Louisiana law enforcement is investigating the conditions under which three historically Black Louisiana churches were burned down in late March and early April. In the days since the churches have burned down, the state’s law enforcement has determined that each of the fires was intentionally set and that the fires are related, likely having been set by a single person or group. Additionally, they have detained a suspect: Holden Matthews, who is the son of a sheriff’s deputy.
Current public accounts and information about Matthews focuses on many of his views and hobbies which break the norm. According to information published by ‘The Advocate’, Matthews is a musician associated with a genre of music wherein musicians reportedly tend to be sympathetic to views commonly read as anti-Christian. so-called “black metal” which is largely associated with church-burnings because of one infamous figure in the genre, Varg Vikernes who himself is believed to have burned a church down.
Many fans of the genre are frustrated with the stereotypes and scapegoating of the musical genre as a way to tie people to certain crimes and destructive behavior. Matthews is reported to be fascinated by Norse mythology, with one example given being his recollection of a supposed encounter with a Norse deity on social media.
Matthews didn’t resist arrest, nor did he have a history of crimes prior to this. He was identified and detained due to items found at the scenes of each of the fires. Items such as a gas can were identified as evidence and then tied back to Matthews using cell-phone records, purchase records and video footage. He was denied bail according to court records, and the next step in the judicial proceedings against him are for him to be in a bond hearing currently scheduled for May 2.
Over the course of ten days, three different churches were set on fire. Each of these churches is located in Louisiana’s Creole and Cajun counties. The charges that law enforcement are intending to use to hold Matthews accountable are three counts of simple arson on a religious building, the maximum penalty of which could be 15 years in prison for each charge.
There is a long history in the United States of crimes, most often arson, being committed against historically Black churches, especially ones wherein there is a tradition of social and racial justice organizing. Louisiana is not exempt from this, and in the mid ‘90s there was a string of attacks against those churches.
On Feb. 1, 1996, there was a string of arsons that burned down three Black churches in East Baton Rouge. When this particular string of crimes was investigated, it led to a group of young men who committed crimes against Black churches. According to ‘State Fire’, Marshal H. Browning Jr, who in early April held a press conference to discuss the string of arsons plaguing Louisiana, was already working in fire prevention and response albeit in a different capacity at the time of the fires: he was with the Baton Rouge Fire Department.