The Mesa Police Department is doubling down on plans to provide space for an "anti-jihadi" training led by John Guandolo, a disgraced former FBI agent known for peddling conspiracy theories about American Muslims.
Last week, the Council for American-Islamic Relations wrote to interim chief Michael Dvorak. CAIR said that the Mesa Police Department "should disassociate itself from such biased, inaccurate, and counterproductive training, which — if implemented in the field by police officers — could have a negative impact on the safety and civil rights of Arizona Muslims, or those perceived to be Muslim.”
"I don’t know that we have responded to them," Detective Steve Berry tells Phoenix New Times. "Every time we host this event, we get the same letter, as I understand."
Oddly, an e-mail promoting the training, scheduled for May 16-18, says that it's hosted by the Arizona Police Association, but Berry says that the space appears to have been booked by the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office.
"That’s what the information that I got from our training facility said," he confirmed.
Hmm. A few years ago, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery spent close to $40,000 in public money to bring Guandolo in for training.
That became a public-relations fiasco once groups like the ACLU and the Anti-Defamation League started questioning why an individual well known for his racist, anti-Muslim rhetoric was being invited to teach local law-enforcement officers about Muslims.
Has Montgomery been working behind the scenes to bring Guandolo back?
We reached out to Amanda Jacinto, communications director for the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, to see if she could tell us what's going on.
"Generally, this office has a standing deal that we don’t comment to reporters from New Times," she responded, adding that any inquiries we had could be answered by filing a public records request.
Okay, fine. But if this is just a simple mixup due to human error, that should be easy to clear up, right?
"Nobody in this office is aware of any bookings with anything to do with that," Jacinto responded. "I don’t know why our name would be associated — nobody here has any knowledge of any fees, or anything to do with that."
We've put in a public records request to see if Montgomery had a hand in orchestrating Guandolo's visit, and will report back.
Regardless of who organized the training, the Mesa Police Department apparently sees no problem with hosting it.
By Berry's recollection, this is the third or fourth time that it has hosted the seminar at its training facility.
Was the department aware of Guandolo's reputation for making bizarre and alarming statements about American Muslims, like claiming that a Delaware imam who touched his nose during the Pledge Of Allegiance was signaling "civilizational jihad"?
"Yes, we were aware," Berry said.
The Mesa Police Department didn't invite Guandolo, but Ibrahim Hooper of CAIR says that distinction isn't necessarily obvious to outside observers.
Also, Mesa Police's willingness to give Guandolo a venue to propagate his conspiracy theories (like his recent claim that American mosques are "organizing for armed confrontation with law enforcement") looks a lot like a tacit endorsement of his views.
"I guess that’s up to anyone’s interpretation," Berry said. "But we’re not endorsing one way or another; we’re simply allowing classroom space."
New Times raised a question that former columnist Stephen Lemons had brought up before: What would happen if a group wanted to bring in a speaker from the New Black Panther Party, or some other equally inappropriate extremist group?
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"I suppose any and every training will be evaluated by our command staff and executive staff," Berry responded. "They would make that determination."
In this case, he confirmed, the determination was made that a training seminar led by a guy who once claimed that mosques have no legal right to exist was not a problem.
"All these things have been, at some point, evaluated," Berry said. "Someone — whoever — asked if they could use the building to hold their training, and it was approved."
Update: As of May 10th, Mesa's interim police chief, Michael Dvorak, has announced that they will not host Guandolo at their training facility in the future.