The FBI and local authorities are investigating an explosion and vandalism at a church in Southern California known for its controversial pastor and his anti-LGBT views.
The First Works Baptist Church in El Monte, California, just east of downtown Los Angeles, was shaken by a blast in the early morning hours Saturday, according to the FBI. When responding to the scene just after 1 a.m. local time there was smoke coming out of the windows and the outside of the church was covered with graffiti, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said.
"It appeared that the walls to the church had been vandalized as well as all the windows," El Monte police Lt. Christopher Cano told reporters Saturday. "[The windows] appeared at first to be smashed, then we realized that the windows were not smashed, that they had actually blown out from some type of explosion."
The FBI referred to the explosion as an "IED attack" and said bomb technicians were on the scene investigating.
No one was injured in the blast, police said.
The First Works Baptist Church and its pastor, Bruce Mejia, has developed a reputation for inflammatory language, labeled by many as hate speech. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, labeled First Works Baptist Church a hate group in 2019 for its anti-LGBT stance.
An online petition calling for the mayor of El Monte to force the First Works Baptist Church out of the city has garnered over 15,000 signatures.
In reports and on social media, Mejia strongly opposes gay marriage. He also has used his social media accounts to repeatedly mock President Joe Biden and is strongly opposed to vaccinations, regularly sharing memes dismissing the COVID-19 vaccine.
In comments to The New York Times after the blast, Mejia said, "It's not going to really deter us from doing what we always do."
"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," he added.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, who represents the district where the explosion happened, said in a statement that "violence is never the answer, even in response to hate speech."
"Although we do not yet know the motive, am I aware of the anti-LGBTQ+ and misogynistic sermons given by the pastor of the First Works Baptist Church; 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."
"I value inclusivity, diversity, and equality. I also support the right to peacefully protest; however, this attack is wrong and it is dangerous," Solis added. "I urge city leaders, church leaders, and civic leaders to come together and work together to address hate issues in our community."
El Monte Mayor Jessica Ancona wrote on Twitter, "This early morning's incident involving the First Works Baptist Church is highly concerning to me and all of us in our great City of El Monte. I am calling for a full and thorough investigation to take place by all the necessary agencies and entities such as the FBI, LA County Sheriffs, LA County Fire, El Monte PD, including the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission. As your mayor, I will always ensure that the City of El Monte continues to be an example for civility, respect, and inclusion of all people across the nation."
A protest scheduled to take place outside the church on Sunday was canceled, according to the organizers, Keep El Monte Friendly, who wrote on social media they "would never promote, encourage or condone any violence or acts of harm."
"We kindly encourage everyone to not engage with violence and to not fight hate with hate," the group wrote in a second message on Facebook late Saturday. "Again, Keep El Monte Friendly was created to unite the community and create a safe space for all. We will continue to progressively overcome this struggle through peace."
The FBI asked for anyone with information on the explosion to call 310-477-6565.