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Interfaith Alliance: Greene County Sheriff Does Community Disservice by Hosting Conspiracy Theorist Seminar


Remember this?

THE GREENE COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE is sponsoring a public event (they’re calling it a seminar, but I believe that’s an egregious mis-use of the word) titled “Understanding the Threat: a very interesting and informative class on the Muslim religion.” It will take place at the Stanardsville branch of Piedmont Virginia Community College— only three days before the election. Sheriff Steven Smithposted the announcement to his Facebook page this past Friday morning (explored in the Newsplex story below). After his announcement sparked a public outcry, he changed the title of the event to “Understanding the Jihadi Threat,” and appears to have deleted the original post. This morning he posted simply, “The seminar is on.” The two speakers at this “seminar’ are Chris Gaubatz, who served as an investigator for his father’s book “Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That’s Conspiring to Islamize America” — and Suzanne Shattuck (described by Sheriff Smith as “a very informed citizen”), who is a frequent contributor to Alt-Right blog sites and maintains her own blog titled “I’m Wide Awake” at suzanneshattuck.com. Not one of the world’s more than 1.6 billion Muslims appears to have been invited to speak at this public “seminar” about the Muslim faith. The timing and location— in a rural, likely GOP-leaning part of a swing state on the eve of a national election— is obviously no accident. That it would in any way be supported, promoted, organized and hosted by a publicly-funded office of government and held in a publicly-funded school is worthy of investigation.

Well now, with this seminar monstrosity scheduled to take place tomorrow, Interfaith Alliance has issued the following statement. Note that the group behind the seminar, Understanding the Threat, will be listed in the Southern Poverty Law Center’s 2017 compilation of hate groups operating in the United States. More background is available from SPLC here.

Greene County Sheriff Does Community Disservice by Hosting Conspiracy Theorist Seminar

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.”


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