On Monday (10), 22-year-old Holden Matthews pleaded guilty in a Western Louisiana court room to burning three Baptist churches in the St. Landry Parish area between March 26 and April 4, 2019, all in the name of black metal.
According to a press release from the United States Department of Justice, he pled guilty to:
“three counts of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, 18 U.S.C. § 247(a)(1) — one count for each church — as well as one count of using fire to commit a federal felony, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 844(h).”
The arson spree started March 26 with the St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, Louisiana, followed by the Greater Union Baptist Church, in Opelousas, Louisiana on April 2. Two days later on April 4 he set fire to the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, Louisiana. All buildings were empty at the time of each fire and no one was injured. It has been determined that these were not hate crimes and that the locations were chosen for the “religious character of these buildings.”
Matthews, the son of a St. Landry Parish sheriff’s deputy, was arrested on April 11 following evidence of his presence at the third site, namely a red gas can that was traced back to a Walmart where receipts and security footage placed him purchasing the tools of his crimes. He had also posted several photos and videos of the burning buildings to Facebook.
In court, Matthews claimed he committed these acts as a way to elevate “his profile as a “Black Metal” musician.” He was the frontman of a band called Vodka Vultures. In the press release, he admitted to having:
“taken these photographs and videos in real time on his cell phone, as he watched those churches burn, and that he had posted them to Facebook in an effort to promote himself in the Black Metal community.”
It was also reported that he had been using some of the photos from the crime scene to make album cover art.
According to The Daily Beast, Matthews participated in a handful of pagan and black metal Facebook pages and had a particular interest in neo-Nazi and disgraced Burzum frontman Varg Vikernes. Vikernes’ 1993 conviction for killing a fellow musician and burning down several churches in Norway are said to have, at least in part, inspired Matthews’ actions. He had recently commented on posts about the musician and had viewed the film Lords of Chaos, which details his the church burnings and takes a controversially lenient stance on his alt-right views, in the weeks leading up to the fires.
Said Civil Rights Division Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband in the press release:
“The Department of Justice will remain unwavering in its protection of the freedom to practice religion without the threat of discrimination or violence. Matthews admitted to setting fire to three churches because of their religious character. His disgraceful conduct violated the civil rights of the church’s parishioners and harmed their communities.”
U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph of the Western District of Louisiana also commented, saying:
“Today, the defendant has taken responsibility for the burning and destruction of three of our churches. The freedom to safely congregate and worship in our churches is a fundamental right of all Americans and will be vigorously protected by my office and our law enforcement partners.”
It turns out the speculations on Matthews’ motive was true this entire time. Matthews will be back in court May 22 for sentencing. If found guilty, he could face a minimum sentence of 10 years in prison and a “statutory maximum” of 70.