Church Burnings: The Dangers of Labels

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(Illustrative photo: https://www.goodfreephotos.com)
(Illustrative photo: https://www.goodfreephotos.com)

As police look for clues in the motivation or ideology behind the suspect accused of the recent church burnings in Louisiana, we should be aware of the dangers of labels.

An arrest was made in connection with the recent burnings of three historically-black churches  in Louisiana. The son of the deputy sheriff in the St. Landry Parish where the fires occurred, Holden Matthews, 21, was identified at least partially by video surveillance. Although his father did not participate in the investigation, he led police to a location which facilitated his son’s arrest.

Now begins the speculation as to what could possibly bring a young man raised by an officer of the law to commit crimes of such magnitude. As is normal when we try to understand the hate that must have been involved in these extreme actions, there appears to be a need by the public to put a label on his actions — specifically, what was ideology behind his actions?

Many are making speculations based on his expressed interests and the opinions he posted on Facebook  – particularly his involvement in paganism and black metal music, a Scandinavian subgenre of metal music. A prominent member of that subgenre, Varg Vikerness, was arrested for burning down churches in Norway in the 1990s.  On his blog, Vikerness openly endorsed neo-Nazi views.

Matthews is a singer and songwriter for a black metal group. A YouTube video of a song called Diabolical Soul Feast features Matthews – decked in white and black face makeup — singing about a church burning. The video was posted originally on March 19 and another version on March 28, two days after the first fire was set.

“The holy church is now destroyed,” Matthews intones in the last verse of the song.”Burning down in Odin’s name.”

On one account that was traced to Matthews, he wrote a post on April 6 post about “Afrikan spirituality,” saying he “can’t stand all these Baptists around here, bunch of brainwashed people trying to find happiness in a religion that was forced on their ancestors just as it was on mine. I wish more blacks people would look into ancient beliefs of pre Christian Africa.”

However, true paganism relates to a connection with the natural world and seeks a deeper spiritual path through that connection. Neo-paganism, a modern-day revival, specifically encourages no harm to be done to others.

In the end, Black Metal is simply a music genre and not specific to an ideology. We can point a finger at the music to which Matthews listened, wrote and performed as being an underlying factor in his alleged crimes, but we have seen these types of accusations be made with other music genres as well – blaming them for suicides, criminal acts and the like.

One thing we do understand about the psychological effects of music is that it can create a heightened emotional response depending on the state of the listener. When more is revealed about Matthew’s psychological state, this many be very relevant.

But for now, we should not be in a rush to put a label on his criminal actions. As soon as we add a label to his motivation, we give that label strength and power. We need to take an honest look at the criminal aspect of these crimes. We may see that it comes down to many factors.

From his posts, this young man appears to be very angry and confused above all else — trying to find his place in the world but not feeling self-confident about the direction of his life and personal identity. He lashed out at the world and got attention. Let’s stop giving him the attention that he doesn’t deserve.



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Christianne Boudreau

Christianne Boudreau is a contributor to Clarion Project.