The son of a Louisiana sheriff’s deputy faces serious jail time after pleading guilty to a series of fires at historically Black churches last year.
Holden Matthews, 22, had previously pleaded not guilty to the burnings of three Baptist churches in St. Landry Parish but has since admitted to setting the fires that ravaged Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas, and the St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, federal prosecutors announced Monday.
All three were destroyed in a 10-day span between March 26 and April 4, 2019.
Matthews pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act — one for each church — and one count of using fire to commit a federal felony, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
The arson left several in the tight-knit community on edge, bringing back memories of racist church burnings that were all too common across the Jim Crow South.
“It’s like the ’60s again,” Earnest Hines, a deacon at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, told The Advocate newspaper at the time. “I don’t know why this happened, and we don’t need to jump to conclusions.”
Matthews told investigators he set the fires due to “the religious character of these buildings, in an effort to raise his profile as a ‘Black Metal’ musician by copying similar crimes committed in Norway in the 1990s.” DOJ officials said he was likely influenced by the heavy metal sub-genre and its history with church burnings.
“Mr. Holden Matthews made a conscious decision to randomly target and destroy churches within his own community,” FBI Special Agent in Charge Bryan Vorndran said in a statement. “His atrocious actions inflicted severe pain and grief upon these congregations, as well as all of St. Landry Parish.”
Moreover, the defendant admitted to posting photos and videos online as the first two sanctuaries burned to the ground. He filmed the fires in real-time before uploading the clips to social media, investigators said.
According to a CNN report, Matthews also espoused his disgust for Baptist beliefs on Facebook, once writing: I can’t “stand all these baptists around here, bunch of brainwashed people trying to find happiness in a religion that was forced on their ancestors just as it was on mine.”
In response to a post on “afrikan spirituality,” he added that he wished “more blacks [sic] people would look into ancient beliefs of pre Christian Africa.”
The remains of a Scepter brand gas can found at one of the churches would lead federal authorities to a local Walmart and ultimately to Matthews, 22, a court affidavit shows. Surveillance video and credit card receipts would link him to the crimes.
“His disgraceful conduct violated the civil rights of the church’s parishioners and harmed their communities,” DOJ Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Eric Dreiband said. “The Department of Justice will remain unwavering in its protection of the freedom to practice religion without the threat of discrimination or violence.”
Matthews faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment, in addition to a statutory maximum sentence of 70 years behind bars.
His sentencing is scheduled for May 22.