The man who was arrested last spring in connection with a string of fires at historically black churches in Louisiana pleaded guilty to federal hate crime charges on Monday.
Holden Matthews, 22, of Opelousas, admitted to setting fire to three Baptist churches because of the religious character of the buildings and in a bid to raise his profile as a Black Metal musician, the US Attorney's Office announced.
He pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, as well as one count of using fire to commit a federal felony.
"Today, the defendant has taken responsibility for the burning and destruction of three of our churches,” US Attorney David C. Joseph said in a statement. “The freedom to safely congregate and worship in our churches is a fundamental right of all Americans and will be vigorously protected by my office and our law enforcement partners."
The fires, which were set over a 10-day period beginning March 26, 2019, completely destroyed three St. Landry Parish churches. The churches, which were empty at the time of the fires, had predominantly black congregations.
Prosecutors said Matthews, the son of a St. Landry Parish deputy, admitted to setting the fires because of the buildings' religious character "in an effort to raise his profile as a 'Black Metal' musician by copying similar crimes committed in Norway in the 1990s."
He also admitted to watching the churches burn and taking photos and videos of the fires and posting them on Facebook in an effort to promote himself in the Black Metal community, prosecutors said.
“Holden Matthews made a conscious decision to randomly target and destroy churches within his own community,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Bryan Vorndran. “His atrocious actions inflicted severe pain and grief upon these congregations, as well as all of St. Landry Parish.”
Matthews is also facing state arson and hate crime charges in connection with the fires. He is due to be sentenced on the federal charges on May 22 and faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison, according to the US Attorney's Office.