February 7 marks the final day of the National Sheriffs’ Association Winter Legislative and Technology Conference. This year, the conference offered a platform to a known anti-Muslim extremist and an anti-immigrant group. The four-day conference is held annually in Washington, D.C.
According to a conference agenda made public by the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), the first day of the conference, February 4, included a two-hour presentation by anti-Muslim activists John Guandolo and Chris Gaubatz. Together, Guandolo and Gaubatz co-run the organization Understanding the Threat (UTT), which offers histrionic trainings to both law enforcement and civilians that depict Muslims and Islam as an existential threat to the United States. UTT’s trainings have been rightly criticized, leading to venue cancellations and public rebukes by law enforcement officials in multiple instances.
Guandolo’s trainings and presentations are steeped in conspiracy theories and anti-Muslim bigotry. In 2011, he claimed mosques in America “do not have a First Amendment right to do anything.” More recently, Guandolo has lambasted Muslims working at hotels, airports, and convenience stores as members of an “insurgency” planning “to occupy the land.” Guandolo has also baselessly alleged that former CIA Director John Brennan converted to Islam and that the sole purpose of Muslim student groups on college campuses is to “recruit jihadis.”
According to one NSA conference goer’s Twitter account, Guandolo’s presentation appeared to be well-attended.
— Dr Núria Querol MD (@nuriaq) February 4, 2017
In a February 6 email to supporters, UTT claimed its presentation “was well received and Sheriff’s [sic] seem open and willing to do what they need to do to protect and defend their counties across the nation.”
UTT’s presence at this year’s conference does not appear to be an anomaly. NSA’s current president, Sheriff Greg Champagne, of St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, has troublingly endorsed UTT’s trainings.
UTT was not the only extremist organization with a presence at this year’s conference. Anti-immigrant group Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) also had an exhibition booth, according the NSA’s website.
FAIR has increasingly courted and collaborated with law enforcement officials, particularly sheriffs, in recent years. These efforts include inviting sheriffs to the group’s annual Hold Their Feet to the Fire media event in Washington, D.C and featuring them in a FAIR-produced television ad ahead of last year’s general election.
As an organization, the NSA has not shied away from aligning itself with FAIR. In October 2015, NSA Executive Director Jonathan Thompson spoke at FAIR’s “Sheriff Border Summit” in McAllen, Texas. The NSA was also a signatory on a FAIR-authored amicus brief in the court case challenging DAPA, the temporary deportation relief program announced President Obama.
In concluding their visit to Washington, D.C., several NSA sheriffs visited the man who brought nativist bigotry into the national spotlight: President Trump. In a tweet this morning, the president published a photo of himself and Vice President Pence with a dozen sheriffs and NSA representatives in the Oval Office.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 7, 2017
According to its website, the NSA is “dedicated to serving the Office of Sheriff and its affiliates through police education, police training, and general law enforcement information resources.”
The fear and misinformation peddled by UTT and FAIR should have no place in law enforcement training or practice. And the NSA’s continued collaboration with such extremist groups sets a dangerous precedent of law enforcement organizations normalizing bigotry.