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WASHINGTON (WJW) — The FBI’s terrorism task force aided in the Friday morning arrest of an Alliance man accused of attempting to torch a Chesterland church that plans to host a drag-related reading hour for all ages on Saturday.

Aimenn D. Penny, 20, is charged by information in Ohio’s Northern District federal court with malicious use of explosive materials, or arson, and receiving or possessing a destructive device, court records show. On March 25, he allegedly threw a Molotov cocktail at the Community Church of Chesterland, authorities said.

The church is the venue of one of two drag-related events set for Saturday in Geauga County, which Penny found “objectionable,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

These photos show the damage to the Community Church of Chesterland in an alleged arson attack on March 25, 2023. (U.S. Department of Justice)

Penny admitted to the attack when interviewed by FBI agents, according to his criminal affidavit, saying “he was trying to protect children and stop the drag show event.”

Penny told agents he “became more and more angry” after watching videos online of drag shows in France before the attack.

The church was unoccupied at the time of the attack and sustained minimal damage, owners said. But Penny told agents “he would have felt better” if the Molotov cocktails were more effective and “burned the entire church to the ground.”

If convicted, Penny could face between five and 20 years in prison on the arson charge and up to 10 years in prison on the possession charge, according to the release. Court records do not list an attorney for Penny. Future court dates have not been set.

“Violence and destruction are never an acceptable way to express a disagreement with a particular viewpoint,” Michelle Baeppler, first assistant U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, is quoted in a news release. “While, as Americans, we enjoy the right to disagree, doing so peacefully is the only appropriate option. The United States Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio remains committed to protecting the rights of all citizens to express their viewpoints peacefully.”

Gregory Nelson, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Cleveland field office, said the office’s Joint Terrorism Task Force worked alongside Chester Township Police Department and other Geauga County authorities to identify, locate and arrest Penny.

Authorities said Penny is a known member of Ohio’s White Lives Matter group, which FBI Special Agent Lane Thorum noted in Penny’s affidavit is known to have “racist, pro-Nazi and homophobic views.”

Members of the group protested a March 11 drag queen event in Wadsworth, carrying swastika flags and shouting racial and homophobic slurs and “Heil Hitler,” according to reports. Penny was there, wearing “military-style gear,” according to the affidavit.

Penny is known to Alliance police as well, Thorum alleged.

Officers there on Oct. 11, 2022, observed Penny placing flyers expressing his racial views on their cruisers and other vehicles around the city while carrying a “very large” hunting knife and baton. Penny told police he felt African-Americans are “the problem,” that he sought to “educate everyone about their violence toward white Americans” and that he looked forward to what he believed was a coming race war.

Authorities analyzed Penny’s cell phone usage and found it was used near his Alliance home the night prior, then on the Chesterland church’s property early March 25. Authorities believe the attack happened sometime between midnight and 2 a.m. that day, according to the affidavit.

In a Friday search of Penny’s home, authorities found a hand-written ideological manifesto, a Nazi flag and memorabilia, a White Lives Matter of Ohio T-shirt, a gas mask, blue painters tape — of the kind found on the firebombs recovered at the church — and cans of gasoline.

The other drag-related event set for Saturday, this one for adults only, is at a Chardon restaurant.

Local police have urged organizers to cancel the events, citing “a realistic threat” of violence from protests or counter-protests. Organizers, however, said Thursday they did not intend to cancel, and instead expressed disappointment that authorities would call for their cancellation instead of working to make them more secure.

At a prayer vigil on Thursday evening, supporters of the events and a small group of protesters both called for peace and calm on Saturday.

“We think it’s important that evil is not celebrated; that God will change people’s hearts, and we think the best way to do that is to pray for people,” Chardon resident Brandon Wosotowsky told FOX 8 News.