***Please see updates below.***
Muslim-bashing conspiracy theorist John Guandolo must reckon that Arizona's cop shops are lined with gold.
In June, New Times reported that a 2014 visit to the Valley by Guandolo and a couple of fellow anti-Islam lecturers for a one-day "training" session hosted by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office cost the county about $40,000, likely bankrolled with RICO funds — i.e., money from assets seized during the course of law-enforcement actions.
Now New Times has discovered that Guandolo has made other trips to Arizona to train peace officers here, such as a three-day training session in mid-March of this year, sponsored by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and paid for out of Pinal County's RICO funds to the tune of $10,050.
The Pinal County event was smaller than the one Montgomery hosted in Tempe in 2014. A Pinal County Sheriff's Office bulletin about the event, which New Times obtained via a public-records request, noted that because of space constraints, there were only "56 slots available" for the session, which was held at an auditorium in nearby Pima County.
The bulletin, which apparently was sent to other agencies, says the training was organized "in partnership with the Pima County Sheriff's Department" and had been approved by the Arizona Police Officers Standards and Training Board (AZ POST), which oversees the training of cops and detention officers in the state.
The seminar was titled "Understanding the Threat: Investigating and Understanding the Jihadi Threat to United States Law Enforcement," according to the notice, which promised that attendees "will walk away with the knowledge of a real time security threat" to the rule of law in the U.S. and will learn "ideas and techniques on how to combat this threat."
Sound like a worthwhile goal? Perhaps. But there's a consensus among several civil-rights organizations, including the ACLU and the Anti-Defamation League, that Guandolo, with his checkered history and record of crackpot pronouncements, is not the man for the job. A former FBI agent, Guandolo left the bureau in 2008 after it was revealed that he had a sexual relationship with a confidential informant.
Since then, Guandolo has successfully marketed himself to law-enforcement agencies as an expert in Islamic extremism, despite a seemingly endless stream of paranoid declarations, such as his claim that CIA director John Brennan is a secret convert to Islam, and that the U.S. government has been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood (and President Obama is in on it).
A 2012 USA Today article paraphrased Guandolo telling attendees at an event in Tennessee that local mosques have no legal right to exist. The article quoted Guandolo as having said in reference to American mosques that "[t]hey do not have a First Amendment right to do anything."
People for the American Way's Right Wing Watch has assembled a long list of Guandolo's unhinged, anti-Muslim statements over the years, often complete with audio clips from radio interviews he has done. These run the gamut from calling Obama a "traitor" to claiming Black Lives Matter is teaming up with "jihadis" to conduct "operations" in America to asserting that 80 percent of American mosques are hotbeds of radical Islam and must be shut down.
The Pima County Sheriff's Department did not return several calls for comment regarding its participation in the March seminar. (Note: Please see updates below.)
But Babeu's spokesman, Pinal County Sheriff's Office public information officer Tim Gaffney, did respond via e-mail to my inquiries. He said Guandolo's curriculum had been "reviewed and approved by AZ POST for statewide sworn law enforcement training credit hours" and referred me to AZ POST for further questions.
So I gave POST a call.
AZ POST executive director Jack Lane told me that prior to February, POST would give a cursory review to a training session's description to ensure that it fell within the board's guidelines for a law-enforcement officer's continuing education. But, said Lane, "We were never seeing the lesson plans or anything like that." Instead, he said POST would look over "an overview of the curriculum" and issue its approval based on that.
Under that old system, Lane said, a police agency could submit a previous approval, such as the one that likely was given for Montgomery's event in 2014.
But under POST's current system, it's up to the law-enforcement agency to vet the training and make sure it meets AZ POST's requirements.
But what if an agency brings in some clearly inappropriate person or group, like, say, the New Black Panther Party, to offer training to its officers?
"It would be up to that agency what kind of training they want to do," Lane explained. "Because they're the ones that accept all the liability."
Armed with this info, I asked Gaffney again to explain why why the PCSO sponsored Guandolo's seminar. He e-mailed back, saying a PCSO staff member had taken an “Understanding the Threat” course that was arranged jointly by the Mesa Police Department and the Arizona Police Association — a nonprofit umbrella organization that consists of various law-enforcement agencies. The staff member recommended the training to Babeu's office, Gaffney wrote.
Gaffney provided a link to information on the APA website about Guandolo's three-day course.
In addition to discussions of sharia law and the history of the Muslim Brotherhood, it contains a passage that addresses the local Muslim community.
It reads, in part:
"The threat from the Islamic Movement is detailed for the local community in which the presenters are teaching. Specific local organizations and leaders are identified by name and their activities detailed. Tribal and Cultural Dynamics are provided to give attendees an understanding of how to best approach and interact with individuals and entities they come across in their work."
The course also "[identifies] specific ways to obtain reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause to give law enforcement options to open investigations, obtain search warrants, or utilize specific investigative techniques on individuals suspected of nefarious activity." My attempts to reach APA's executive director Levi Bolton for comment were unsuccessful. A spokesman for the Mesa Police Department was aware that a three-day Guandolo training session had taken place at Mesa PD's academy recently, with APA sponsoring the training and the Mesa PD providing the venue. The Mesa PD spent no money on the training, according to the spokesman.
Imraan Siddiqi, executive director of the Arizona chapter of the Council on American–Islamic Relations, a Muslim advocacy group, seemed exasperated when I told him Babeu had hired Guandolo to instruct local cops. He called it "extremely troubling" that a man with Guandolo's record was being permitted to teach Arizona law-enforcement officers about Muslims.
"He's not viewed as any kind of counterterrorism expert, within those circles," Siddiqi said. "He's not viewed as an Islam expert within any circles. He has no formal education in this venue, yet he is able to come in and negatively influence people who are going to be coming into contact with Muslim constituents, whether it's law enforcement or district attorneys."
The bio on Guandolo's website boasts that he is is an expert in both counterterrorism and Islam for the FBI. Yet, in one of many e-mails he exchanged with the Maricopa County Attorney's Office, which I obtained through a public-records request, Guandolo admits he doesn't speak Arabic.
Guandolo is no fan of CAIR or anyone he deems to be critical of him, which covers a lot of territory. In one blog post, he calls CAIR "a terrorist organization which hates and violently opposes Free Speech." But when the Anti-Defamation League is doing the criticizing, he has been reluctant to take up the cudgel.
In 2014, the ADL of Arizona wrote Montgomery a letter, later made public, recounting Guandolo's extremist background and citing his "significant involvement in U.S. anti-Muslim organizations" and his "conspiracy theories of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of the United States." The ADL warned that Guandolo "would paint a distorted view of the Muslim community and promote bigotry and misinformation."
Guandolo did not fire back, instead venting his ire on the ACLU of Arizona, which had called on Montgomery to cancel Guandolo's training. In a blog post, Guandolo wrote that the ACLU should be indicted for "aiding and abetting, as well as materially supporting, a terrorist organization."
In the same post, Guandolo ran down a list of local Muslims who'd signed an open letter of protest to Montgomery, labeling some as terrorists by putting "known [Muslim Brotherhood]" or "known Hamas" beside their names.
Local Muslims protested the day-long training session at Tempe's DoubleTree Hilton, and both the Phoenix Police Department and the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office declined to participate. Still, some 300 prosecutors and local cops attended.
When it came to the training Babeu organized earlier this year, there was no hue and cry, likely because Guandolo kept a lower profile.
Siddiqi called it "irresponsible" for law enforcement officials like Montgomery and Babeu to use public funds to hire a "disgraced ex-FBI agent" when actual experts are available to "give a proper training, an unbiased training on this type of material."
Said Siddiqi: "It's an insult to the growing number of Muslims who are moving to Pinal County, cities like Maricopa and Casa Grande and Florence." He noted that there is a mosque in the city of Maricopa, and that he knows of several Muslim families who live in the area.
"This thing with Paul Babeu was very under-the-radar and done very discreetly," Siddiqi added. "If they're doing nothing wrong, why not be transparent with it? They don't want the backlash or the complaints, so they're keeping it as closely guarded as possible."
Read the Pinal County Sheriff's Office documents pertaining to Guandolo's visit in March 2016:
Update August 18, 10:04 AM: Pima County Sheriff Chris Nanos contacted me directly this morning to inform me that though the Pinal County Sheriff's Office-sponsored training originally was scheduled to be held at the Pima County Sheriff's Department's facilities, Pima County pulled out of the training "as soon we found out what it was about."
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Nanos also stated that if PCSD wanted such training, there were better sources that it could call upon to provide it, such as the FBI. Nanos did not know where PCSO held its training session with Guandolo.
PCSO's PIO has acknowledged to me that the Pinal County Sheriff's Office sponsored Guandolo's training to local law enforcement.
Update August 18, 3:55 PM: Pinal County Sheriff's Office spokesman Tim Gaffney got back to me just now, and confirmed that Guandolo's training was held "at PCSO in our training room." This means Babeu both paid for the training by Guandolo and hosted it at his facilities.
Apologies for any confusion regarding Pima County.