Aimenn Penny, 20, of Alliance, Ohio, was arrested and charged in 2023 with one count of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, another count of using fire to commit a federal felony, a count of malicious use of explosives, and a count of possessing a destructive device, according to the Department of Justice.
Penny pleaded guilty to the church arson hate crime and using fire and explosives to commit a felony on 23 October 2023.
On 25 March 2023, Penny reportedly made Molotov cocktails and then drove to the Community Church of Chesterland in Chesterland, Ohio.
Court documents say Penny was motivated by his anger at the church for hosting a pair of drag events that were scheduled for the following weekend. He then threw a pair of Molotov cocktails at the church, reportedly with the intent to burn them down.
During his guilty plea, Penny admitted he used the explosives to stop the church's congregants from holding the events.
Penny is a member of the extremist White Lives Matter Ohio group and another organisation called the "Blood Tribe," which the Anti-Defamation League describes as a "neo-Nazi group" that espouses "white supremacist beliefs" that include the deification of Adolf Hitler.
“This sentence holds Mr. Penny accountable for carrying out violence against an Ohio church because he disagreed with the way congregants chose to express their beliefs,” Assistant Attorney General Matthew G Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, said. “Such acts of extremist violence have no place in our communities and the Justice Department is committed to bringing to justice those who would use or threaten violence to prevent their fellow citizens from freely exercising their fundamental rights.”
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said she hopes Penny's sentence "sends a clear and resounding message that this type of hate-fueled attack against a church will not be tolerated in our country”.
“This defendant tried to burn down a church simply because its members created space for and provided support to the LGBTQ+ community," she said. "The Justice Department will vigorously investigate and prosecute such senseless, bias-motivated violence against people exercising their constitutionally protected right to practice their religion and express their beliefs.”
Penny insisted during his sentencing that he acted in an effort to "protect children", and said he did not believe that men should be dressing as women, or vice versa, according to USA Today.
"Especially in a place of worship," Penny said. "I didn't hurt anyone."
In addition to his prison sentence, Penny will have to pay $10,507 in restitution to the church, undergo mental health treatment, and serve three years of supervised probation following his release.
Megan Carver, a church official who organised the drag shows, said she was saddened that Penny chose hate over "everything".
"I'm all about free speech in this country. It's one of the things I love about this country," she said. "But violence is absolutely unacceptable. I'm crestfallen because this person chose hate over everything."