UPDATE: In a pair of letters sent Wednesday, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE) announced it has rejected a May 4 police training in San Angelo given by John Guandolo, an ex-FBI agent widely accused of anti-Muslim beliefs.
“I and my executive staff agree that not only was the material presented concerning in its overly broad characterization of an entire subset of the population, but it provided no training value for law enforcement attendees,” wrote TCOLE director Kim Vickers in a letter to the Observer.
In another letter, Vickers said he reviewed an audio recording of Guandolo’s training before rejecting the course for “paint[ing] an entire religion with an overly broad brush.” That letter was sent to the Concho Valley Regional Law Enforcement Academy, which Vickers said sponsored the training and is run by the Concho Valley Council of Governments.
ORIGINAL: Civil rights groups are calling on Texas’ law enforcement accreditation agency to deny credit for a training given by a notorious anti-Muslim activist in San Angelo earlier this month. The May 4 program, taught by ex-FBI agent John Guandolo and titled “Understanding the Jihadi Threat to America,” was advertised as continuing education hours for officers — despite agencies in other states, including Kansas and Virginia, having severed ties with Guandolo over his views.
“Mr. Guandolo’s long and well-documented history of spreading anti-Muslim sentiment make him woefully unsuited to conduct any training that satisfies [Texas Commission on Law Enforcement’s] accreditation standards,” wrote a coalition of advocacy groups, including Muslim Advocates and the Southern Poverty Law Center, in a letter sent Monday to TCOLE. The groups called on the agency to reject the program, but a spokesperson said Monday morning that an agency employee who attended the training found nothing “concerning.” Later on Monday, the agency’s director called the Observer to clarify the accreditation has not been finalized.
Guandolo, who left the FBI in 2008 amid allegations of inappropriate sexual relationships and now runs an outfit called Understanding the Threat, has an anti-Muslim record that’s eminently Google-able. On atleastthree occasions, he’s taken photos in airports of brown-skinned TSA agents with beards and Tweeted that they’re “terrorists,” while tagging top federal officials. He’s also said that all Muslim groups “share the same ideology as ISIS”; that more than 80 percent of mosques are Muslim Brotherhood fronts; that Minnesota’s Twin Cities are “enemy-held territory” thanks to the number of Somali refugees; and that the headquarters of the Council on American-Islamic Relations should be bombed.
The May training in San Angelo marked at least the second time Guandolo has paid a visit to the city on the Concho River — thanks, it seems, to the Christian Reporter News, a visibly low-budget blog run by a woman named Kat Rowoldt, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has called “anti-Muslim.” According to the SPLC, Rowoldt invited Guandolo last October, and then again this May specifically so that officers in attendance could get TCOLE training hours.
On Monday morning, TCOLE spokesperson Gretchen Grigsby said the agency sent a staffer to Guandolo’s training after hearing “concerns from the public” to “determine whether the course carries sufficient value to law enforcement” for TCOLE accreditation. “That staff member stated that he observed no concerning material or rhetoric that would cause reason to deny continuing education hours for law enforcement attendees,” Grigsby wrote.
Later on Monday, TCOLE executive director Kim Vickers called the Observer to clarify that the training had yet to be accredited. While the employee who attended reported no problem with Guandolo’s training, Vickers said he will make the final determination after reviewing an audio recording. The agency does not pre-approve courses, he explained, instead relying on local partners to submit training hours that the state agency later audits. In this case, Vickers said the local partner — the Concho Valley Council of Governments — hasn’t yet submitted the information.
For its part, the Concho Valley Council of Governments doesn’t claim ownership of Guandolo’s training either. The council’s chairman, Tom Green County Judge Steve Floyd, told the Observer that his group merely forwarded information about the training to local law enforcement, as it generally does with such opportunities in the area. Floyd indicated that his group might not forward information about Guandolo’s trainings in the future, after having “audited” the most recent course. Guandolo and the Christian Reporter News did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Guandolo affair is just the latest example of institutionalized Islamophobia in Texas. This is the state where a sitting agriculture commissioner compared Syrian refugees to a pit of venomous snakes and joked about nuking “the Muslim world”; where Ted Cruz called for cops to “patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized”; where former state Representative Molly White demanded that activists “renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws” on Texas Muslim Capitol Day; and where, just last month, state Representative Jonathan Stickland told residents of the city of Euless to “beware” a “sneaky” Muslim candidate for City Council.
But even in light of that history, sanctioning Guandolo’s training of armed officers seems extreme. The man can barely keep himself this side of calling for mass deportation. “If you had a dinner guest who didn’t follow your rules … and threatened you while eating a dinner you prepared in your house, you would ask him to leave,” he wrote in a 2015 blog post. “The West may want to consider this option for a Muslim population which continues to threaten our lives in bolder and bolder fashion.”
Correction: This story has been updated with comments from TCOLE executive director Kim Vickers. The story initially reported that TCOLE had approved credit for the training, but Vickers said late Monday that the accreditation is pending review. The error was a result of a statement from a civil rights group and a lack of explanation of process from TCOLE spokesperson Gretchen Grigsby Monday morning. The Observer regrets the error.