LAFAYETTE, La. — A Louisiana man pleaded guilty on Monday to setting three Baptist churches on fire last year, admitting that he did so to promote himself as a “black metal” musician by mimicking similar acts of arson committed in Norway in the 1990s as documented in the black metal film “Lords of Chaos.”
Holden Matthews, 22, pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the federal Church Arson Prevention Act and one count of using a fire to commit a felony.
“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 U.S. Department of Justice outlined in a press release.
“Matthews further admitted that, after setting the third fire, he posted photographs and videos on Facebook that showed the first two churches burning,” it advised. “Matthews admitted that he had taken these photographs and videos in real time on his cell phone, as he watched those churches burn, and that he had posted them to Facebook in an effort to promote himself in the black metal community.”
As previously reported, Matthews is the lead singer of the band Vodka Vultures and has been “active in pagan and black metal pages,” according to The Daily Beast. He was also a 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 told BuzzFeed following his arrest that Matthews 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.”
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.
In seeking a motive, investigators believed that Matthews had likely committed a copycat crime considering his interest in black metal and its history of church arson.
“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.
Matthews now faces a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of 70 years. His sentencing is scheduled for May 22.
“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.”