Holden Matthews pleaded guilty to burning several historically black churches in Louisiana to boost his profile as a black-metal musician, federal prosecutors said Monday.
Matthews, the 22-year-old son of a sheriff’s deputy, was arrested last April and has now pleaded guilty to three counts of intentionally damaging a religious building — which is classified as a federal hate crime — and one count of using fire to commit a federal felony. He will be sentenced May 22nd, and faces a mandatory minimum of 10 years and a maximum sentence of 70 years in prison.
“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 church’s parishioners and harmed their communities.”
At a recent plea hearing, Matthews admitted to setting fire to three Baptist churches around Opelousas, Louisiana, last March and April. He said he chose the churches specifically because he believed the religious nature of the buildings would help “raise his profile as a ‘black metal’ musician.” He also admitted to posting on Facebook videos and photos he took of the churches burning to garner notoriety in the black-metal community.
Matthews acknowledged that he was inspired by a series of similar crimes carried out by Varg Vikernes in Norway in the Nineties. Vikernes was the bassist for the black-metal band Mayhem, as well as a figurehead in the Norwegian neo-Nazi movement, and he served 15 years in prison for burning several churches and stabbing his bandmate, Euronymous, in 1993 over a contract dispute.