A federal grand jury has filed hate crimes charges against a Louisiana man who allegedly burned three historical African-American churches in an arson spree.
Holden James Matthews, 21, was charged with six counts in an indictment announced by the U.S. Department of Justice on Wednesday.
According to the indictment, Matthews set the church buildings on fire because of their religious nature. Three of the counts involve intentional damage to religious property, classified as a hate crime under the Church Arson Prevention Act.
Matthews was also indicted on three counts of using fire to commit a felony. If found guilty, Matthews can face as much as 20 years imprisonment per count of intentional damage to religious property, as well as at least 10 years for the first count of using fire to commit a felony.
U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph for the Western District of Louisiana said in a statement that any attack “against an individual or group because of their religious beliefs will not be tolerated.”
“Churches are vital places of worship and fellowship for our citizens and bind us together as a community. Our freedom to safely congregate in these churches and exercise our religious beliefs must be jealously guarded,” stated Joseph on Wednesday.
“Today we are one step closer to justice for the parishioners of these churches and the St. Landry Parish communities affected by these acts. My office will continue to work diligently with our law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute any type of hate crime.”
Earlier this year, St. Mary’s Baptist Church of Port Barre, Greater Union Baptist Church and Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church of Opelousas were heavily damaged by arson attacks that took place over a span of less than two weeks.
Police arrested Matthews, the son of a sheriff’s deputy who had a strong interest in Black Metal, a musical genre known for anti-Christian themes, and reportedly often used racial slurs.
“Information investigators have uncovered, and that Matthews has offered, suggests a possible connection with a genre of music called 'black metal' and its associated history with church burnings in other parts of the world, which have been documented in movies and books,” said State Fire Marshal H. Browning in a statement, as reported by CNN.
In response to the fires, a widely circulated social media campaign was launched to fundraise for the three congregations so that they could rebuild their churches.
Earlier this month, it was reported that $2.6 million was raised on their behalf, with each church slated to receive approximately $866,000 for their respective rebuilding efforts.