A number of police officers in Tennessee attended a training seminar in Murfreesboro this week that was taught by a known Islamophobe who claims that Muslims should not get First Amendment rights.
In a free training session on Monday, John Guandolo, a former FBI agent and the vice president of the Virginia-based Strategic Engagement Group (SEG), spoke to law enforcement officers in Rutherford County, Tennessee, at the World Outreach Church.
The seminar was part of a three-day training course about Islam and the threat of terrorism, and was attended by roughly 100 law enforcement officers in the area, according to Middle Tennessee Public Radio. The Sheriff’s Department in Rutherford County confirmed that 25 of its officers had attended the training course.
WSMV-TV attempted to film the event, and their camera was pushed away by Guandolo. But, according to reporter Nancy Amons, “Guandolo talked about Hamas and its plan to destroy Western civilization from within, and spoke of Islamic centers as potential military compounds.”
The officers who attended the course are required to clock in 40 training hours per year, as mandated by the Tennessee Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission. Christopher Garrett, a spokesman for the Commission, deferred questions about the topic of the seminar to the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Department, telling TPM that “the selection of a police department training session topic - aside from the courses that constitute the 40-hour, in-service standard - lies with that police department.”
Rutherford County Sheriff Robert Arnold was not available for an interview for this story, but he told the Daily News-Journal in Murfreesboro that the officers are trying to learn about “Muslims” and “Islamic culture,” and they were “not trying to offend” anyone.
“This is kind of like CPR,” he told the DNJ. “It took 20 years to perfect CPR. When we first started doing it, we weren’t’ doing it correctly … but at least we were doing something. And over time we got to where we are today with CPR. I’d say we are saving a whole lot more people today than we were when we first started training people in CPR because we’ve learned all this stuff over time, and to learn stuff over time you have to start the learning at some point.”
Guandolo, who ran the training session, once worked on the corruption case of former Louisiana Rep. William Jefferson. He resigned from the FBI after it came to light that he had sexual relationships with agents and a key government informant — and then created a list of his conquests.
Guandolo bounced back though, through his work as a speaker preaching about the threat of Islamic terrorism. In November, for example, he said that Muslims “do not have a First Amendment right to do anything.”
SEG’s website describes how Muslims “subjugate the American people” and characterizes its training program thusly:
This program details: the history, nature, and operational methodologies of the Muslim Brotherhood in the United States; Islamic Law as it relates to jihad and the manner by which our enemy uses the law at the strategic and ground levels; specific examples of Muslim Brotherhood/Islamic Movement activity in the locale in which the presentation is given; cultural and tribal considerations; insurgency and counter-insurgency operations; source handling and recruitment; operational planning; and solutions for federal, state, and local entities.
The company, which did not return TPM’s request for comment, hosts a number of these seminars throughout the year. At one held in Columbus, Ohio in 2010, things turned ugly when Guandolo accused one local man of having ties to “Muslim Brotherhood/Islamic Movement activity.”
The list of the rest of the players connected to the Tennessee seminar reads like a who’s-who of anti-Muslim activists.
Allen Jackson, the pastor of World Outreach Church, where the training session was held, has previously said that “we have a duty to investigate anyone under the banner of Islam.”
According to WSMV-TV, the SEG was hired for the seminar by the Tennessee Freedom Coalition, itself a reliable hotbed of Islamophobia. Lou Ann Zelenik, the Executive Director of the TFC, made an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2010, and used her opposition to the controversial plans to build a mosque in Murfreesboro as a central tenet of her campaign.
“Until the American Muslim community find it in their hearts to separate themselves from their evil, radical counterparts, to condemn those who want to destroy our civilization and will fight against them, we are not obligated to open our society to any of them,” Zelenik declared.
The TFC also played host to anti-Islam Dutch Parliamentarian Geert Wilders, who spoke at a free barbecue lunch. “I compare Islam not with Christianity and Judaism. I compare Islam with fascism and communism,” Wilders said at the time.
Corey Saylor, the National Legislative Director for CAIR, told TPM that the SEG “has been of concern to us for years” for their belief that “mosques don’t have religious rights, and shouldn’t enjoy First Amendment protections.”
“Those kinds of things clearly come from a troubling and disturbing place,” Saylor said.
The SEG and Tennessee Freedom Coalition did not return TPM’s request for comment.