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The son of a sheriff’s deputy in Louisiana says he burned down three churches with predominantly African-American congregations last year to boost his credentials within Black Metal circles.
Holden Matthews, 22, switched his plea to “guilty” on Monday to federal civil rights charges for the string of church burnings around Opelousas between March and April last year. All three fires, at St. Mary Baptist Church, Greater Union Baptist Church, and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, were started with gasoline and nobody was in the buildings when they were set. He had initially pleaded “not guilty” after the federal indictment dropped last June.
Matthews, whose father works as a deputy in St. Landry’s Parish, admitted to three counts of intentional damage to a religious facility and one count of using fire to commit a felony. He’s now facing between 10 and 70 years in prison.
Matthews was trying to emulate church burnings committed by members of the Norwegian Black Metal scene in the 1990s, according to a statement from the Justice Department. He told prosecutors that he took videos and photos of the churches burning after he set them alight and then shared them on Facebook.
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Following his arrest about a week after the third church burning, federal investigators started looking closely at his involvement in the black metal scene for clues about his motive. Police said they tracked him down using old fashioned detective work, through evidence left at the scene, as well as technological evidence such as cellphone tower records placing him in the vicinity of the churches when they were burned.
Matthews had several Facebook accounts, and on at least one of them, he’d commented on memes about Varg Vikernes, a Norwegian black metal musician whom French authorities arrested in 2013 on suspicion of plotting a “large terror attack.”
Matthews is also facing separate state charges, which include committing a hate crime. That means state prosecutors will have to show that he singled out St. Mary Baptist Church, Greater Union Baptist Church, and the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church because of their predominantly black congregations.
Cover image: The burnt ruins of the Greater Union Baptist Church, one of three that recently burned down in St. Landry Parish, are seen in Opelousas, La., Wednesday, April 10, 2019. The first fire occurred March 26 at St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, and the second happened April 2 at Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas. On April 4, Mount Pleasant caught fire. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)