Update 04/15/2019 11:30AM CT: Holden Matthews was charged with three counts of committing a hate crime.
A 39-year-old North Dakota woman who claims to know Holden Matthews, the suspect accused of burning down three historic African American churches in Louisiana’s St. Landry Parish, says he was known among contributors to the since-deleted Facebook group “President Trump’s Dank Meme Stash” as a “hate-filled” and outspoken supporter of Donald Trump and white supremacist Richard Spencer who posted about wanting to “kill libtards” and “having a race war.”
The woman, whose identity the Bayou Brief has confirmed, is friends on Facebook with Matthews, and like him, she is a practicing pagan and a self-professed fan of “black metal” music. She made a series of comments on her personal Facebook page only a day after the Louisiana state fire marshal suggested Matthews may have been influenced to carry out the three arsons by “black metal.” We have reached out to the woman for comment and, at the time of publication, she has yet to respond to the request. As a result and in consideration of the ongoing investigation, we have decided to withhold disclosing her name.
In addition to her claims, the Bayou Brief can independently confirm that, on at least one occasion, Matthews’ Facebook is listed as liking a June 2018 post asking people to “Hit the like button if you love separating children from their families.” The post appeared on the satirical “Donald J Trump” page, which is followed by nearly 620,000 people.
Authorities have still yet to charge Matthews, the son of a sheriff’s deputy, with a hate crime.
In the aftermath of his arrest, CNN uncovered a Facebook account Matthews operated under the pseudonym “Noctis Matthews.” Their reporting was independently verified by reporters at The Advocate, who located a series of posts Matthews wrote about paganism and mythology, including one in which he criticized “brainwashed” Baptists and wished African Americans “would look into ancient beliefs of pre-Christian Africa.”
The Bayou Brief is the first to publicly report allegations leveled by a person acquainted by Matthews that he expressed explicitly racist and violent opinions. Until now, media coverage has largely focused on his writings about religion and music, though many have also been highly critical of the reluctance by investigators to assert Matthews had been motivated by racial antipathy.
The characterization was backed up by another woman who claims to remember Matthews from his posts on the “first PTDMS,” a reference to the defunct Facebook group “President Trump’s Dank Meme Stash.” There were several iterations of the group, the most recent of which was shuttered in November of 2018. The content posted on the “first PTDMS” appears to have been permanently removed or deleted (we can confirm it did exist), and the latest page, which had nearly 5,000 likes before shutting down, is closed only to members.
According to the North Dakota woman, Matthews, who is listed as a registered Democrat, was known as an outspoken advocate of the alt-right. There is no evidence Matthews ever voted or shared his political opinions outside of Facebook. On his Noctis Matthews page, he uploaded a photograph of himself dressed in a juggalo costume in with the caption “Better Red Than Dead,” a Cold War-era slogan that refers to a preference for nuclear destruction over communism.
Juggalos are fans of the Insane Clown Posse, a “horrorcore” hip hop duo. The subculture of fans is split between nonviolent juggalos, who have earned headlines through their charitable work, and violent juggalos, who have been associated with several murders, shootings, and assaults. Anti-communist propaganda is not a notable part of the juggalo subculture, however.
Taken together, this severely undermines the theory that Matthews was motivated by any specific musical genre or religious intolerance- but not racial antipathy. They also call into further question the reluctance to apply Louisiana’s hate crimes statute, which allows for enhanced sentences against individuals who target victims based on their race, gender, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.
Two years ago, in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, the state passed a controversial “Blue Lives Matter” law, which allows prosecutors to apply the hate crimes statute when a victim is someone “known to be or perceived to be” a police officer. Critics believed the addition trivialized the definition of a hate crime, which has been interpreted by courts to be available only to those targeted because of an immutable characteristic, not because of their job. Moreover, there were (and still are) tools prosecutors could use to enhance potential sentences against those who commit crimes against law enforcement officers.
Some have suggested the delay in Matthews’ case is common in potential hate crimes, pointing to Dylann Roof, the mass murderer and white supremacist who assassinated nine African Americans at a Charleston church in 2015. However, in Roof’s case, there was no state hate crimes statute in South Carolina; as a result, he became the first-ever person to be sentenced to death for a federal hate crime. At the time, no one argued Roof had committed a hate crime. In fact, many believed he should have been charged with domestic terrorism as well.
In Matthew’s case, however, the criticism is not merely about the delay. There are legitimate concerns about investigators publicly lending credibility to a bizarre “black metal” motive.
If Holden Matthews had targeted his own father, that would have met the new definition of a hate crime, yet for some reason, investigators said they needed to determine whether a radicalized young man who burned down three black churches could have been influenced by music instead.