EL MONTE, California — The FBI and local authorities are investigating an explosion apparently caused by a bomb at a Los Angeles-area church that had been the target of protests for its anti-gay views.
Officers responding around 4:30 a.m. Saturday initially thought a vandal had broken the windows of First Works Baptist Church in El Monte, police there said. Then officers noticed smoke coming from inside the building.
“Then we realized that the windows were not smashed, that they had actually blown out from some type of explosion,” Lt. Christopher Cano said.
No one was in the church at the time and no injuries were reported. The extent of the damage to the building was unclear.
The FBI said it appeared the damage was the result of an improvised explosive device.
Protestors have repeatedly targeted the church headed by Pastor Bruce Mejia, who has condemned same-sex relationships.
A statement on it website says: “We believe that homosexuality is a sin and an abomination which God punishes with the death penalty.”
Mejia’s sermons and the church’s stance were called hate speech during public comments at an El Monte City Council meeting, according to the Mercury News.
The Southern Poverty Law Center listed the church on its 2019 watch list of “anti-LBGTQ hate groups.”
The church had been the target of protests in the city, 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 force them to leave town.
The church is part of the New Independent Fundamental Baptist Movement, a network of 30 churches known for calling for the government to round up and execute gay people.
The network’s leader, Steven Anderson, is 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.
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.”