Sunday, April 18

Bombing at California Church Known for Its Anti-L.G.B.T.Q. Views

The F.B.I. and local authorities are investigating a bombing on Saturday morning at a church in Los Angeles County that had recently been the target of protests for its extremist views against L.G.B.T.Q. people, women and the Black Lives Matter movement.a sign on the side of a road: The authorities are investigating an explosion that happened early on Saturday at First Works Baptist Church in El Monte, Calif.© KCAL9 The authorities are investigating an explosion that happened early on Saturday at First Works Baptist Church in El Monte, Calif.

The police responded to reports of an explosion at the church, First Works Baptist Church, in El Monte, Calif., just after 1 a.m. on Saturday.

An “improvised explosive device” was found to be the source of the attack, said Chief David Reynoso of the Police Department in El Monte, which is about 13 miles east of Los Angeles. Officials would not elaborate on what they found.

No one was in the church at the time, and no injuries were reported. The authorities found obscenities and the words “get out” spray-painted on the front of the church, Chief Reynoso said.

Laura Eimiller, a spokeswoman with the F.B.I.’s Los Angeles field office, said that no one had been taken into custody and that it was too early to determine a motive behind the bombing. “We have not ruled anything out,” she said.

Ms. Eimiller said that bomb technicians from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office were working with the F.B.I. and its evidence response team to assess the damage.

Chief Reynoso said the church had broken windows but, structurally, the building “does not appear to be damaged.”

About two weeks ago, Bruce Mejia, the pastor of the church, reported to the police that it had received an arson threat on social media, Chief Reynoso said.

The church had been the target of protests, and more than 14,000 people have signed an online petition calling on El Monte’s mayor to recognize the church as a hate group and “take them out of our city.”

“In no way can we say anyone related to the demonstrations is involved or responsible for this crime,” Chief Reynoso said. “We don’t know the motive at this point.”

First Works Baptist Church was founded in 2017, according to its website.

Mr. Mejia said the church had been at its current site for three years. The church, a low-slung building on a street corner, resembles a storefront, with restaurants and homes nearby.

“It’s not going to really deter us from doing what we always do,” Mr. Mejia said on Saturday. “We’re not afraid of this. It’s just a little bump in the road, and we’re still planning to have church tomorrow, obviously not at this current location, but we’re still planning to have church and once this is all said and done, we’re going to go back.”

The church is part of the New Independent Fundamental Baptist Movement, a network of 22 American and eight international churches known for their hateful rhetoric and calls for the government to round up and execute gay people, the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that analyzes hate groups, reported in 2019.

Mr. Mejia is an outspoken acolyte of the network’s leader, Steven Anderson, an Arizona pastor who has drawn widespread condemnation for celebrating the 2016 shooting at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., where 49 people were killed, the Southern Poverty Law Center said.

Mr. Anderson also gained notoriety in 2009 for saying in a sermon that he had prayed for the death of President Barack Obama, and was criticized by the Anti-Defamation League in 2014 for what it called his “history of anti-Semitism.”

Calls and an email to Mr. Anderson’s church were not immediately returned.

Mr. Mejia and Mr. Anderson were among a number of church leaders who spoke at a “Make America Straight Again” conference in Orlando in 2019, two days after the third anniversary of the massacre at Pulse, according to the law center.

At the conference, Mr. Mejia called on the authorities to carry out a mass execution of L.G.B.T.Q. people, according to the center.

“We don’t advocate Christians to go out and be vigilantes,” and kill gay people, he said, according to the center. “We want the government to do it.”

Mr. Mejia also spoke of “waging war against the sodomites,” and ripped a rainbow flag in half, yelling, “I’m so sick and tired of them parading this thing around us,” to loud cheers from the audience, according to the center.

Mr. Mejia has also denounced Black Lives Matter for its “wicked agenda,” called women inherently “weak” and preached against Jewish people and their “filthy lucre.”

On Saturday, Keep El Monte Friendly, which had organized protests against the church, said on Instagram that it was “in profound shock” and hoped that no one had been hurt. It said it had canceled a protest at the church that was planned for Sunday.

“We do not think it was anyone on our side,” Abigail Capiendo, a member of Keep El Monte Friendly who helped to start the online petition, said on Saturday. “From the beginning, we’ve had as our message that it was all love.”

The city’s mayor, Jessica Ancona, said the bombing was “highly concerning” and called for a full investigation.

“We are a city that cares and protects all its residents and visitors,” she said on Twitter. “We respect and uphold the laws that protect each one of us, regardless of who we are.”

Source: The New York Times

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