Man accused of destroying Satanic Temple display at Iowa Capitol is now charged with hate crime

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — A Mississippi man accused of destroying a statue of a pagan idol at Iowa’s state Capitol is now being charged with a hate crime.

The statue was brought to the Capitol by the Satanic Temple of Iowa under state rules allowing religious displays in the building during the holidays. The move drew strong criticism from state and national leaders, including Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds and Florida Gov. and presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, both Republicans. On Dec. 14, the figure depicting the horned deity Baphomet was “destroyed beyond repair,” according to the group.

Michael Cassidy, a former congressional and legislative candidate from Mississippi, was charged the next day with fourth-degree criminal mischief, a misdemeanor. He told the conservative website The Sentinel that “my conscience is held captive to the word of God, not to bureaucratic decree. And so I acted.”

Now, Polk County prosecutors have charged Cassidy with a more serious offense, the Des Moines Register reported. A document made public Tuesday charged him with felony third-degree criminal mischief. It alleges the act was committed “in violation of individual rights” under Iowa’s hate crime statute.

“Evidence shows the defendant made statements to law enforcement and the public indicating he destroyed the property because of the victim’s religion,” Lynn Hicks, a spokesman for the Polk County Attorney’s Office, said in a statement.

Cassidy’s attorney, Sara Pasquale, declined to comment on the new charge. In previous court filings, she has accused the Satanic Temple of making filings that “are only meant to evoke strong emotions and incite others.”

Cassidy is scheduled to be arraigned Feb. 15. He has raised more than $84,000 for his defense from nearly 2,000 supporters, according to the fundraising site GiveSendGo.

Founded in 2013, the Salem, Massachusetts-based Satanic Temple says it doesn’t believe in Satan but describes itself as a “non-theistic religious organization” that advocates for secularism. It is separate from the Church of Satan, which was founded in the 1960s.