The Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office on Wednesday found itself in the middle of a national controversy over a former FBI agent accused of training law enforcement in a way that casts suspicion on all Muslims.
By Wednesday evening, the sheriff’s office said it is sticking with its decision to host the trainer, saying his expertise in the Muslim world and in fighting terrorism can help officers distinguish between good guys and bad guys.
That announcement came just hours after a major national Muslim organization asked the office to cancel the training program by former FBI Agent John Guandolo because it says his message would lead officers to have a biased and distorted view of Islam.
“He’s a notorious anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist, and if any law enforcement officer walks out of his training and encounters an ordinary Muslim in the course of their duty, they’re going to have a completely biased viewpoint of that person,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C.
Guandolo, reached by phone Wednesday night, said he is appalled that Hooper, as a representative of the council, is being quoted, because the council is “an entity of Hamas.” Hamas, Guandolo said, is a “designated terrorist organization by the U.S. government.”
Guandolo said he is a national security expert who has delved deeply into terrorist networks, and “this is not about identifying all Muslims. It is about identifying an identifiable threat.
“I am the only one in this country doing this program or anything close to it,” he said.
And the council is stepping up its verbal attack against him, he said. “In most cases, when you attack people, you back down, but I am a Marine.”
Guandolo is scheduled to hold a two-day training program in Wichita next week hosted by the sheriff’s office that is expected to draw law enforcement officers from across the state, said sheriff’s spokesman Lt. David Mattingly.
Wichita police Capt. Brent Allred said Wednesday afternoon that so far he knows, no officers from his department have signed up for the program.
Contacted about Hooper’s request for cancellation midday Wednesday, Mattingly said, “At this time, we do not have the intention of canceling the class.” By Wednesday evening, Mattingly said, the sheriff’s office was staying with that decision. “We’re holding the training.”
The sheriff’s office received a number of inquiries after an Eagle story about the training, prompting a news conference on the matter Wednesday evening. At the news conference, Mattingly cited an alleged plot to blow up a plane at Wichita Mid-Continent Airport in December.
“This is an extreme type of event,” Mattingly said. To combat such threats, he said, “Why would we not provide training?”
Later, Mattingly added, “We can’t forget 9/11.”
On his website, Guandolo describes himself as a counterterrorism expert and founder of Understanding the Threat. The organization says one of its primary focus areas is “the Muslim Brotherhood’s highly successful denial and deception operation in America.”
Hooper said: “Any law enforcement agency that has him as a trainer should be embarrassed.”
The sheriff’s office sees the program as a training tool, and deputies also receive sensitivity training on different religions and cultures, Mattingly said.
Regarding the training that Guandolo offers, Mattingly said, “It’s important for us to have training for our deputies so they can understand better the difference between an extremist and non-extremist.”
The sheriff’s office doesn’t view the program as anti-Muslim, he said.
“We’re bringing him in because we think there is a need,” Mattingly said.
According to a flier on the training, under the Wichita-Sedgwick County Law Enforcement Training Center letterhead, the topics include: “Muslim Brotherhood Doctrine, By-Laws, Sharia (Islamic law)”; “Understanding the Muslim Brotherhood Movement for Local LE”; “Investigative Techniques and Strategies”; and “Constitutional Duties of LE as It Relates to This Threat.”
Guandolo presented his program to a citizens group several weeks ago in Wichita, and members of the sheriff’s office saw the training and thought it showed the difference between extremists and non-extremists, or peaceful Muslims, Mattingly said.
“We want our folks to … be able to see the difference,” to avoid stereotypes, he said. “We want to know what the real threat is, and Mr. Guandolo is a subject-matter expert.”
Mattingly noted that Guandolo is a former FBI agent. “That’s something we seek out,” he said. Guandolo also has military experience, and his expertise is with Muslim extremism, Mattingly said. With those credentials, Guandolo has toured the country speaking to law enforcement groups, he said.
Guandolo said that since 2008, he has spoken to scores of groups, including law enforcement and the military.
Mattingly said next week’s training for the sheriff’s office is not mandatory.
The sheriff’s office knew that Guandolo is a controversial figure, and “he’s very upfront about that,” Mattingly said. Guandolo told the sheriff’s office that it should expect to be contacted by media about him, Mattingly said.
Mattingly said the cost for the two-day training, which will be held at the Crown Uptown Theatre on Wednesday and May 29, is $150. The sheriff’s office will pay that rate for 10 people to go. Any other sheriff’s staff members attending would have to pay for themselves, he said.
Hooper said that if any taxpayer money is spent “to bring in a known conspiracy theorist, they should be held accountable by the taxpayers.”
Mattingly said Sheriff Jeff Easter relayed to him that the money that will pay for the officers’ attendance at the training will come from seized assets – mostly drug money – rather than tax-based funds.
The training is not open to the public but to officers statewide, Mattingly said.
The problem with Guandolo’s approach, Hooper contends, is that it leads law enforcement to “treat every Muslim with suspicion.”
Guandolo’s message is an outrage, said Hooper, who described his organization as the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in America.
“This Guandolo is a guy who says mosques don’t have a right to exist in America,” Hooper said.
Guandolo responded by saying that the Muslim Brotherhood has said that it is using its Islamic centers in America to wage jihad, “so, no, they do not have the right to operate those places here in America.”
Hooper said: “Really, once public officials see the evidence, they are hard-pressed to defend this guy.”
One of Guandolo’s claims is that the CIA director is a secret Muslim, Hooper said.
Law enforcement agencies “who know about him do not get him in the first place,” Hooper said.
As word spread Wednesday about the training, one of those voicing concern was Ali Ben-Ayed, event coordinator for the Muslim Students Association at Wichita State University. Ben-Ayed said it’s important for the public to be aware of the controversy surrounding Guandolo.
Ben-Ayed, a 23-year-old computer engineering student from Tunisia, said it’s also important for people to view Muslims as “normal people: We go to school. We go to work.”
“As Muslims, we want to fight terrorism, but not by profiling. Islam is the most diverse religion. We’re hard to profile,” he said. “And Islam is a peaceful religion. And the terrorists, they’re just like the exception.”
Janice Bradley, a board member with the Peace and Social Justice Center of South Central Kansas, said she looked at Guandolo’s website and it appeared to her that he was promoting “fear-mongering against our Islamic brothers and sisters.”