Three Black churches in Louisiana whose roots stretch back to the post-Civil War Reconstruction period were burned to the ground in 2019, and now a 23-year-old white man is being held accountable for what a DOJ official calls "acts of hate." Holden Matthews, who pleaded guilty to three counts of violating the Church Arson Prevention Act, as well as one count of using fire to commit a felony, was sentenced Monday to 25 years behind bars for torching St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, the Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas, and the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas in March and April 2019. The Advocate notes Matthews will be given credit for the 18 months he's served since his arrest. "The churches survived for nearly 150 years but did not survive this defendant's warped act of hatred," Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband said in a statement.
Although Matthews' crimes are considered hate crimes, prosecutors say his acts weren't spurred by racism, but rather by his desire to "promote himself" to fans of "black metal," a hard-core subgenre of heavy metal, per the Washington Post. The New York Times notes he was busted after being traced to the purchase of a gas can found at the scene. Matthews himself spoke in court Monday, speaking directly to the church's congregants for the first time, the Advocate notes. "There are not enough words in the English language to say how sorry I am," he said. "I not only have hurt my real family and friends, but I have hurt my brothers and sisters in Christ." In addition to his time behind bars, Matthews, the son of a sheriff's deputy, was also mandated to pay $2.6 million in restitution to the churches. When he's released, he'll have to register as an arsonist and go for mental health and substance abuse treatment. (Read more Louisiana stories.)