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WASHINGTON (WJW) — An Alliance man who admitted to throwing Molotov cocktails at a Chesterland church because it was planning to host drag events was sentenced to 18 years in prison on Monday.
Aimenn D. Penny, 20, of Alliance, pleaded guilty in October to violating the Church Arson Prevention Act in his March 25, 2023, attack on the Community Church of Chesterland.
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. He admitted to the attack when interviewed by FBI agents, saying “he was trying to protect children and stop the drag show event,” according to his criminal affidavit.
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.
Penny will be under supervision for three years upon his release.
Prosecutors asked for the maximum possible sentence of 20 years, court filings show. Prosecutors in a Jan. 22 sentencing memorandum wrote:
Because of the prominent roles that churches and other houses of worship play in a community, attacking a church strikes at the very heart of a community. Burning a church is as potent a symbol of hate as burning a cross on a lawn or leaving a hanging noose. When Defendant Aimenn Penny threw Molotov cocktails at the Community Church of Chesterland, he joined this shameful history of hatred and attacked the heart of the local community, trying to intimidate and frighten those who disagreed with him. Since being arrested, Penny has shown no remorse or regret for his actions. Penny deserves a substantial sentence for using violence to show his hatred for others.
Following the attack, the FBI identified Penny as a member of White Lives Matter Ohio, a group it said has “racist, pro-Nazi and homophobic views,” reads the memorandum.
Wadsworth police had also seen Penny distributing anti-drag queen propaganda in the area before a drag queen story hour set for March 11. The day of the event, he was part of a White Lives Matter protest group there, carrying swastika flags and shouting homophobic slurs. Penny was wearing “military style gear,” including camouflage pants and a tactical vest, reads the memorandum.
Investigators used Penny’s phone records to link him to the scene of the church attack — nearly an hour drive from Alliance — later that month, on March 24.
During a warranted search of his residence and car the following week, investigators found gas cans as well as painter’s tape matching those found on the bottles thrown in the church attack. They also found various firearms and ammunition — including an assault rifle with scope, an AR-15 style rifle, a shotgun and a Ruger handgun — as well as Nazi memorabilia.
“When asked by the FBI what kind of message he was trying to send, Penny explained it was ‘intimidation mostly, like they’re not welcome here,'” it reads. “Interestingly, despite his claim that he was only trying to help kids, Penny does not address how his firebombing of a church protected the children who attend it for preschool.”
While detained at a federal prison in Youngstown, Penny “showed no remorse” and instead appeared proud of the attack, claiming he was “respected for it” in prison, according to the memorandum.
While in prison, Penny wrote a manifesto “full of twisted and false historical narratives” and using an antisemitic slur, that called for members of his extremist groups to commit violence at a drag show event that was planned for the following April 29 at Akron Civic Theatre.
The FBI didn’t find any evidence of a conspiracy to attack the theater. The event was ultimately pushed three months “due to unrelated circumstances” and held on July 29 “without incident,” according to the memorandum.
Investigators believe Penny chose to attack the Chesterland church based on matters of gender identity and sexual orientation, reads the memorandum, which prosecutors argued would enhance his sentence.
“In Penny’s recorded interview with the FBI, he stated that he believed he was doing ‘God’s work’ and that he ‘steered history,’ bringing attention to his cause by attacking the church,” reads the memorandum. “Penny viewed inaction as ‘cowardice’ and realized that he ‘had to do’ it, and if he believed another similar situation arose where people were ‘grooming kids,’ he would do it again.”