The suspect accused of torching three historically black Baptist churches in the parish of St. Landry has ties to the “black metal” music scene, a Scandinavian subgenre whose devotees espoused anti-Christian beliefs and were linked to a series of Norwegian church fires in the 1990s.
Subsets of the group have also espoused racist views for decades, including white nationalist ideologies that associated with the genre as it gained popularity and notoriety in Norway in the 1980s.
Louisiana authorities on Thursday announced the arrest of 21-year-old Holden Matthews and suggested his association with black metal music may be linked to the case. But they stopped before identifying a motive for the fires, saying the investigation is still ongoing.
Experts have also warned of hasty conclusions based on Matthews’ black metal fandom or condemnation of the genre as a whole in response to recent allegations.
In the months leading up to a trio of fires that destroyed three Saint-Landry churches, the alleged arsonist shared his …
Matthews’ social media presence indicates an adherence to pagan beliefs and an interest in ancient Norse mythology – two ideologies promoted by black metal’s most notorious figure, Norwegian bassist Varg Vikernes, who is credited with introducing extremist beliefs in certain black metal circles.
Vikernes was part of the group Mayhem, which helped expand the genre’s fan base in the late 1980s. Within a decade, one of its members had been murdered and another had committed suicide. Vikernes was arrested and charged with starting a series of church fires in Norway, as well as killing his group mate.
Matthews posted several comments on Facebook referring to a film about Vikernes and the Norwegian church fires released last year. The posts do not indicate that Matthews endorsed the extreme beliefs Vikernes came to represent.
Vikernes served 16 years in prison before his release in 2009. But he continued his “studies of Norse mythology, neo-Nazism, Germanic neopaganism, and folklore” before and after his sentence, even posting his opinions from his prison cell. , according to a 2009 Chronicle in the Guardian.
The Vikernes blog includes several articles that reject Christian beliefs and embrace paganism as a reflection of “our traditional European values and our cultural heritage”. He never confessed to the church fires he was convicted of.
Vikernes isn’t the only black metal frontman convicted of arson. At least two others served sentences in Norwegian prisons for similar crimes in the early 1990s.
Three fires at St. Landry Parish Church were linked to 21-year-old Holden Matthews of Opelousas by the remains of a gas canister found in one of the…
Keegan Hankes, senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center who studies hate groups and extremism, said one small black metal subgroup in particular – called “National Socialist black metal” – had clear connections with Nazism. But he said there are plenty of other fans who actively oppose racism and extreme politics.
“I don’t want to diminish his motivation, but I think we don’t really know yet,” Hankes said. “It’s a subculture. Some people have embraced it, but that doesn’t indicate that everyone is involved.”
Hankes said the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified as hate groups some record companies known to distribute music that supports extremism.
“I think the real question here is the role that racist music has played as a recruiting tool over the years,” he said. “Music is used to bring people into racist politics – this building block of a subculture, giving people something to relate to. That’s a big part of that.”
A trail of physical and technological evidence has led local, state and federal investigators to an Opelousas man who was arrested Wednesday in co …
Some fans took issue with the media attention devoted to Matthews’ musical tastes. A website dedicated to heavy metal music and culture posted a column Thursday claiming that Matthews’ focus on black metal fandom serves to “unfairly scapegoat” the genre.
“Listening to violent music doesn’t make you a violent person,” the post read. “But a ** h **** like Varg Vikernes, who uses his art as a platform to spread real and sincere hatred, is dangerous. And guys like Matthews, who buy into their worldview, do us all. look bad. “
After a 10-day period in which three historic Saint-Landry churches were set on fire, authorities identified Holden Matthews as the suspect.
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Follow Lea Skene on Twitter, @lea_skene.