US: Louisiana church fires suspect charged with hate crimes

Judge adds federal hate times to charges against white man accused of burning down three black churches in the US state.

    This booking image released by the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal shows Holden Matthews, 21, who was arrested [Handout/Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal/AP Photo]
    This booking image released by the Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal shows Holden Matthews, 21, who was arrested [Handout/Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal/AP Photo]

    Three additional charges were lodged against a white man accused of burning down three predominately black churches in southern Louisiana in the past few weeks, local media reported late on Monday. 

    A judge in the US state added three federal hate crime charges against Holden Matthews, 21, and denied him bond, multiple media accounts reported.

    Matthews, a resident of St Landry Parish, the county where the fires occurred, was previously charged with three counts of arson on religious buildings, officials said.

    Matthews entered a plea of not guilty on Monday and remains in custody at the St Landry Parish jail, media reports say. A judge set a September trial date.

    Matthews, the son of Deputy Roy Matthews of the St Landry Parish Sheriff's Office, was taken into custody last Wednesday.

    The three churches destroyed by the fires have mostly black congregations, raising authorities' suspicions that the fires may be racially motivated hate crimes.

    Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Bureau investigators work the crime scene of the burned ruins of the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, one of three that recently burned down in St Landry Parish, in Opelousas, Louisana [Gerald Herbert/AP Photo] 

    Matthews had shown interest in "black metal", an extreme subgenre of heavy metal linked, in some instances, to fires at Christian churches in Norway in the 1990s, Louisiana Fire Marshal Butch Browning said last week. 

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    A Facebook page that appeared to belong to Matthews showed him with the words "black metal" spray painted on a wall behind him. He also posted a comment on a movie's portrayal of black metal musician Varg Vikernes, a far-right figure convicted of manslaughter and arson at three churches.

    Black metal lyrics often espouse satanism and paganism, and a few bands feature neo-Nazi beliefs.

    Noting the history of burnings of black churches in the southern United States, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said the episode was "especially painful because it reminds us of a very dark past of intimidation and fear".

    The fires set between March 26 and April 4 destroyed St Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, and Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas.

    St Landry Parish Sheriff Bobby Guidroz said he believed his deputy was unaware of Holden Matthews' involvement in the fires.

    The burned ruins of the Greater Union Baptist Church, one of three that recently burned down in St Landry Parish, are seen in Opelousas, Louisiana [Gerald Herbert/AP Photo]