In April 2010, law enforcement officers gathered for a routine three-day seminar in Columbus, Ohio. But the trainers were far from usual, and by the end of the seminar they had manufactured a terrorism suspect out of a well-known state employee.
The lead trainer was a man named John Guandolo, who left a career at the FBI amid an investigation of inappropriate conduct in 2008. He soon turned to a career peddling anti-Muslim conspiracy theories as a self-styled terrorism expert. Far from teaching evidence-based strategies, Guandolo’s trainings promote the absurd belief that a “global Islamic movement,” secretly supported by a large portion of American Muslims, is working to create a caliphate in the United States.
Muslims in America “do not have a First Amendment right to do anything,” argued John Guandolo.
Guandolo’s bizarre, dangerous ideas don’t end there. In 2016 he claimed Black Lives Matter activists are working “in conjunction” with “jihadis” and “Marxist” groups in order to “impose Sharia Islamic law” on America. He has accused CIA director John Brennan of being a secret Muslim convert and alleged that the sole purpose of the Muslim Student Association (MSA), a student group on college campuses, is to “recruit jihadis.”
Guandolo has also argued that Muslims in America “do not have a First Amendment right to do anything.”
The training in Columbus, Ohio is just one example of the virulent, troubling strain of Islamophobia that a small cohort of demagogues are spreading among local law enforcement. Since then, they have ramped up their efforts to covertly instill police departments and law enforcement agents around the country with his extreme anti-Muslim ideology.
Guandolo and other anti-Muslim operatives made at least 13 appearances before law enforcement in 2016, and several more appearances have already occurred or been scheduled for 2017. Their appearances have increased in regularity in recent years, and have sometimes been funded at public expense. One training in Arizona was found to have cost taxpayers nearly forty thousand dollars. This cohort has not only trained local police, but has published the home addresses of high-profile Muslim leaders ostensibly as a resource for police officers, appeared at conferences for law enforcement, and even testified before elected officials.
The Center for New Community’s new resource, Islamophobia Academy, exposes and monitors the anti-Muslim movement’s efforts to indoctrinate law enforcement with hate. It catalogues each known anti-Muslim training or other activity that directly or indirectly targets law enforcement, and will continue to be updated as new efforts are uncovered. Guandolo is the most active demagogue targeting local law enforcement, but each anti-Muslim agent included in this resource has ties to the organized anti-Muslim movement and spouts baseless accusations against Muslims as a whole.
The resource includes the results of a series of public records requests, which yield insights regarding the extent to which anti-Muslim operatives have been successful in influencing law enforcement:
- Four district attorney investigators were officially approved to attend a Guandolo training in Dallas, Texas;
- The federal Drug Enforcement Administration admitted to co-hosting a Guandolo training in Louisiana;
- Dozens of San Diego Police Department employees are subscribed to the mailing list of an extremist anti-Muslim organization;
- A member of the far-right, anti-government group Oath Keepers organized a Guandolo training in Arizona.
The timeline also shows that Guandolo has developed close relationships with individual sheriffs, such as Scott Jenkins of Culpeper County, Virginia. Jenkins hosted Guandolo more than once, and even appointed him Special Deputy Sheriff.
During his Columbus, Ohio, training Guandolo showed the group a photo of a local college professor and employee with the Department of Public Safety, a man named Omar al-Omari. According to an NPR report, Omari was well-known within the Columbus police department and had even been tapped to lead counterterrorism trainings himself.
Yet Guandolo viewed Omari as an example of the very threats he feared, and suggested that Omari had links to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, and al-Qaeda. Not surprisingly, these accusations were unfounded; the FBI had no reason to suspect Omari of any wrongdoing. Guandolo claimed he knew something the FBI didn’t, but provided no evidence. Amid the fallout, Omari eventually lost his job.
Anti-Muslim efforts to influence law enforcement are hardly new, but aggressive targeting of local law enforcement under the guise of training represents a shift in strategy from previous efforts focused on federal and state agencies.
A 2011 report from Wired revealed that until 2009, books about Islam authored by Robert Spencer were included in the FBI’s recommended reading list for its agents. Spencer is a well-known anti-Muslim writer, who has said that “Islam is not a religion of peace.” He has previously given seminars on Islam to the FBI and other government agencies. Following the report, 57 civil rights and advocacy organizations wrote to CIA Director John Brennan demanding Spencer be dropped as a trainer and his materials purged.
The same year, an investigation by Political Research Associates (PRA) found that private national security firms were working with federal and state law enforcement to book counter-terrorism trainings featuring biased anti-Muslim figures. After the report was released, the White House ordered a full review of counter-terrorism training materials used at the federal level. Yet oversight of local law enforcement agencies is not nearly as strict or centralized.
Islamophobia Academy reveals that many of these same anti-Muslim firms and speakers are still active law enforcement trainers, years after their extremist views have been exposed. Firms like Security Solutions International and speakers such as John Guandolo, Walid Shoebat and Steve Emerson seem to have significantly increased their focus on spreading Islamophobic fear and misinformation to local law enforcement.
“I always focus on the sheriffs because the sheriffs are the most powerful law enforcement officer in the country,” Guandolo said.
Guandolo is open about this strategy. In a 2014 radio interview with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney, Guandolo argued that local law enforcement officials, and particularly sheriffs, should be the primary mark for their Islamophobic message. “I always focus on the sheriffs because the sheriffs are the most powerful law enforcement officer in the country,” he told Gaffney. “Get them to understand this… I believe that it’s at the local level that this has to be handled.”
Understanding the Threat launched its 2017 work with a three-day seminar sponsored by the Arizona Police Association and the Arizona Tactical Officers Association. Guandolo was scheduled to provide “a detailed understanding of street violence emerging from the alliance among the Muslim Brotherhood and violent anarchist groups including Black Lives Matter,” along with “an understanding of Sharia, its foundation, its authority, and its relation to threats posed by jihadis.”
On January 9th, the day before the training began, Understanding the Threat tweeted that “Sharia adherent muslims are mentally ill.” Guandolo’s bigotry appears to be as strong as ever.
We hope that Islamophobia Academy will shed light on the organized racist forces attempting to influence law enforcement operations, and provide ammunition to those seeking to keep anti-Muslim provocateurs out of their local communities.