The Muslim community has reacted with anger after the sheriff’s office of Greene County, Virginia, announced plans to host a seminar on the alleged threat posed by Muslims. The event, scheduled for Nov. 5, will also feature a representative of a group led by former FBI agent and conspiracy theorist John Guandolo who has claimed that CIA Director John Brennan is a “secret Muslim” who has acted as an agent for the Saudi Arabian government.
Greene County Sheriff Steven Smith posted on Facebook this past weekend that his office would be sponsoring a seminar for residents titled “Understanding the Threat, a very interesting and informative class on the Muslim religion.”
Following a backlash, Smith has since apologized for the wording of the original post and changed the title of the seminar to “Understanding the Jihadi Threat.”
"It's not to say all Muslims are bad," Smith told local station CBS19. "We're not saying that at all and when the post first came out, I apologize for the way it was worded, it didn't have Jihad in there, it does now. People that know me here in Greene County know I'm not like that. It's just an educational tool."
On Tuesday, Smith held an impromptu poll on his Facebook page asking the residents of Greene County to decide whether the event should still go ahead. Just a few minutes latest he wrote, “The seminar is on.”
Defending the seminar, he told the Greene County Record: “You have to know what’s going on in the world. There are jihadists over there, there are terrorist attacks. We’re not saying all Muslims are bad, we’re just saying that this is what terrorism is — jihad. We’ll educate people on what it is. That’s all we’re doing.”
But the proposed presence of Guandolo’s group, as well as Suzanne Shattuck, a local activist who has called for the deportation of all Muslims who are “Sharia-adherent,” has drawn condemnation from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization.
In a letter to Smith, CAIR Department to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia Director Corey Taylor called for the sheriff’s office to drop the seminar.
“Everyone, even anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bigots, have the First Amendment right to spew their hatred and conspiracy theories, but that bigotry should not have the implicit endorsement of a law enforcement agency,” the letter read. “Let these individuals pay for their own private speaking venue and be ignored, as they deserve.”
“The sponsorship of this event by the sheriff’s office sends the message to members of the local Muslim community that they may not be protected against the growing number of hate incidents targeting Muslims nationwide due to rising Islamophobia.”
The United States, which is home to 3.3 million Muslims, has in recent months seen anti-Muslim hate crimes rise to their highest levels since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Guandolo, who has also stated that Muslims “do not have a First Amendment right to do anything,” resigned from the FBI in 2008 ahead of an investigation for misconduct. Since then, he has toured the country speaking to citizens and at anti-terrorism training seminars given to law enforcement agencies.
Last week he also spoke at a high school in northern Minnesota. When CAIR similarly protested his appearance, Guandolo alleged the organization has ties to Palestinian militant group Hamas.