The Satanic Temple’s statue of the deity Baphomet at the Iowa Capitol before it was vandalized (screenshot Hyperallergic via Iowa Satanic Temple on Facebook)

A former conservative political candidate was arrested last week after allegedly decapitating a Satanic Temple statue on display at the Iowa State Capitol. Michael Cassidy, who unsuccessfully ran for a Mississippi US House of Representatives seat last year, was charged with criminal mischief in the fourth degree. The destroyed statue depicted the deity Baphomet, a figure that has increasingly angered right-wing groups in recent years.

This was the first year the Satanic Temple, a nontheistic religious organization, contributed an exhibit for the Capitol’s multidenominational display, which also includes a nativity scene and a message from an atheist group. The Temple’s work prompted backlash, with Florida Governor and presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis chiming in. In a statement issued before the vandalism occurred, Iowa’s Republican Governor Kim Reynolds called the depiction of Baphomet “absolutely objectionable” but said that “in a free society, the best response to objectionable speech is more speech.” Reynolds went on to call on fellow Iowans to pray alongside her.

In a Fox News interview, Cassidy said the statue “touched a nerve” so he “pulled his head off” and put it in a garbage bag. He has not responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.

Cassidy now faces a $2,600 fine and up to a year in prison. Conservative donors have shown an outpouring of monetary support, raising almost $80,000 for the former politician’s legal defense fund. Turning Point USA, the organization dedicated to entrenching “conservative politics” in high schools and colleges, pledged $10,000, and DeSantis wrote on X that he would also contribute.

The Satanic Temple has not yet replied to Hyperallergic‘s request for comment. In a video posted after the incident on Facebook, the group said that “justice is being pursued the correct way, by legal means.”

“We carry with us a sense of accomplishment and a renewed commitment to advocating for religious pluralism and freedom of speech,” the Satanic Temple wrote in a December 16 statement.

Among other initiatives listed on its website, the Temple’s national congregation has affirmed its support for abortion, bodily autonomy, and LGBTQIA+ rights, rejecting “tyrannical authority” and “injustice” while encouraging “benevolence and empathy.”

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *