Feb 1, 2024

US man faces hate crime over damage to Satanic Temple display in Iowa

Max Matza
January 31,  2024
BBC News

A man who has admitted to damaging a controversial Satanic Temple holiday display in the Iowa Capitol is now facing a serious hate crime charge.

Michael Cassidy, 35, an ex-Navy pilot who lost a race for the Mississippi legislature last year, was motivated by the victim's religion, prosecutors say.

On Tuesday, he was charged with third-degree criminal mischief in violation of individual rights - a hate crime.

Mr Cassidy has already raised $110,000 (£86,000) for his legal defence.

In a statement, the Polk County prosecutor's office said that Mr Cassidy "dismantled" the "Baphomet Altar" on 14 December and "destroyed the headpiece".

"In addition, evidence shows the defendant made statements to law enforcement and the public indicating he destroyed the property because of the victim's religion," prosecutors added.

Photos posted online show the display featured a depiction of a goat's head known as a Baphomet statue and a wreath adorned with a pentagram.

It had been allowed in Iowa's statehouse under rules that permit religious installations for two weeks during the holidays.

Its presence divided Republicans leaders in the state and it was criticised by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis in December during his presidential run.

Mr Cassidy had previously told conservative website The Sentinel that he destroyed the shrine in order to "awaken Christians to the anti-Christian acts promoted by our government".

"I saw this blasphemous statue and was outraged," Mr Cassidy said. "My conscience is held captive to the word of God, not to bureaucratic decree. And so I acted."

In a statement on Wednesday, the Satanic Temple thanked the Polk County prosecutors for "recognizing the Satanic Temples authentic religious standing, reinforcing our rightful place in a society that acknowledges diverse beliefs".

The group has previously said that the statue was damaged "beyond repair" and filed a claim for $3,000, according to the Sioux City Journal.

The newspaper reports that the group is also requesting an additional $3,300 (£2,365) in restitution for the removal of the statue.

Glinda Vyn Cooley, a Satanic Temple minister, said that members of the congregation wore bullet proof vests to retrieve the altar from the statehouse due to online threats.

Mr Cassidy had previously been charged with fourth-degree criminal mischief, punishable by a maximum sentence of a year in prison and a $2,560 fine.

The Satanic Temple, founded in 2013, is recognised as a religion by the US government, and has ministers and congregations in the US, Europe and Australia.

It concentrates its efforts on social action and describes itself as a "non-theistic religious organisation".

The mission statement on the group's website says it "has publicly confronted hate groups, fought for the abolition of corporal punishment in public schools, applied for equal representation when religious installations are placed on public property" and other activist work.


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