Holden Matthews burned three Black churches last year and now his defense team is claiming that it had nothing to do with race.
According to NPR, Matthews pleaded guilty to federal charges of torching three historically Black churches in Louisiana over the course of ten days last March and April. The religious buildings were completely destroyed. “His atrocious actions inflicted severe pain and grief upon these congregations,” said Bryan Vorndran, the special agent behind the FBI’s New Orleans Field office.
Matthews, the white son of a sheriff’s deputy, said he committed the crimes as a way to build a name in the “black metal” music scene. According to court documents, the 22-year-old wanted to raise his profile in the scene by imitating church arson attacks in Norway in the 1990s.
“Holden’s actions were motivated by the fact that these were religious properties and in no way were motivated by the racial makeup of the congregations,” Matthews’ defense lawyer Dustin Talbot explained to NPR. “Today begins the process of Holden accepting responsibility for the destruction of the churches.”
The prosecution argues differently, however, according to Daily Beast. They argue that Matthews was copying neo-Nazi metal musician Varg Vikernes, who spent 15 years in prison for crimes that included burning churches in Norway. The pagan circles Matthew and Vikernes engaged with can be popular with neo-Nazis.
Back in June, Matthews initially pleaded not guilty to each count of his six-count indictment. However, he changed his tune on Monday by pleading guilty to three counts of “intentional damage to religious property,” for demolishing the St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, La., the Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas, La., and the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas. He pleaded guilty on one count of “using fire to commit a felony” as well.
Matthews’ defense lawyer says prosecutors would drop two remaining counts of “using fire to commit a felony” if Matthew agreed to the plea agreement.
Prosecutors say they have loads of evidence against Matthews. “The defendant’s cell phone was in the presence of each of these fires. Examination of his phone shows that he has pictures and photos and videos of these fires as they developed,” federal prosecutor Risa Berkower explained at Matthews’ detention hearing last June. “An examination of his Facebook accounts afterward shows that he was bragging to people on Facebook that he actually had done these crimes.”
According to NPR, “All the churches were built in rural areas decades ago and had served generations of predominantly Black families through weddings, funerals and religious services.”
Luckily, no one was hurt as a result of the burnings. According to prosecutors, Matthews faces between 10 and 70 years in prison. He’s set to be sentenced on May 22. He also faces state charges.