A white man in Louisiana has been sentenced to 25-years in prison after setting fire to three Black churches in an effort to raise his profile as a “black metal” musician.
According to The New York Times, 23-year old was sentenced and also ordered to pay nearly $2.7 million to the churches after pleading guilty in federal court in February to three counts of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act and to one count of using fire to commit a felony for his 10-day reign of terror back in April 2019 that resulted in the destruction of St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church in Port Barre, and Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, both in Opelousas.
During the trial, prosecutors reportedly did not mention race as a factor in the charges, but the arson of the churches evoked a long history of racist crimes committed across the Jim Crow South prompting the extended sentence.
“These churches trace their origins to the post-Civil War Reconstruction period,” Assistant Attorney General of the civil rights division in the Justice Department, Eric S. Dreiband said in a statement. “The churches survived for nearly 150 years but did not survive this defendant’s warped act of hatred.”
During his sentencing, Matthews reportedly addressed the courts, stating that the act was not race-based but instead based on religious significance, before ultimately expressing sorrow for the act according to The Acadiana Advocate of Lafayette.
“There are not enough words in the English language to say how sorry I am,” Holden Matthews reportedly said. “If I could go back and change it I would.”
During his trial, Matthews reported said that the arsons were a copycat attempt of similar crimes committed in Norway in the 1990s in an effort to elevate his status among the black metal community, whose most extreme practitioners have engaged in church burning, vandalism, and killings. Black metal is a subgenre of heavy metal, known for its unique blend of howls, nonsyncopated blast-beat drums, and cold, trebly guitars.
According to The Advocate, at the sentencing, the presiding judge, Judge Robert R. Summerhays of the Western District of Louisiana, gave Matthews credit for the 18 months that he has been in custody since his arrest in April 2019, before rendering the sentence.
In addition to his initial two federal charges, Matthews also plead guilty to six state charges in connection with the blazes, including aggravated arson of a religious building and three hate crime counts, sentencing, in that case, is pending.