In late September, about 100 conservatives gathered at the Odessa Country Club to hear from two men: Republican Congressman Mike Conaway, who discussed the 357-page Farm Bill, and ex-FBI agent John Guandolo, who described an omnipresent Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy to topple America from within. Heavy stuff for a country club luncheon. Among the crowd were Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis and two of his deputies. “It was really kind of frightening,” Griffis told the Observer. “It’s something we need to be concerned about … how involved our enemies are in our country, and nobody pays attention or knows about it.”
A Dallas-area resident, Guandolo occupies a special niche in a larger network of Islamophobes in the United States. There’s ACT for America, a right-wing group that (implausibly) claims 1 million members. There’s Frank Gaffney, a think-tank type who served as national security adviser to Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign, and David Yerushalmi, an Arizona attorney who authors anti-Sharia bills for state legislators. Then there’s Guandolo. His specialty is turning local cops against the Muslim communities they police.
Guandolo left the FBI in 2008, months before the story broke that he’d slept with the key witness in a corruption case against a Louisiana congressman. He then turned to peddling Islamophobic conspiracies, an obsession he’d developed as an FBI agent after 9/11, first making a name for himself in 2010 by baselessly accusing a Jordanian-American who worked for Ohio’s state police of terrorist connections. In May, he told a group of nearly 30 San Angelo cops that all Islamic leaders are “obliged to lie to [them]” and mosques are where Muslims “plan battles.” Later this month, he’s set to speak to members of the Tarrant County GOP just days before the party votes on whether to oust four members, one who’s Muslim and another who’s married to a Muslim.
Guandolo’s favorite bogeyman is the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Washington, D.C.-based Muslim civil rights group that Guandolo calls a front for Palestine’s Hamas and Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood. Applying a similar logic, he casts America’s 3.5 million Muslims as secret operatives in a war against Christianity and the Constitution. Such conspiratorial views have verged on becoming law. In 2015, Ted Cruz introduced legislation that linked CAIR to the Muslim Brotherhood and would have designated the latter a terrorist organization. The bill died in committee.
The financial vehicle for Guandolo’s fearmongering is a consulting company called Understanding the Threat. (The “threat,” needless to say, is Muslims). In December 2016, Guandolo incorporated in Texas as Saint George’s Allies, an apparent reference to the Roman warrior saint venerated by the Crusaders. Five months later, he filed notice that he was doing business as Understanding the Threat. Through the company, he earns training fees from law enforcement agencies and hawks books and DVDs. Guandolo is closely tied to Americans for America, a Colorado nonprofit run by former Nixon speechwriter John Andrews. On his weekly radio show and his website, Guandolo solicits donations to the nonprofit. In 2017 alone, Americans for America paid Guandolo $123,000 — out of $200,000 in expenditures that year — for what it describes in tax documents as “training of law enforcement personnel in the field.”
Guandolo declined to be interviewed for this story, but in an email he did assert that “there is only one [Islam]” and that “100 percent of the ‘terrorists’ from the 9/11 hijackers to Fort Hood to Orlando state they are Muslims waging jihad to establish an Islamic state … the very purpose of Islam.”
That was a message that made a lot of sense to Sheriff Griffis, who said he hopes to bring Guandolo back for a law enforcement training, potentially at the county’s expense. Asked about the distinction between groups like ISIS and the world’s other 1.8 billion Muslims, Griffis said he’s “not convinced there is a difference.” As to whether any Muslims live in Ector County, he thought there might be “a handful.”
Eighteen miles from the sheriff’s office, Farook Rafeek is president of the Muslim Association of West Texas, a mosque in Midland. The sheriff’s comments were no surprise to him. “You have to remember, if you live in Midland, Odessa, this is a Republican town, man,” Rafeek said, adding that there are about 500 Muslim families between the two cities, drawn from countries all over the world by the oil industry. Given the sheriff’s perception, they must not be causing too much trouble.