Holden Matthews, the 22-year-old son of a sheriff's deputy with alleged ties to satanism who was charged last year with torching three historically black churches in Louisiana, pleaded guilty to his crimes Monday and confessed that he was trying to raise his profile as a “black metal” musician.
A release from the Justice Department said Matthews pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, as well as one count of using fire to commit a federal felony.
Mount Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church in Opelousas was the third historically black church over 100 years old that Matthews burned to the ground in a span of 10 days last spring. St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre was the first reported church fire on March 26, 2019, while Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas went up in flames a week later.
Matthews admitted to setting the fires because of 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, the Department of Justice said.
He also admitted that after he set the third fire, he posted photographs and videos on Facebook that showed the first two churches burning. He further revealed that he took the photographs and videos in real time on his cell phone while watching the churches burn.
“The Department of Justice will remain unwavering in its protection of the freedom to practice religion without the threat of discrimination or violence,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “Matthews admitted to setting fire to three churches because of their religious character. His disgraceful conduct violated the civil rights of the churches parishioners and harmed their communities.”
U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph of the Western District of Louisiana said, “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.”
Matthews will be sentenced on May 22 and will serve between a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, and a statutory maximum sentence of 70 years in prison.
He allegedly used a secondary Facebook account to claim Baptist worshipers were “brainwashed people” days before his arrest.
He also used his secondary account to comment on April 6 about “Afrikan spirituality,” saying he “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. I wish more blacks people would look into ancient beliefs of pre Christian Africa.”
In an interview with NPR last year, pastor Gerald Toussaint of Mount Pleasant offered Matthews forgiveness.
We got to forgive him. I feel for him because, oh, he's so young. He don't know nothing about the civil rights movement. He doesn't know nothing about lynching,” Toussaint said. “He doesn't know nothing about racial violence. He don't know that. That young man is 21 years old. What does he know? Only what people feed him — hatred and envy and strife. And if you keep feeding people with that, then it's going to turn into a whole lot worse than three churches.”