Louisiana churches are destroyed by an arsonist who wished to prove his loyalty to Black Metal.
Black Metal follower Holden Matthews, 23, was sentenced today in the Western District of Louisiana to 300 months in prison in addition to three years of supervised release for intentionally setting fire to three African American Baptist churches because of “the religious character of those buildings,” according to court records. He was sentenced on three counts of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act as well as one count of using fire to commit a federal felony. These fires, set over a ten-day period in 2019, completely destroyed the three church buildings and the the defendant was also ordered to pay restitution of $590,246 to St. Mary Baptist Church, $970,213.30 to Greater Union Baptist Church, and $1,100,000 to Mount Pleasant Baptist Church.
Matthews pleaded guilty to these charges back in February 2020. At his plea hearing, he admitted to setting the fires in an effort to raise his profile as a Black Metal musician. “Matthews had shown interest in this extreme sub-genre of heavy metal,” according to authorities, and the music has been linked to fires at Christian churches in Norway. The defendant also admitted he posted images and video footage on Facebook in an effort to promote himself in the Black Metal community.
“These churches trace their origins to the post-Civil War Reconstruction period and, for generations, were a place for predominantly African American Christians to gather, pray, worship, and celebrate their faith,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “The churches survived for nearly 150 years but did not survive this defendant’s warped act of hatred. I extend my sympathy to the victims of this defendant’s arson spree, the congregants of Saint Mary Baptist Church, Greater Union Baptist Church, and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church. The Justice Department will continue vigorously to protect their right to worship and live in peace. The Justice Department stands against these acts of hate and the sentence handed down today reflects that. We will continue to protect the civil right of Americans to freedom of worship without fear of persecution.”
“The members of St. Mary Baptist Church, Greater Union Baptist Church, and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church are the ones who have suffered the most from these heinous crimes and have lost not only physical buildings, but sentimental items that cannot be replaced,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Alexander C. Van Hook of the Western District of Louisiana. “The sentence handed down today will not bring their churches back but should send a clear message that there is a high price to pay for this type of destruction and violence, and these type of crimes, will not be tolerated by this office.”
“A cornerstone of our constitution is the Freedom of Religion and the right to practice your faith freely and without intimidation,” said FBI New Orleans Special Agent in Charge Bryan Vorndran. “Matthews’s acts of threatening and intimidating an entire community by setting fire to three historically African American churches were unspeakable. We hope that today’s sentencing brings a level of comfort and satisfaction that justice has prevailed for the parishioners of St. Mary Baptist Church, Greater Union Baptist Church, and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church as well as for all of the citizens of St. Landry Parish affected by these heinous acts.”