(AP) – An eastern Ohio man told investigators that he tried to burn down an Ohio church because he wanted to prevent a drag show that was scheduled to take place there, federal prosecutors allege in newly unsealed charges.
Aimenn Penny, a 20-year-old from Alliance who is a member of a “white lives matter” group that espouses racist and neo-Nazi views, tried to burn down the Community Church of Chesterland early on March 25, authorities allege in court documents unsealed Monday. Chesterland is a small community east of Cleveland.
Drag shows have become a target of conservative groups and leaders around the nation, with some claiming the art form sexually grooms children. Performers and event organizers, though, say the shows are innocent fun and that it’s those who protest against them who are terrorizing and harming children and making them political pawns.
According to the criminal complaint in the Ohio case, Penny said he tried to burn down the church using Molotov cocktails because he wanted to “protect the children and stop the drag show event.” He also regretted that it didn’t work, authorities said.
The FBI said the church, which was unoccupied at the time, sustained minimal damage and had scorch marks on the front door. According to court documents, investigators found broken glass from a vodka bottle and a beer bottle each containing a cloth-type material, along with a burnt matchstick and a blue plastic spray bottle filled with gasoline.
Penny was arrested March 31 and remains in custody. His attorney, John Greven, has declined to comment on the charges.
Penny is charged with violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, using fire to commit a federal felony, the malicious use of explosive materials and possessing a destructive device. He faces up to 50 years in prison if he’s convicted on all counts.
Concerns over security matters or potentially violent protests at drag shows have led to some being canceled or moved, including to venues that don’t admit children.
Several hundred bills restricting transgender people’s rights have been introduced in statehouses this year, including bills stipulating which bathrooms they can use and banning gender affirming care for minors. Transgender people have also faced increasingly hostile rhetoric from conservative lawmakers who are introducing such proposals.
Some of the most stringent measures have been enacted in Tennessee, where the Republican governor signed into law drag show restrictions, though they have been blocked from taking effect.