Police have taken a suspect believed to have neo-Nazi connections into custody in connection with suspicious fires at three historic African American churches in Louisiana according to multiple news sources in the area.
Federal officials say Holden Matthews, 21, the son of a St. Landry, La., parish deputy was arrested Wednesday, local station KATC confirmed.
READ MORE: Four historically Black churches in a Louisiana set on fire in 10 Days
U.S. Attorney David C. Joseph said Matthews is in state custody, and said federal agents stand shoulder to shoulder with the victims of “these despicable acts.” A Thursday news conference at the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Office is planned.
The first fire torched the St. Mary Baptist Church in Port Barre on March 26. Days later, the Greater Union Baptist Church and Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Opelousas were burned. Each was more than 100 years old, with mostly African American congregations.
The churches were empty at the time of the fires.
Fire Marshal H. “Butch” Browning, who declared all three fires suspicious, said “If you’re going to turn to a house of God, turn to it for resurrection.”
READ MORE: Louisiana church fire mystery has not yet turned up any leads or suspects, officials say
The investigation was joined by the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and many people from state agencies in Louisiana.
On his Facebook page, Matthews says he is the lead singer and songwriter with a band called Vodka Vultures. He is also connected to the black metal and pagan movements, both of which have significant neo-Nazi followings. According to The Daily Beast, Matthews commented often about his pagan beliefs, including one about a Norse god with an upload of a picture of him with weapons captioned: “I carry this…..maybe not legally but I only truly follow the law of Odin….. which says as you said,arm yourself…… Odins advice> modern law.”
In social media, The Daily Beast reported, Matthews also commented on memes about a far-right metal musician named Varg Vikernes, who served 15 years in a Norway prison for burning churches there, and for the killing of a fellow metal musician.
Vikernes is seen as influential by other far right killers including Anders Brevik, who sent him a manifesto before killing 77 people in a mass shooting.
NAACP president Derrick Johnson called the firest “domestic terrorism” in a statement and said the incidents outlined an increasingly hostile racial climate nationwide.
“The spike in church burnings in the Southern states is a reflection of emboldened racial rhetoric and tension spreading across the country,” Johnson said. “But this is nothing new. For decades, African-American churches have served as the epicenter of survival and a symbol of hope for many in the African-American community. As a consequence, these houses of faith have historically been targets of violence.”
No injuries were reported as a result of the fires, but church officials say generations of history were destroyed when the structures burned down.
The Associated Press contributed to this story
Editor’s note: This story will be updated…
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