBI says has an “extremist ideology” admitted to using Molotov cocktails in an attack on a Geauga County church that had planned a drag show event.
Aimenn D. Penny on Monday pleaded guilty to violating the Church Arson Prevention Act in his March 25 attack on the Community Church of Chesterland, according to a news release from Ohio’s Northern District U.S. Attorney Rebecca Lutzko.
He was “angered” by the church’s plans to host two drag show events and hoped to “burn it to the ground,” authorities said at the time.
“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,” Lutzko is quoted in the Tuesday news release. “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.”
Penny admitted to the attack when interviewed by FBI agents, according to his criminal affidavit, saying “he was trying to protect children and stop the drag show event.”
The church was unoccupied at the time of the attack and sustained minimal damage, owners said. The drag show event set for that weekend went on as planned.
Federal anti-terrorism agents worked alongside Chester Township police to identify, locate and arrest Penny.
“The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force worked in tandem with our local law enforcement and community partners to identify and bring federal charges against a hate-fueled individual, motivated to violence by his extremist ideology,” Larissa Knapp, executive assistant director of the FBI’s National Security Branch, is quoted in the release. “He committed these despicable acts in an effort to terrorize and intimidate a religious institution’s free expression, and he should face accountability for these crimes.”
Penny is due for sentencing on Jan. 29, 2024. He faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, not including a mandatory 10-year sentence that must run consecutively.