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Man who destroyed Satanic Temple altar in Iowa charged under hate crime law

The Baphomet altar put up by the Satanic Temple was allowed to be in the Iowa Capitol, but it drew criticism from national conservatives.
Baphomet altar religion religious
A damaged Satanic display at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines on Dec. 15.Scott McFetridge / AP file

A man who attacked and beheaded a permitted statue put up by the Satanic Temple at Iowa’s Capitol in December has been charged with a felony under the state’s hate crime statutes, the prosecutor’s office said this week.

Michael Cassidy, who was an unsuccessful Republican candidate for Mississippi’s state House of Representatives, is charged with third-degree criminal mischief in violation of individual rights, the Polk County Attorney’s Office said Tuesday.

“Evidence shows the defendant made statements to law enforcement and the public indicating he destroyed the property because of the victim’s religion,” the prosecutor’s office said.

Cassidy, 36, had been charged with a misdemeanor. The enhanced charge is a class D felony under Iowa’s hate crime statutes.

Cassidy, of Lauderdale, ran for Mississippi State House District 45 as a Republican but was defeated in November by Democrat Keith Jackson by 55% to 38%.

His campaign biography describes him as a former Navy pilot and “a Christian conservative who loves our nation.”

Cassidy appeared on Fox News days after he beheaded the statue and called it “Christian civil disobedience.”

He said he went to the Capitol and “nobody was there, and it offended me. It touched a nerve. It was, you know, righteous indignation.” Cassidy said on Fox News that he “pulled his head off,” referring to the display of Baphomet.

Minister Mortimer Adramelech of the Satanic Temple of Iowa told NBC affiliate WHO of Des Moines at the time of the vandalism that the display was there for the holidays. The Iowa Department of Administrative Services said the group met the application requirements for the display.

“All religions have equal rights in the public forum under the First Amendment of the Constitution. As Americans we have every right to be here just like anyone else,” Adramelech told the station.

The Satanic Temple says it does not believe in the existence of Satan or in the supernatural. Its website says the group encourages “effective and artful protest.”

The display was damaged beyond repair, the county prosecutor's office said.

"The Polk County Attorney’s Office seeks fair and just resolutions of all cases, as we continue to apply the law equally to all, regardless of religion, race, sexual orientation, or economic status," it said in Tuesday's statement.

An attorney for Cassidy did not immediately respond to an emailed message to her law firm Wednesday night seeking comment.

Baphomet is a winged creature with a goat head, and references to it include when the Knights Templar were accused of worshipping it by Philip IV of France, according to its entry in Encyclopedia Britannica.

Philip had members of the Knights Templar burned at the stake over allegations that they were more loyal to the pope than their king and because Philip was under financial duress and the Templars were wealthy, according to a blog on the subject on the website of the National Archives in the United Kingdom.