Bomb Targets California Anti-LGBTQ Church; FBI Investigates

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Sunday January 24, 2021

Bruce Mejia, pastor of First Works Baptist Church
Bruce Mejia, pastor of First Works Baptist Church  (Source:Screenshot/Bruce Mejia/Instagram)

A bomb went off Jan. 23 at First Works Baptist Church in El Monte, California - a church known for its pastor's attacks on LGBTQ people, women, Black Lives Matter, and the Jewish community, The New York Times reports.

The church - located in El Monte, a town about 13 miles from Los Angeles - had faced community protests for its extremist views. The FBI is looking into the crime.

The bomb, described as an "improvised explosive device," detonated at about 1 a.m. No one was injured in the blast, and the building, while suffering broken windows, was structurally undamaged, the Times account said. Police also found graffiti at the scene: The words "Get out" had been spray painted on the church.

"The motive for the attack is not known but it comes amid growing outrage toward Mejia and First Works due to the church's anti-LGBT teachings," reported UK newspaper the Daily Mail.

"A protest was held outside the church last Sunday while residents blasted the church's teachings as hate speech at a recent El Monte City Council meeting," the Mail noted.

The Times said that the church belongs to "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," and added that the network is led by Steve Anderson.

Anderson is well-known for his anti-LGBTQ screeds, including his public praise of the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016. Anderson's hate rhetoric has led to his being banned from several countries.

The Times article noted that, according to hate group watchdog the Southern Poverty Law Center, the pastor of the church, Bruce Mejia, and Anderson both "spoke at a 'Make America Straight Again' conference in Orlando in 2019, two days after the third anniversary of the massacre" that killed 49 people, many of them Latinx members of the LGBTQ community.

The Times cited the SPLC as recounting that "Mr. Mejia called on the authorities to carry out a mass execution of L.G.B.T.Q. people" in his speech at the conference.

Mejia has also railed against efforts to create and distribute a vaccine against COVID-19 and denied that people of the Catholic faith are Christians.

Two weeks before the attack, Mejia said, he had claimed to police that he'd been threatened on social media with an "arson attack," the Times article said.

Keep El Monte Friendly, a group that had protested the church's extremist rhetoric, expressed "shock" in a post addressing the bombing. One member of the group, Abigail Capiendo, said, "We do not think it was anyone on our side."

Added Capiendo: "From the beginning, we've had as our message that it was all love."

The town's chief of police, David Reynoso, cautioned that, "In no way can we say anyone related to the demonstrations is involved or responsible for this crime."

A spokesperson for the FBI told the Times: "We have not ruled anything out."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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