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Suspect in Church Burnings Influenced by 'Black Metal' Music, Police Say, But Not All Black Metal is the Same

Holden Matthews, the 21-year-old man accused of burning three historically black churches in Louisiana, was influenced by “black metal,” police say – a music genre sometimes tied to organized hate.

Matthews engaged in a conversation about Varg Vikernes on Facebook. Vikernes is a musician who is linked intimately to National Socialist Black Metal (NSBM). NSBM is a subgenre within black metal that is explicitly racist and fascist in nature.

Vikernes, who is Norwegian and founded the band Burzum, burned down three historically significant churches in his homeland during the 1990s. He also murdered a guitarist for the black metal band Mayhem.

From prison, Vikernes expressed views closely aligned with neo-Nazism, even though he objected to that term. Anders Breivik, the Norwegian far-right terrorist who murdered 77 people including children during a 2011 rampage, mailed Vikernes his manifesto before his arrest. In a 2012 blog post, Vikernes took issue with Breivik’s methods and wrote that Breivik should kill himself, and argued there were more constructive ways to deal with “internationalists lead [sic] by their Jewish masters.”

Matthews, the son of a Louisiana sheriff's deputy, is in St. Landry Parish jail. He’s charged with three counts of simple arson of a religious building. The churches Matthews allegedly burned were the St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre, the Greater Union Baptist Church in Opelousas, and the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas. The fires occurred on March 26, April 2, and April 4. It is unclear if Matthews chose the churches because of their connection to the black community.

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards told the media that Matthews’ motive was unknown and described the church burnings as “evil acts.”

Metal music may have played a role in inspiring Matthews, who on Facebook praised the 2018 film Lords of Chaos, a fictionalized retelling of Vikernes’ crimes in the Norway black metal scene in the ‘90s. The film’s director is Jonas Åkerlund, a former drummer of the seminal Swedish black metal band Bathory.

The film was inspired by the book Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground, which was co-written by Michael Moynihan. Moynihan edited together the collected writings of neo-Nazi James Mason for the book Siege in 1993.

Siege has become influential with more terroristic corners of the racist right in recent years, and the words “Read SIEGE” are sometimes used as a rallying cry by extremists on social media.

Atomwaffen Division (AWD), a neo-Nazi group linked to five murders since the start of 2017, has members who are connected to the black metal scene. John Denton, who goes by the name “Rape,” once served as a leader of the group, and was spotted last April throwing up a Hitler salute at the Houston concert for the black metal band Horna. Denton also has been photographed wearing a T-shirt of Burzum, Vikernes’ band.

Horna, who has ties to the NSBM scene, was forced to cancel or move shows on its current U.S. tour due to protests from antiracist activists.

Incidents of arson linked to NSBM

While NSBM is far from the most visible strand of black metal (the genre also features contemporary bands that are explicitly antiracist and antifascist) – the specific subgenre has been tied to racist crimes and acts of arson in the past.

Brian Moudry, a man from Illinois who was linked to the NSBM scene, was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2013 for setting fire to the home of his black neighbors.

Maurice Thompson Michaely pleaded guilty in that same year to attempting to burn a historically black church in Virginia. Michaely is a member of a neo-Völkisch group called the Wolves of Vinland (WoV). Members of WoV, including one of its founders, have expressed affinity for bands or played in bands connected to or close to the hate metal scene, including NSBM.

A black metal drummer was charged April 2 with burning down two Mormon churches in New Zealand, a country that is still reeling from a domestic terror attack that claimed the lives of 50 Muslim worshippers last month. The drummer, Jacob Lowenstein, played for the band Igni.

It’s unclear if he or his band have any ideological motivations beyond making music.

Trend of recent incidents impacting the black community

The southeast pocket of the U.S. has seen a smattering of incidents that have either targeted or impacted the black community in recent weeks.

Nancy Rushton McCorkle, 50, and Ryan Francis Barnett, 31, were arrested April 8 in connection with vandalizing the University of North Carolina’s Unsung Founders Memorial on March 31. The pair are accused of defacing the memorial, a dedication to slaves and black workers, with permanent marker and urine.

Hatewatch reported April 2 about a white supremacist symbol that was left at the scene of a fire. The fire destroyed the offices of the Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee on March 29, according to neighbors. The Highlander Center is a civil rights institution which once hosted Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. The symbol, which has been popularized by figures in the “alt-right” movement, stems from a 20th century Romanian group called the Iron Guard that perpetrated gruesome mass killings of Jews in the 1940s.

Police are investigating the source of the blaze.

Photo credit AP Images/Gerald Herbert

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