A Satanic Temple display inside the Iowa Capitol in Des Moines was demolished, and a former US Navy fighter pilot who was just defeated in a Mississippi statehouse contest is accused of being responsible.
The billboard is legal by Capitol regulations governing religious installations, but it has received criticism from many conservatives, including presidential contender Ron DeSantis. According to a Facebook post by The Satanic Temple on Thursday, the installation, known as a Baphomet statue, “was destroyed beyond repair,” albeit a portion of it still exists.
Michael Cassidy, 35, of Lauderdale, Mississippi, was charged with fourth-degree criminal mischief on Friday, according to the Iowa Department of Public Safety. Following his arrest, he was released.
Cassidy is a Republican who was defeated in November by Democrat Keith Jackson in Mississippi State House District 45.
Cassidy’s campaign website is still up and running. According to his biography, he was a Navy fighter pilot and a flight instructor.
He bills himself as a “Christian conservative who loves our nation and is committed to preserving the blessings of liberty bestowed upon us by the Founding generation.”
Cassidy campaigned against incumbent U.S. Rep. Michael Guest in 2022 but lost in a primary runoff when only 300 votes separated them in the primary. Guest received approximately 70% of the vote in the runoff.
Messages left with Cassidy and The Satanic Temple on Friday were not returned.
On Friday, a portion of the exhibit remained at the Capitol. A lone man, who did not want to be identified, sat in front of the display and said Christian prayers that included references to Jesus. It wasn’t immediately obvious if he supported or opposed the Satanic Temple.
The exhibit is located on the Capitol’s east side, next to a column and an elegant stairway. It’s roughly 100 feet from the rotunda’s Christmas tree.
The Satanic Temple, which was founded in 2013 in Salem, Massachusetts, does not believe in Satan but sees itself as a “non-theistic religious organization” that campaigns for secularism. It is distinct from the Church of Satan, which was established in the 1960s.
Cassidy was drawn to the display earlier this week. On Tuesday, he shared a message on X, now known as Twitter, that included two photos: one of a Thomas Jefferson statue being taken from an unknown place, and the other of the Satanic Temple display.
“We have reached the point where our Capitols are removing Jefferson while monuments to Satan are erected,” the letter went on to say.
Following Cassidy’s arrest, a fund was established to raise funds for his legal defense. Cassidy announced on X that the campaign had come to an end after $20,000 had been raised.
However, Cassidy said late Friday morning that he had “been notified of more potential legal charges unfortunately, so I’ve opened the legal fund donation back up.”
The Polk County Attorney’s office did not respond to requests for comment.
According to the Des Moines Register, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who routinely campaigns in Iowa ahead of next month’s caucuses, claimed Tuesday that former President Donald Trump’s administration was partly to blame for the display’s existence. Trump was president in 2019 when the Internal Revenue Service declared The Satanic Temple to be a church.
According to polls, Trump has a large lead over DeSantis and the other Republicans running for president.