In his law enforcement trainings and public appearances, John Guandolo, of the consulting company Understanding the Threat, promises to explain how Islam operates and why it is a political philosophy, not a religion. His promotional video features a black ISIS flag waving against an ominous beat, above which Guandolo describes “the global Islamic movement and what they’re doing here in the United States.” Understanding the Threat is, he says, “the only organization which is training leaders, elected officials and law enforcement as well as citizens” and showing them “how to locate…jihadis.” He also asks that you buys his books or make a donation over text.
In congressional testimony and on conservative talk shows, Guandolo dishes up conspiracy theories involving a prominent Muslim professor and organizations, implying that they are enabling Muslim terrorists. In one Columbus, Ohio, training, he accused a local professor of having ties to terrorism. (A Columbus Joint Terrorism Task Force member and an FBI agent told attendees that this individual had absolutely no ties to any such thing.) He has argued that former CIA director John Brennan is a secret Muslim and that Barack Obama was in league with Hamas. He’s said that Muslims don’t have First Amendment rights. And when Cedar Valley College in Lancaster, Texas, canceled his signature three-day law-enforcement training seminar, Guandolo claimed it was the work of “suit-wearing jihadis.”
Guandolo usually appears in a rumpled suit himself, concealing a middle-age paunch, and sports a crisp, military-grade haircut sometimes accented with a trimmed beard. He served in the Marines until 1996 and then was an FBI agent until 2009, when he was forced to resign in disgrace after having a sexual relationship with a confidential informant and amid claims that he had solicited money from sources. (The whole sordid affair was revealed by the local news.) There are also other disputes as to the specifics of his employment history and education.
He is so outlandish that he would seem easy to dismiss. Except that for the past decade, anti-Islamic “trainers”—including John Guandolo, his employee Chris Gaubatz, and others who claim, on dubious grounds, to have insider information on terrorism—have proliferated, providing sessions (for a fee) across the country to local police forces and district attorney offices promising to help them catch the latest in-vogue threat: would-be terrorists. Guandolo and his associates have done about 13 law enforcement trainings in 2016 and has several scheduled for 2017. Guandolo also appears regularly on alt-right programs.