Mississippi man accused of destroying statue of pagan idol at Iowa state Capitol takes plea deal

DES MOINES, Iowa — A Mississippi man accused of vandalizing a statue of a pagan idol in the Iowa state Capitol pleaded guilty Friday to a reduced charge in exchange for having his misdemeanor hate crime count dropped.

Michael Cassidy, a former congressional and House candidate, was scheduled to stand trial June 3, but his attorney entered a guilty plea on his behalf to an aggravated misdemeanor count of third-degree criminal mischief, the Des Moines Register reported. Cassidy admitted in writing that he “partially dismantled an exhibit in the Iowa State Capitol Building, without the right/permit to do so,” and that the damage exceeded $750.

The statue of the horned deity Baphomet was brought to the Capitol by the Iowa Satanic Temple under state rules allowing religious displays in the building during the holidays. The move drew strong criticism from state and national leaders, including Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds and Florida Governor and then-presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, both Republicans.

On December 14, the figure depicting the horned deity Baphomet was “destroyed beyond repair,” the group said.

“I saw this blasphemous image and was outraged,” Cassidy told conservative website The Sentinel in December. “My conscience is held captive by the word of God, not by bureaucratic decisions. And so I acted.”

Cassidy raised more than $134,000 for his defense through the Christian fundraising site GiveSendGo, where supporters said he acted with “courage and conviction.” He was not willing to see God reviled, especially in a building where legislators are supposed to honor Jesus Christ as King and look to His law for wisdom as they make laws with righteousness and justice.”

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

The plea agreement calls for Cassidy to receive a deferred sentence of two years probation, a civil penalty of $855, and pay restitution in an amount to be determined. Upon request, he should also participate in a victim-offender dialogue with representatives of the Satanic Temple. However, the sentencing advice is not binding for the court.