Culpeper, Virginia, will once again be the site of a training led by John Guandolo, a notoriously anti-Muslim former FBI agent who has made a career out of conspiracy theories and counterterrorism trainings. The subject this time? Firearms training.
According to Guandolo’s website, “new and intermediate shooters will learn”:
- Basic combat handgun shooting skills;
- Proven methods for securing oneself and one’s family members;
- Practical decision-making skills applicable to a range of threat scenarios.
While the promotional flyer and registration page make no specific mention of the “threat” the course addresses, Guandolo is known for targeting and smearing Muslim communities in America. He has said that the Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating the ranks within the U.S. government to overthrow America and impose Islamic law.
Because, according to Guandolo, the federal government has been infiltrated, he says local law enforcement agencies and communities must take matters into their own hands.
“The solution to this is you,” he said at a 2009 presentation in Bedford County, Tennessee. “If you are looking to DHS, the FBI and Congress to solve this … you’re going to be woefully disappointed.”
Along those lines, Guandolo collaborated with ACT! for America to create the Thin Blue Line Project, a project billed as a one-stop “anti-terrorism” internet resource for law enforcement. The website, which is accessible with a login, does not offer much in the way of novel information. However, it is notable for the “Radicalization Locator Map,” which lists personal information and addresses of leaders of prominent Muslim civil liberties organizations.
He regularly reminds followers and readers of his website that “we are at war — and we are losing.”
The firearms training comes on the heels of another Guandolo course, “Understanding and Investigating Jihadi Networks in America,” in Culpeper County last month that was designed for law enforcement agents. After civil rights organizations spoke up and national and international media outlets took notice, the academy offering the training yanked the course’s accreditation.
Still, Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins stood by Guandolo and allowed 20 of his staffers to attend the training without training hour credits. He told the Free Lance-Star that he had “no intention of backing down,” but added that he was sure attendees would be able to parse facts from Guandolo’s theories.
“We’ve got sense enough not to take anything we might not agree with at face value,” he said.
Today, Guandolo is offering a “civilian training” in Northern Virginia “Understanding and Identifying Jihadi Networks in Your Neighbohood” where he promised “‘bleeding-edge’ edge instruction that explores the ‘jihadi mind.’” This course was available to law enforcement agents as well as the general public but was not offered through an official agency or academy and it did not offer credit. Trainings offered to the public, including the firearms course, require significantly less scrutiny than accredited courses that require at least a modicum of accountability. In these spaces, Guandolo is free to list his FBI credentials alongside anti-Muslim conspiracy theories and fear-mongering.
Guandolo’s trainings raise some critical questions: When “civilian” trainees learn — as Guandolo promises they will — to identify “jihadi threats” in local communities, what are they supposed to do with this information? What does it mean to be “at war” with “jihadi operatives in your neighborhood”? Is it unreasonable to wonder if his Firearms Training Course is merely an extension of his “counterterrorism” trainings?
Since the September 11 tragedy, Muslim communities — and those believed to be Muslim — have been the target of state discrimination and violence and interpersonal prejudice and attacks. Just yesterday, a bullet struck the dome of a mosque in a Chicago suburb as community members gathered for dawn prayers, contributing to the uneasiness many communities are feeling.
There are consequences to peddling conspiracy theories as fact to law enforcement agencies and convincing “civilians” that they are “at war.” Rather than equip agencies or individuals with useful information, Guandolo’s seminars and resources do little more than heighten fear and suspicion among those already prone to paranoia and among those he targets.