Holden Matthews: Man admits burning churches to raise 'black metal' profile

  • Published
Holden MatthewsImage source, @LAFIREMARSHAL
Image caption,
Matthews pleaded guilty to both federal and state charges

A 22-year-old man has pleaded guilty to intentionally setting fire to three African-American churches in the US state of Louisiana.

Holden Matthews, 22, admitted to starting the fires to raise his profile as a "black metal" musician, prosecutors said.

He burned three Baptist churches in the Opelousas area over 10 days beginning in late March 2019.

He faces 10 to 70 years in jail when he is sentenced on 22 May.

On Monday, Matthews entered several guilty pleas for federal and state charges.

The three churches Matthews admitted to torching had predominantly African-American congregations.

Federal prosecutors did not specify whether there was a racial element to Matthews's crimes, but hate crimes were among the charges he pleaded guilty to.

Matthews, the white son of a local sheriff deputy, set fire to those churches "because of the religious character of those buildings", they said.

"His disgraceful conduct violated the civil rights of the church's parishioners and harmed their communities," said assistant attorney general Eric Dreiband.

What did Holden Matthews admit to?

On Monday, Matthews pleaded guilty to four federal criminal charges, including three of intentional damage to religious property. He has also pleaded guilty to six charges at state level.

The three Baptist churches he targeted were St Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre (on 26 March), Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas (on 2 April) and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas (on 4 April).

Each church was razed to the ground by the fires Matthews lit, prosecutors said. No-one was injured, as it was the middle of the night.

Image source, CBS
Image caption,
Debris at one of the church fires in Louisiana's St Landry Parish

During his plea hearing, Matthews said he specifically targeted those churches. He did so because he sought to emulate church burnings carried out by black metal music fans in Norway in the 1990s.

In the 1990s, at least 50 Christian churches in Norway were attacked by arsonists in the name of black metal, a subgenre of heavy metal music. Varg Vikernes was among the most infamous black metal musicians to be convicted of church arson in this period.

A member of a black metal band himself, Matthews told prosecutors he believed the acts would elevate his status.

He admitted to posting pictures and videos of the church burnings to Facebook "in an effort to promote himself in the black metal community".

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
The Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas was torched on 4 April, 2019

His arrest came more than two weeks after the first fire broke out.

The Daily Beast reported that Matthews commented on social media posts about Vikernes, a known neo-Nazi who was jailed in 1994.

Black metal music often contains references to Satanism and pagan beliefs. Some extremists within the genre, like Vikernes, are also proponents of white nationalism.

During the search for a suspect, Governor John Bel Edwards said the attacks in the southern state were a reminder "of a very dark past of intimidation and fear".