The Maricopa County Attorney's Office is sponsoring a training session for its prosecutors and other law enforcement officials on Muslim extremism, taught by individuals described as having an anti-Muslim agenda by various civil rights organizations.
The all-day event, scheduled for September 19 at a hotel in Tempe, is titled "Understanding the Threat," according to a flier advertising the training. It promises the seminar will "cover threats posed to our local communities by Hamas, Hezbollah and Shariah Law."
Currently posted to the website for the Western Arizona Law Enforcement Training Academy, the flier features an illustration of the yellow Gadsden flag, frequently associated with Tea Party activists these days, and a green crossed-swords symbol associated with the Muslim Brotherhood.
Both the title and the placement of the illustrations are identical to those for the website of John Guandolo, a former FBI agent listed on the flier as being one of the training session's instructors.
Guandolo is a controversial figure whose conspiracy-minded statements and seminars for law enforcement have drawn fire from such organizations as the ACLU and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
For instance, according to Salon.com and other news outlets, Guandolo has claimed that current CIA director John Brennan is secretly a Muslim.
In 2013, Salon.com reported the following:
On Friday, John Guandolo, the vice president of the Virginia-based Strategic Engagement Group (SEG), appeared on the Boca Raton-based radio show of Tom Trento, the president of the anti-"Shariah Islam" group The United West, formerly the Florida Security Council. Guandolo described how Brennan has supposedly "interwoven his life professionally and personally with individuals that we know are terrorists and he has given them access" to top officials in the federal government and "brought known Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood leaders into the government and into advisory positions."
Guandolo continued that what "some would say is most disturbing, Mr. Brennan did convert to Islam when he served in an official capacity on behalf of the United States when he served in Saudi Arabia" and it "was the culmination of a counterintelligence operation against him to recruit him" by foreign operatives.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has blasted Guandolo as a "disgraced conspiracy theorist," who "continues to offer so-called trainings that reveal `the Muslim Brotherhood's infiltration of the US Federal Bureaucracy and its coverup by our own government.'"CAIR's video showing Guandolo's claiming that CIA director John Brennan is a secret Muslim
Guandolo has been quoted as stating that mosques "do not have a First Amendment right to do anything." Some of his training sessions have been canceled by other law enforcement entities once the events became public knowledge.
Interestingly, according to a 2009 report in the New Orleans Times Picayune, Guandolo resigned from the FBI "before the bureau's Office of Professional Responsibility could question him about his sexual liaisons with [an FBI informant] as well as with women FBI agents."
The Times Picayune article says Guandolo "expressed his `deep remorse'" for the sexual relationship with the informant and hoped that it did not imperil a corruption case against a U.S. Congressman from Louisiana.
County Attorney spokesman Jerry Cobb claimed that Guandolo was just one speaker at the event, and that there was nothing Islamaphobic about the training.
Cobb offered the following explanation via e-mail:
"While we are sponsoring a training in domestic terror threats, as we have sponsored training in a wide variety of other law enforcement topics (from dealing with psychopaths and career criminals to sexually motivated crimes to investigating domestic violence offenses), there will be absolutely no training that could even remotely be fairly described as Islamophobic or would contribute in any way towards disparaging any group in our community on the basis of race, ethnicity, or religion.
"In fact, we are engaged in a specific outreach effort to make clear what this training is and is not...as for any comments about the presenters, the training is curriculum based and is not an open forum or panel discussion for editorial comments."
He later added that, "It is the County Attorney's specific intention for this training to help law enforcement and prosecutors avoid blanket mischaracterization of those in the Muslim community and ensure strong community partnerships."
Cobb could not tell me how much the instructors are being paid or who developed the curriculum for the day-long course. He said County Attorney Bill Montgomery would attend the training session himself to make sure there was nothing untoward stated during the event.
Alessandra Soler, the ACLU of Arizona's executive director, said the ACLU currently was drafting a letter to Montgomery about the training.
"[Guandolo] is an Islamaphobe," Soler told me. "He's a hatemonger, and he has no business training law enforcement and prosecutors."
Liban Yousuf, CAIR Arizona's civil rights director, said the flier itself was offensive to Muslims, and that his organization was worried about the possible effect on the local Muslim population, which he estimated as numbering anywhere from 40,000 to 50,000 in Arizona.
"It's very concerning to us," he told me, when advised of the upcoming training. "It can have very real implications to the American Muslim community, having speakers suggesting that we're all latent Hamas operatives or Muslim Brotherhood operatives or whatever crazy conspiracy theory they're going to come up with, and training our law enforcement on that and then having them see each one of us as potential enemies, which shouldn't be the case."
Yousuf said that Guandolo and the other speakers, particularly former CIA employee Clare Lopez, were known by CAIR for making controversial statements about Muslims.
He implored the MCAO to suspend the training session.
"We recognize the Maricopa County Attorney's Office and law enforcement, their goal is to build meaningful relationships with the Muslim community," said Yousuf.
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"But inviting these hate speakers is completely counter to that. So we're calling on them to distance themselves from these speakers, to completely denounce them, to drop them from their training seminars, just like other agencies around the country have done."
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