A Tennessee man has pleaded guilty to using strips of bacon and anti-Muslim graffiti to vandalize an Islamic center in his state.
Charles Dwight Stout III accepted a plea agreement with the government on Wednesday, admitting to conspiracy and to causing damage to religious property because of its religious character, U.S. Attorney Don Cochran announced.
Federal prosecutors allege the 20-year-old and another man vandalized the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro last July by placing bacon around the center’s entrance. Islam, like its fellow Abrahamic religion, Judaism, generally prohibits followers from eating pork products.
Wearing a Soviet World War II-era gas mask, Stout also spray painted profanity about Allah on the center’s exterior. Prosecutors claim he destroyed the clothing he wore during the act and permanently deleted photos of the vandalism that he took on his phone.
The charges against Stout initially included obstruction of justice for the steps he allegedly took to cover up the crime. That charge carried a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
Under the plea agreement, the government dismissed the obstruction charge. Stout faces one year of supervision and must pay damages to the mosque. The exact amount will be determined when he is sentenced in August.
The charges against the second man allegedly involved in the crime, Thomas Gibbs, are still pending.
Dr. Saleh M. Sbenaty, an outreach coordinator for the mosque, said he met with Stout in court this week.
“It was sad to see a young man who just started his adult life facing those serious charges,” Sbenaty wrote in an email. “It was emotional to me since he is about the same age as my own son. Although it was a sad moment, [it] was also important as it brings a closure to our community when we see justice being served.”
The two men formally apologized for their actions during a service at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in March.
“I wouldn’t want anyone to do that to my church and I can imagine the disappointment and the hurt and the fear I caused,” Stout said during the Friday service, according to the Daily News Journal. “I would never want anyone to feel unwelcome at their place of worship. I hope that you guys can someday forgive me.”
The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro has been a target of Islamophobic sentiment ever since the congregation decided to build its own house of worship. In 2010, a fire that destroyed a construction vehicle on the center’s property was ruled as arson. The center has also faced bomb threats and public protests.
Sbenaty said the center has not received threats since the vandalism carried out by Stout.
The tactics used by Stout last year were nothing new ― individuals have often used bacon to harass and intimidate Islamic communities. Vandals have left bacon and even pig carcasses at mosques in Florida, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma.
Sbenaty said he hopes Stout and Gibbs have had a change of heart.
“The past is behind us and we do not hold grudges against anyone, even those who have opposed us in the past,” he said. “We also hope that they will both be advocates of a change to the better especially for young adults who might be misinformed or following a derailed path.”