Greene County, Va., Sheriff Steve Smith is hosting an all-day seminar on Saturday, November 5, presented by Understanding the Threat, which is run by anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist John Guandolo and will be designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2017. The seminar will feature Guandolo employee Chris Gaubatz.
In response, Interfaith Alliance president Rabbi Jack Moline issued the following statement:
“I am puzzled and disappointed by Sheriff Smith’s decision to host the Understanding the Threat seminar. If the event has any effect at all, it will be to make the community less — not more — safe.
“Understanding the Threat is run by John Guandolo, a disgraced former FBI agent who now makes his living spreading conspiracy theories about Muslims. Guandolo is on record saying that the current director of the CIA is a secret Muslim agent working for the Saudis. He claims that the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations were both infiltrated by the Muslim brotherhood. And he believes that American Muslims are not protected by the First Amendment.
“Individuals and organizations are free to present bigoted and paranoid remarks to the public, but they should not enjoy the official imprimatur of government. Sheriff Smith may as well invite a group of 9/11 truthers or anti-Semites to present next.
“Terrorism is a serious threat and should be treated in a serious manner. I would encourage Sheriff Smith to directly contact the FBI and other relevant authorities about locating professional, fact-based trainers to present to his staff and the community.
“What we absolutely must avoid is allowing anti-Muslim bigotry to pass for fact. Such misinformation turns community members against one another, vilifies law-abiding and patriotic Americans and provides faulty information to law enforcement. If we listen to people like Guandolo, who see boogeymen around every corner, we miss the real threats we face. Sheriff Smith should revoke his sponsorship of the seminar and rely on FBI-approved trainings in the future.”
Interfaith Alliance is a network of people of diverse faiths and beliefs from across the country working together to build a resilient democracy and fulfill America’s promise of religious freedom and civil rights not just for some, but for all. We mobilize powerful coalitions to challenge Christian nationalism and religious extremism, while fostering a better understanding of the healthy boundaries between religion and government. We advocate at all levels of government for an equitable and just America where the freedoms of belief and religious practice are protected, and where all persons are treated with dignity and have the opportunity to thrive. For more information visit interfaithalliance.org.