LAFAYETTE, La. — A 21-year-old Louisiana man has been arrested in the fiery destruction of three African-American churches that occurred within a 10-day span. Police are looking into the man’s interest in “black metal” as a possible influence as it pertains to its history of torching churches.
Holden Matthews, the son of a sheriff’s deputy, was taken into custody by police on Wednesday evening. Reports state that his father did not know about his son’s involvement in the crime, was deeply grieved by it, and helped to facilitate his arrest after learning that Matthews was the suspect.
Matthews has now been charged with three counts of simple arson of a religious building, with each count carrying a maximum sentence of 15 years behind bars.
“I don’t know what this young man’s motive was. I don’t know what was in his heart,” Gov. John Bel Edwards said during a press conference on Thursday. “But I can say it cannot be justified or rationalized. Let me be clear: these were evil acts.”
Police are looking into Matthews’ interest in “black metal” as a possible influence behind his actions. Matthews is the lead singer of the band Vodka Vultures, and The Daily Beast reports that he was “active in pagan and black metal pages.” He also commenter under two memes pertaining to Varg Vikernes, the former bassist for the Norwegian black metal band Mayhem.
“Vikernes boasted about burning churches in Norway with other black metal musicians called the ‘black circle,’ which he attributed to his desire to take ‘revenge’ on Christians and bring Norway back to its pagan roots,” Rolling Stone outlines.
An acquaintance of Matthews also told BuzzFeed that the suspect had an interest in the movie “Lords of Chaos,” which centers on Norwegian black metal, and includes content about Vikernes murdering a bandmate and setting churches on fire.
“Most people in our world adamantly did not like the movie and what it stood for and how it portrayed our culture,” Nygyl Blackwolf, who runs an extreme metal record label, stated. “But Holden liked it. If he did this, which is crazy, he was inspired by that movie.”
“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,” Fire Marshal Butch Browning told reporters.
“Any questions as to the potential motives of hate are continuing to be vetted by federal authorities.”
As previously reported, the fires all occurred within St. Landry Parish, with the first being at St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre on March 26. Last Tuesday, April 2, the Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas went up in flames. On April 4, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church was similarly destroyed by fire.
“At first we thought it might have been an electrical problem, but then when the second church … burning occurred, I realized it was our sister church,” Freddie Jack, president of the the Seventh District Missionary Baptist Association, told CNN. “Then, two days later the third occurred. So at least [to] me, [it] made me think that we’re being targeted.”
According to BuzzFeed, authorities found a gas can at the scene of one of the churches, and the brand name was found to be sold at Walmart. The company then discovered through its records that a customer had purchased two gas cans, a lighter and towels from the Opelousas location on March 25. The purchase was made with a debit card that was traced to Holden Matthews.
A truck was also seen on surveillance footage near one of the church fires, and Matthews’ cell phone was found to be in the area of the fires when they occurred.
Gerald Toussaint, pastor of Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, remarked during the press conference, “Even though we’ve lost our church — our building — look who’s been brought together. Our country has to find out that the God we serve does not look on the outside. He sees the heart.”
Edwards has urged residents to pray for Matthews and his family.