A far-right extremist from Ohio was sentenced to 18 years in federal prison for firebombing a church that planned to host two drag events.
Aimenn Penny, 20, is a member of White Lives Matter, Ohio, a group with racist, pro-Nazi and homophobic views, according to the US Justice Department.
He was arrested last March several days after he threw Molotov cocktails at the Community Church of Chesterland in Chesterland, Ohio.
The Community Church of Chesterland had planned to host two drag shows on April 1, 2023. Days before the scheduled events, on March 25, the church reported to local police that the building had been damaged by Molotov cocktails during the night, according to a criminal complaint filed in US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
There were scorch marks on the front door and a sign outside the building, according to the complaint. A sign on the property had also been damaged.
Penny pleaded guilty in October to a church arson hate crime and to using fire and explosives to commit a felony. He was sentenced to 216 months, or 18 years, in prison by US District Judge Bridget Meehan Brennan, according to a filing in US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
Federal prosecutors said during the case that church burnings have “a long and sordid history” in the United States and such acts serve “as potent a symbol of hate as burning a cross on a lawn or leaving a hanging noose.”
“We hope this significant sentence sends a clear and resounding message that this type of hate-fuelled attack against a church will not be tolerated in our country,” Kristen Clarke, who leads the Justice Department’s civil rights division, said in a statement.
John W. Greven, a lawyer for Mr. Penny, said in an interview that his client intended to appeal the sentence. He called Mr. Penny’s case “a classic example” of a young person looking for acceptance and turning to the internet to find it.
“I feel he was brainwashed by some people because really there is nothing in his past that would ever indicate that he would do something like this,” Mr. Greven said. “It’s sad all the way around.”
Drag shows often involve, opens new tab feminine clothing, makeup and hair worn by a man, and have become increasingly mainstream in recent years in the United States. Ohio Republican lawmakers who oppose drag shows consider them contrary to traditional values and have labeled them as explicit and obscene.
US Republicans have led efforts to limit drag in many states recently. Performers and civil rights groups have condemned the proposed drag regulations, saying they are unconstitutional, redundant under existing obscenity laws, and would lead to further harassment and violence against gay and transgender people.
(Reuters; Picture Courtesy: FBI)