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FBI investigates explosion at anti-LGBTQ church in California

First Works Baptist Church Pastor Bruce Mejia has expressed hatred for gay men and opposition to interracial marriage.

The FBI is investigating an overnight explosion at a Los Angeles County church known for its anti-LGBTQ sermons, agency officials said Saturday.

The First Works Baptist Church in El Monte, California, was the site of an explosion and fire about 1:10 a.m., and the FBI believes an improvised explosive device was involved, authorities said.

No injuries were reported, but 14 homes and eight apartments nearby were evacuated as a precaution, El Monte police said.

"The FBI responded overnight with the El Monte Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department to an IED attack at the First Works Baptist Church in El Monte, CA," the FBI said in a statement.

Image: First Works Baptist Church
El Monte Police Chief David Reynoso takes pictures of graffiti on the side wall of the First Works Baptist Church, after an explosion in El Monte, Calif., on Jan. 23, 2021.Damian Dovarganes / AP

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said the bureau is looking at hate crime as a possible motive but that nothing has been ruled out so early in the investigation.

The FBI assumes jurisdiction over potential terrorist bombings and has taken a particular interest in house-of-worship attacks since the 1963 bombing of Birmingham, Alabama's, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, which killed four girls.

The El Monte church is led by Pastor Bruce Mejia, whose anti-LGBTQ sermons have attracted the attention of protesters and has contributed to the church's placement on a Southern Poverty Law Center list of hate groups.

Mejia did not immediately respond Saturday to a request for comment.

He has called women weak and Joe Biden wicked. Interracial marriage, he has said, was opposed by Jesus because it involves wedding a pagan.

In video of a sermon posted to YouTube in 2018, Mejia said of gay men, "When you seem someone who you know is a [expletive] full-blown, they just look like a sodomite, they’re doing all these acts, you can see and say, oh okay, they were rejected a long time ago."

The church is the subject of a petition that seeks to get it recognized as a "hate group" and moved out of El Monte. The city of 115,487 in the county's suburban San Gabriel Valley is two-thirds Latino, according to U.S. Census figures.

A group called Keep El Monte Friendly, which had planned a Sunday protest that has been canceled, said in a statement posted on Instragram Saturday, "We understand that what they preach can make people upset. However, we would never promote, encourage, condone any violence or acts of harm."

County Supervisor Hilda Solis, a former U.S. labor secretary under President Barack Obama, had already expressed concern about the church, in her district, before the explosion.

"Although we do not yet know the motive, I am aware of the anti-LGBTQ+ and misogynistic sermons given by the pastor of First Works Baptist Church;" she said in a statement, "and my office has referred concerning matters pertaining to the pastor to the County's Human Rights Commission who has been working in collaboration with the City of El Monte to deescalate the situation."