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Man accused of burning black Louisiana churches charged with federal hate crimes

In April, a fundraising effort to support three historically black Louisiana churches that were burned down by arsonists made national headlines when it received more than $1.9 million in donations in the span of a week.

Now, two months later, the man believed to be behind the arson attacks has been formally charged with federal hate crimes.

The Justice Department announced on Wednesday that 21-year-old Holden James Matthews — a white man and the son of a sheriff’s deputy in Opelousas, Louisiana — has been indicted by a federal grand jury. Matthews, who local authorities said “demonstrated the characteristics of a pathological fire setter” when he was arrested in April, also faces state arson and hate crimes charges.

In a press release announcing the June 6 indictment, DOJ argued that Matthews “was motivated to set the fires because of the religious character of these properties.” The agency notes that he faces six charges, three counts of “using fire to commit a felony” and three counts of intentionally damaging religious property. The latter qualifies as a hate crime under the Church Arson Prevention Act.

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