‘White Lives Matter’ member arrested for firebombing church over drag show

Drag shows becoming increasing targets of right-wing vigilantes and Republican lawmakers

Josh Marcus
San Francisco
Saturday 01 April 2023 19:12 BST
Chicago area bakery closes following 'horrific attacks' and 'harassment' for hosting drag show

An Ohio man and alleged hate group member has been arrested for using molotov cocktails to attack a church in March that was planning to host drag events, according to officials.

Aimenn Penny has been charged with malicious use of explosive materials and possessing a destructive device, after allegedly attempting to set fire to the Community Church of Chesterland, in Chesterland, Ohio.

Mr Penny, who admitted to building the firebombs and attempting to burn down the church, was a member of White Lives Matter, a racist, pro-Nazi, homophobic group in Ohio, according to the Justice Department.

A search of the man’s apartment revealed Nazi memorabilia, a Nazi flag, and a manifesto, according to court documents.

During the search, the Ohio man admitted to the attack, according to the FBI.

"PENNY stated that he was trying to protect children and stop the drag show event," according to court documents. "PENNY stated that night he became more and more angry after watching internet videos of news feeds and drag shows in France and decided to attack the church. PENNY stated that he would have felt better if the Molotov cocktails were more effective and burned the entire church to the ground."

Officials condemned the indicent.

“Violence and destruction are never an acceptable way to express a disagreement with a particular viewpoint,” first assistant US Attorney Michelle M Baeppler for the Northern District of Ohio said in a statement. “While, as Americans, we enjoy the right to disagree, doing so peacefully is the only appropriate option.”

The man had previously attended an 11 March drag event in Wadsworth, according to officials, where he joined a group of protesters carrying Nazi flags, yelling slurs and wearing military-style apparel.

Last year, the Alliance Police department interviewed Mr Penny, after he was observed putting flyers on police vehicles and other cars throughout the city.

During the interview, Mr Penny said he “believes – and looks forward to – the civil war coming between races,” and made racist comments about African-Americans.

Drag performances and queer spaces have become increasing targets of attacks from the right.

A bakery in Chicago that sometimes hosts events featuring drag performers announced it will be closing this month, after months of attacks including broken windows and hateful messages.

“Closing our doors is the direct result of the horrific attacks, endless harassment and unrelenting negative misinformation about our establishment in the last eight months,” owner Corinna Sac said of the decision reported by the Chicago Sun Times.

In February, the state of Tennessee banned drag performances in spaces involving minors, and Republicans have made similar restrictions on LGBT+ expression a priority across the country, with an estimated 32 similar bills working their way through legislative chambers across the country, according to The Guardian. A federal judge has temporarily blocked the law.

“What happens here is that social media goes unchecked, and it takes those lies and that disinformation and it spreads like wildfire,”  Sarah Kate Ellis, CEO of advocacy group GLAAD, told PBS in December. “It stirs up people and creates this environment that is very deadly. And I think we — it’s really interesting, because we started doing this count right before Colorado Springs happened, because we realize that, if you pulled back and you looked at it holistically, there were so many attacks against the drag community, that it wasn’t these isolated instances.

Sometimes, the violence turns deadly.

In November, a 22-year-old killed five people and injured 18 others at an LGBT+ club in Colorado Springs.

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