The suspect in a series of arsons that burned three historically black Louisiana churches over the course of 10 days may have been driven by “hate,” a state fire marshal said.
Authorities arrested Holden Matthews, 21, at about 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday in rural St. Landry Parish where the fires occurred in late March and early April. He was charged with several counts of simple arson on religious buildings and faces up to 15 years in prison for each.
On Thursday, state Fire Marshal Butch Browning said an investigation is still underway, but that investigators were looking into a “hate motive” as well as Matthews’ ties to black metal music.
“This community is safe again,” said Browning, noting he was “confident” that “we have the person responsible for these tragic crimes.”
Police accuse Matthews of starting three fires, one at a church in Port Barre on March 26, and two in Opelousas on April 2 and April 4. All three are historically black churches. A fourth fire, also believed to be intentionally set on March 31, occurred at the predominantly white Vivian United Pentecostal Church, located in Caddo Parish, more than 200 miles away. Police didn’t connect Matthews to it.
On what appears to be his Facebook profile, Matthews describes himself as the lead singer of a black metal band called Vodka Vultures, and he’s active on several black metal and pagan pages. On one of the pages, Matthews commented on two memes about former neo-Nazi musician Varg Vikernes, who in 1994 was convicted of murder and arson after he burnt down churches in Norway and killed a fellow musician, the Beast reported.
On another page, Matthews reportedly commented on a photo depicting a pagan figure with a belt that one user though looked like a swastika. “Well yea the belt gives him extra strength and power.....white power lmao jk jk I had to,” Matthews wrote.
Police have yet to confirm a motive in the attacks or Matthews’ ideology.
An FBI spokesperson also said that federal authorities were looking into the arsons as a “bias” crime.
“We must not turn a blind eye to any incident where people are targeted because of the color of their skin or their faith,” the group said in a statement Monday, adding that African American churches have been targeted for decades. “The spike in church burnings in Southern states is a reflection of the emboldened racial rhetoric and tension spreading across the country. But this is nothing new.”