'I Practice What I Preach': Black-Metal Arsonist Admits to Burning Louisiana Churches

A Louisiana man pleaded guilty on Monday to burning down three Baptist churches in a rural parish with predominantly African-American congregants.

In March and April of 2019, Holden James Matthews, now 22, set fire to three churches in the area around the city of Opelousas, in western Louisiana.

The plea agreement included four charges stemming from the arson spree, which initially generated a six-count indictment. Matthews faces a potential penalty of 70 years in prison, with a mandatory minimum of 10 years.

Matthews was arrested on April 10, 2019, and court documents show that he was an avid follower of the black heavy metal scene. This type of music is replete with anti-Christian themes, and evidence suggests the churches were targeted for their religious character, not because of racial animus.

"This was a young man who's trying to break into this subgenre of music, and the way that you do it, as horrific as that is, the way that you do it is you make a name for yourself by burning a church and putting it on the cover of an album," Matthews' lawyer, Dustin Talbot, told the court during a detention hearing in June.

He went on: "It's not a person who woke up with hate in their heart and wanted to go and burn down churches. It's someone who was unduly influenced by this black heavy metal community."

Matthews admitted as much in his plea agreement, conceding that he "sought to emulate a Norwegian musician who gained notoriety within the Black Metal community in the 1990s by burning down a series of churches in Norway."

Several days after the first arson, Matthews struck up a conversation on Facebook Messenger with an unidentified individual, telling the person that "Louisiana needs more real metal."

"Let's just say Pagan Carnage," the name of Matthews' one-man band, "lived up to the name," he told this person.

"I ain't no damn poser," he added. "I practice what I preach."

St. Mary Baptist Church, in Port Barre, and Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, both in Opelousas, were completely destroyed by the fires.

Roy Matthews, Holden Matthews' father, is a sheriff's deputy in St. Landry Parish. His mother testified during the detention hearing about her son's wayward education and his inability to interact socially with peers or meet the demands of traditional schooling.

In a statement to Newsweek, Talbot said that Matthews "had the social and mental development of an adolescent."

"Holden now fully understands the seriousness and gravity of his actions and is deeply remorseful for what he has done and the pain he has caused the congregations of these churches," Talbot added.

A GoFundMe account set up to raise money to rebuild the three churches has received more than $2.1 million in donations. The fundraiser had an initial goal of $1.8 million.

A letter signed by representatives of each of the affected churches and a regional Baptist association stated, "We are encouraged knowing that good always overcomes evil."

Matthews will be sentenced by a U.S. District judge on May 22.

St. Mary Baptist Church
This image of St. Mary Baptist Church, engulfed in flames, was retrieved from Holden James Matthews' phone by law enforcement. The image was taken shortly after the church in Port Barre, Louisiana, was set ablaze in 2019. U.S. Attorney's Office for the Western District of Louisiana