[UPDATED] Why Would This Man Try to Burn Down His Beloved Church?

Izad Chavoshan booking photo.JPG
Courtesy of Orange County District Attorney's Office
Izad Chavoshan's booking photo.

UPDATED WITH COMMENT FROM A CHURCH OFFICIAL . . .

The bizarre case of the Huntington Beach man charged with trying to burn down Orange County Church of Christ not one, two, three but four times (!) just keeps getting bizarrer.

Thirty-year-old Izad Chavoshan could get up to 20 years in state prison if he is convicted of the three felony counts of arson, one felony count of attempted arson and a hate crime sentencing enhancement against him. It certainly won't help Chavoshan's defense that he has a prior strike conviction from 1998 for criminal threats.

Yet, to read Chavoshan's Facebook page, you get the impression that authorities must've grabbed the wrong dude. The 1996 Marina High School grad lists his nickname as "Johnny Cash," his party affiliation as Republican and his favorite quote being law-and-order moralista  Ronald Reagan's "I am not worried about the deficit. It is big enough to take care of itself."

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From Izad Chavoshan's Facebook page

Chavoshan's page includes photos from Orange Coast College Persian Students Society events and parties, and among his message to the other 150 fans of the Los Angeles International Church of Christ-East Region Religious Center was this one from Aug. 5: "Hello LAICC . . . I encourage all of you to attend Harvest Crusade. I am a born-again Christian and a Republican. www.harvest.org."

Just 10 or so weeks later, he was arrested not with a smoking gun but a burning trash can in front of the LAICC's Orange County church in Irvine, and investigators linked him to three other fires there since Oct. 15.

What the hell happened?

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Izad Chavoshan's Facebook page
Izad Chavoshan (right) stands by Persian Students Society members at the OCC Health Fair.

Deputy District Attorney Andrew Katz of the Special Prosecutions Unit is prosecuting the case, but the Weekly's inquiry was directed to the OCDA spokeswoman Susan Shroeder, who said her office cannot go into the exact nature of Chavoshan's alleged problems with the Church of Christ, nor can it render a legal judgment concerning the defendant's mental fitness.

R.J. "Bob" Harpole, the South County evangelist at Orange County Church of Christ, confirmed that Chavoshan was an off and on member of the congregation.

"Based on my discussion with a staff member who was in Orange County then, Mr. Chavosan was a member of our congregation for a while in the late '90s or early 2000s, after which he stopped attending," Harpole wrote in an email to the Weekly. "My understanding is that he visited the congregation several months ago for a period of a few weeks, after which he again stopped attending. I do not know the reason he stopped attending either time. We continue to pray for him."

Attempts to reach Chavoshan have so far proved unsuccessful. At the time of Chavoshan's arrest, Irvine police said the Huntington Beach man had grown "disenchanted" with that church.

On three separate occasions in October, someone entered the church property after-hours and lit trash receptacles on fire. In each instance, the rubbish collected was moved from its storage location and positioned near the church building, after which the receptacle's contents were set on fire. No damage was caused and no one was injured.

But the vandalism led Irvine police detectives and Orange County Fire Authority arson investigators to place the church at 10 Goodyear under surveillance. They claim to have watched Chavoshan around 10 p.m. on Oct. 21 drive to the church and park close to the front doors, get out of his car and approach the front of the church and repeatedly throw a trash can at the glass portion of the front doors. He is alleged to have then removed a pack of matches from his pocket, lighting a piece of paper on fire and attempting to set the church on fire by pushing the lit piece of paper between the closed church doors. Police claim to have found matches on Chavoshan and barbecue lighter fluid in his car.

Many leaving comments about the case on the Los Angeles Times website have questioned why Chavoshan was charged with a hate crime. As one reader noted, the suspect is alleged to have lashed out at his own church, not the house of worship of a faith he apparently "hated."

More fascinating are comments left on the Orange County Register's online follow-up, where many take issue with the Church of Christ, with some labeling it a cult and a few even expressing sympathy for Chavoshan. One reader pointed to a link for an internal church report on the September attempt to burn down the Church of Christ in Burley, Idaho. 

Silbano Garcia II, the "evangelist" as the church leader there is known, told congregants that he has received three death threats "from people claiming to be Christians from the Magic Valley of Idaho" since coming to the Burley church three years ago. The most recent threat came in close proximity to the fire, Garcia noted.

"The Church of Christ "is widely known in Christian circles as a cult which controls their members," "Gustafs" writes the on the Register site. "They tell members who to date, how much makeup to use, and if you're not baptized in their church, then you're not a Christian period. And if you don't evangelize (street witness) every day, you are going to hell. Most members leave the church burnt out and never come back to any faith whatsover. I went briefly to their church in Boston and that church was also burned down too. Stay Away!!!"

That prompted this response from "mackar":

"I actually attend the Orange County Church of Christ and regularly go to the building this man tried to set on fire. And it's not right to bash the church without knowing anything about it. We're not told who to date, it's just recommended that we date within the church so we don't fall into sin. The makeup thing is just a complete lie. And as far as baptizing, it's true you're not a real Christian, or "disciple" if you will, until you are baptized. (This is biblical fact.) But we in no way saying that only our church is the way."

The Irvine police investigation goes only so far publicly to reveal that Chavoshan had attended Orange County Church pf Christ and had become "disenfranchised as a result of a variety of philosophical differences."

Only God knows what is in the heart of men.



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