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Louisiana man sentenced to 25 years for burning down three Black churches

Holden Matthews said he set fire to the historically Black churches to promote himself as a musician.

Holden Matthews Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal / AP

On Monday (Nov. 2), a white Louisiana man was sentenced to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty to burning down three historically Black churches. Holden Matthews said he set the buildings on fire to promote himself as a “black metal” artist — a sub genre of heavy metal music.

“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,” U.S. Attorney Alexander Van Hook wrote in a press statement.

U.S. District Judge Robert Summerhays credited Matthews the 18 months he had already spent in jail after burning down the churches in March and April of 2019. The 23-year-old was also ordered to pay a combined $2.6 million in restitution to the Mt. Pleasant Missionary Baptist Church, the Greater Union Baptist Church and St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church. All three churches were vacant at the time of the fires and no one was injured.

In federal court, Matthews pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act and one count of using fire to commit a federal felony. He also pleaded guilty in state court to three hate crime counts, two counts of simple arson of a religious building and one count of aggravated arson of a religious building. His state court sentencing is currently postponed.

Although Matthews did not claim race to be a motive in setting the churches on fire, Judge Summerhays said he had to consider the fact that the crimes were committed against predominately Black churches and America’s sinister history of African American places of worship being destroyed in acts of racist violence.

“These churches trace their origins to the post-Civil War Reconstruction period and — for generations — were a place for predominantly African American Christians to gather, pray, worship and celebrate their faith,” Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division said. “The churches survived for nearly 150 years but did not survive this defendant’s warped act of hatred.

Along with his prison sentence, Judge Summerhays also ordered that Matthews get substance abuse counseling and mental health treatment.

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