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A New Sheriff Loses His Compass: Muslims Are Not the Enemy

By Jim Cavanaugh on February 15, 2012 - 5:33 pm, Posted in Anti-Muslim, Extremist Propaganda

Editor’s Note: This post was written for Hatewatch by Jim Cavanaugh, the recently retired Special Agent in Charge of the Nashville, Tenn., office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. It’s a response to a story today about a sheriff in Tennessee planning training by an anti-Muslim bigot.

Today’s Nashville Tennessean reports that Rutherford County, Tenn., Sheriff Robert Arnold has scheduled training for law enforcement officers that degrades Islam and spreads hatred. The training reportedly is to be put on by a former FBI agent named John Guandolo from the Washington, D.C., area and held at a Murfreesboro, Tenn., church. The Tennessean says that Guandolo has previously stated in training that Muslims “do not have a First Amendment right to do anything.”

That statement alone is so anti-American on its face that no law enforcement executive should ever engage a trainer who would utter it, period. It is so clearly in violation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that it strains any semblance of reality. Muslim Americans, it says, are people without constitutional protection, people who I suppose are to be regarded as less than other Americans.

Sheriff Arnold is newly elected, a first-term official who is doubtlessly facing a tough job. However, he should reconsider his position here and think deeply about what it means to train law enforcement officers to violate the civil rights of certain Americans. Then he should cancel the training and work with organizations like the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association, the National Sheriffs’ Association and other law-enforcement executive organizations. He should enlist the help and experience of the Tennessee Peace Officer Standards and Training Commission to find genuinely knowledgeable trainers on those subjects that he is interested in.

If Sheriff Arnold wants training about Islam and how his deputies should interact with Muslims in the county, there already is a strong and helpful Muslim community in middle Tennessee that he can work with. I know because I’ve worked with them before. I spent 33 years in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and before that I was a deputy sheriff. While I was the ATF Special Agent in Charge in Nashville a few years back, the Islamic Center of Nashville was the victim of a firebombing. The Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, the ATF, the FBI and the Tennessee State Fire Marshall’s Office all came together to work the case.

In the months that followed and at my direction, these agencies hosted a get-together and training at a local public library. The topic was Islam and getting to know the Muslim community. The speakers we had were the local leaders from Nashville and middle Tennessee’s Muslim community. They were exceptional, knowledgeable, gracious and more than willing to help and to work with law-enforcement in every regard. We learned from their insight and we shared our difficulties in finding out who was behind the attack on the Islamic Center and other events.

It wasn’t long after that gathering that we were called the scene of an attack on another Islamic organization. This time, the attack was in Columbia, Tenn., where an Islamic center had been completely destroyed in a Molotov-cocktail firebombing. The bigots and haters in that attack had painted swastikas on the wall of the Islamic Center of Columbia. Our team of law enforcement officers, this time anchored and bolstered by the Columbia police and fire departments and their city leaders, launched an aggressive investigation into the case. We were supported in no small measure by the larger Muslim community of Columbia and Middle Tennessee. In less than a week, we were able to arrest the perpetrators — people adorned with swastika tattoos who said they attacked the Islamic Center because of “what goes on in there.” They were convicted and sentenced to federal prison.

At the news conference at the U.S. Attorney’s office announcing the arrests, I told the press what really went on “in there” — prayer, worship and religious assemblies, all activities guaranteed and protected by the Constitution of the United States, not to mention the community gatherings, family activities, luncheons, holiday celebrations and all the things that happen in other houses of worship and religious centers across America.

Yet there are those who continue to demonize Islam and Muslims because of what terrorist groups like Al Qaeda do and have done. But Al Qaeda and its ilk no more represent Islam than Eric Rudolph, the infamous Olympics bomber and erstwhile “Christian Identity” adherent, represents Christianity. Lest we forget, Al Qaeda is responsible for the murder of thousands upon thousands of Muslims. Responsible law enforcement officers like Sheriff Arnold should have the common sense to be able to tell the difference, and even if they don’t, they certainly should be able to understand the civil rights that are guaranteed by our Constitution.

In the Tennessean article, Sheriff Arnold was quoted as saying he didn’t want to pick sides. However, he did pick a side — and he picked the wrong side. He chose as a trainer a man who apparently wants to teach hatred, someone who would legitimize bigotry and the demonization of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims.

If this training takes place, how could any Muslim in Rutherford County trust that a sheriff’s deputy coming to his or her aid does not view them as some sort of terrorist, a person whose rights are of no consequence? How could a Muslim there have the confidence to pick up the phone in an emergency and call people who are trained to see them as a dire threat? Trained to believe they have no Constitutional rights? How can Muslims expect that they will be entitled to due process under the law? Equal protection? Equal treatment?

That there are occasional bigots in law enforcement agencies is a fact that will probably always be so — after all, the men and women who make up these agencies are part of the human race, with all its problems. They have to be ferreted out and kept from influencing their agencies. But things have reached another level when it’s actually formal training that is teaching these officers to be bigots.

Recently, the New York City Police Department came under serious criticism for the way it surveilled mosques and the larger Muslim community in that city, and for its showing of a rabidly anti-Muslim film to some 1,500 officers. Similarly, the FBI has been sharply criticized for training that denigrated Muslims. Since then, FBI Director Robert Mueller has come out strongly against such training, ordering it stopped and the training material purged. The FBI also gave assurances that it would not use such material again. That is the appropriate reaction from a law enforcement executive. But the fact that these kinds of incidents occurred at all still clearly hurts the Muslim community deeply. Hopefully, time will improve that situation through interaction, tolerance, understanding — and an appropriate training curriculum.

It’s remarkable how bigots always seem to demonize the targeted minority of the day with almost identical language. The targeted minority will rape your women, go after your children, steal your money. They look, dress, talk, act and worship differently than real Americans. They are devious. They want to take over your community. They have secret ways, an agenda, even secret rituals and secret laws. They are not to be trusted.

Sound familiar? This is the foundation of all broad-based movements that hate and demonize others. First, there is fear. Then, the fearful decide a certain group is to blame. The next thing is politicians and others in the public square demagoguing the issue for votes and money. A chorus of groups joins in the attacks, with blog posts, speeches, pamphlets, books and more. Ultimately, the bigots gain traction and try to compromise the police. If they can get police to buy in, they’ve gone a long way to genuinely suppressing the targeted minority.

Law enforcement officials most certainly can oppose Al Qaeda and all of its affiliated groups. They can work hard to arrest, prosecute and even to kill their members in certain situations. But they cannot assign Al Qaeda’s crimes and horrors to Islam, or use them as an excuse to demonize American Muslims. In Tennessee, Sheriff Arnold is at a fork in the road. He still has a chance to stop the training and to reach out to the law-enforcement organizations mentioned above and to the local Muslim community, and to sponsor appropriate training that can guarantee the safety of all of us. He can work to understand who we all are and how we all can live together. In that spirit, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and the state’s congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle should call on the sheriff not to proceed with this training. Law enforcement executive organizations also should speak out.

The good news is that the great majority of America’s law enforcement officers stand where I stand. They prove it every day in how they conduct themselves in their interactions with citizens of all types. Sheriff Arnold and his deputies have done right in investigating aggressively the arson at the local mosque construction site. He has not ignored the case or perverted justice. But there are people out there who are looking for a new Bull Connor, a corrupt cop on the wrong side of history.

Reject the haters, Sheriff Arnold, and reorganize your training. Don’t drink from the poison cup of hate, no matter how sweet they tell you it will taste. Leave the hate to the far reaches of the Internet, and don’t put it in front of a police training classroom. It doesn’t belong there. I want you to succeed, Sheriff Arnold, in the right way and for the right reasons.

  • MrsCaptJack

    The first sign of trouble here is that this meeting is being held in a church. Keep the religious views OUT of this. When the Muslim group met with the author of this article, they did so in a library.

    In my entire life I have met three men who might (read MIGHT) have been Muslims who scared the crap out of me. I’ve met tons of Christians who were ready to punch me in the face for not wanting to talk to Jesus. Sadly, they didn’t bring Jesus with them when they knocked on my door. Not in any way, shape or form.

  • Jim Rhody

    Islam is not a religion?

    Tell that to the numerous courts that have ruled otherwise, including one in Rutherford County.

    Better yet, tell that to the US Supreme Court, which includes Mohammed along with Moses on the frieze of the court building.

    Or even better yet, tell that to the 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide that their religion is not a religion.

    But since you included the words “with regard to the constitution…”, we’ll just stick with numerous court rulings and the frieze on the US Supreme Court Building,

  • Aron

    Yes Marta, the WTC bombing was an inside job. Now go back and readjust your tinfoil hat. I think it’s falling off!

  • Sam Molloy

    Warlord, that’s probably true about some radical Muslims. But every word also applies to radical, right wing so-called “christians”.

  • Norio

    Thank you Mr. Cavanaugh for a comprehensive discussion of the issues and for having the courage to speak out against discrimination, and speak in favor of freedom of religion.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    Hi Warlord, it’s obvious that you are an ignorant moron who has never known any Muslims. Perhaps if you left the world of online gaming you would know better.

    I have had numerous Muslim friends and my in-laws are Muslim, yet I haven’t been killed or enslaved. I have walked around on my own in several Muslim countries or territories, without any problem whatsoever.

    Now either what you are saying is right, which would make me a total badass, or you are wrong and you are a total coward. Which is it?

  • Warlord

    Islam is a disease that eats its host from within. It is not a religion. The people who see them as just recent immigrants, to the US, and as innocent as the Irish,Polish, etc..were are
    wrong. Muslims as per their creed, will not befriend you,or
    acclimate to the culture that surrounds them. They are sworn
    to either enslave you or, kill you.The people who in this country who still see these agents of Islam as a religion of
    peace, are serving as useful idiots. Wake up and smell the coffee.

  • Timothy

    It amazes me that someone could be elected and not know the 5 rights guaranteed in the Very First Amendment to the Bill of Rights.

  • J Carlson

    Fascinating that the facts of Waco have been so distorted. All law enforcement did was try to enforce the law – David Koresh and his followers set the fires.

  • marta kaye

    Whatever nation that defies the U.S. and Israel are considered Radial, -and refuse to look in the mirror at the Radical Israeli’s, and Americans,….. who continue to invade, nuke, drone ,or, like Israel,- commit genocide, tries to threatens Iran into a conflict as an excuse to attack, & invade. The supposed good Christians have since invading this country showed bigotry against one group or another. The Christians need some group to vent their anger on. The natives who were here first, Irish, Italians, blacks, Russians because of commusism, Germans because of the hitlerian polices, and so on down the line. One forgets as we condemned Germany in 1933-1945, many elite americans supported the hitlerian polices, also the KKK, and the old southern Baptist,….now called the Christian Right.
    If all do research it was not Islam radicals who did 9/11 but a false flag like Germany’s Reichstag to blame another.

  • Sam Molloy

    C.M Noviss There are certain factions of Christanity that act political, with the most extreme demanding extreme sexual morality from the people to force God’s hand to let our armies take everybody else’s natural resources. I’m sure there are moderate Muslims that just try to live decent lives without making any big shots mad. I’m thinking that in many cases religion, not politics, is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

  • Aron

    Oh my goodness! I just realized we have a Knight Templar in our midst! CM Novess is a Knight Grand Cross of the Temple of Jerusalem, a self-styled new Order of the Temple. Otherwise known as a fraud.

    You’re not a Templar. There haven’t been Templars since the Order was suppressed in the Fourteenth Century. Can’t wait for your response, Bozo.

  • Aron

    Mr. ‘Novess,’ care to give me some judicial precedent regarding that thesis? I have a whole bunch of moderate Muslim friends who might take issue with some of your points…

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    While Waco was certainly a tragedy, I find it hard to believe that so many of our “patriots” would have turned it into such a big cause had it not been for the fact that the victims were overwhelmingly white. You never hear these people mention the SLA shootout, for example. And don’t even get me started about Randy Weaver. If Weaver had been black, Muslim, or a left-wing radical, there would have been no standoff. See when you’re an upset white man, even the likes of Robert Matthews, the feds and cops always give you endless chances to surrender. Matthews had to keep fighting just to get himself killed.

  • C. M. Novess III KGCTJ

    Point of reference here – with regard to the Constitution: Islam is NOT a religion – it is a political ideology (a totalitarian one, at that) hiding behind a veil of religion as it pursues its political agenda – the establishment of Shariah in every jurisdiction it touches.

    Islam is the invention of a minor desert Bedouin chieftain pedophile – Muhammad or The Prophet – to a) make himself wealthy and powerful, b) raise an army to keep himself wealthy and powerful and c) ensure an unending supply of victims for his sexual predilections.

    Allah, BTW, is the name of a minor Bedouin God of the Moon.


    I have to wonder where all Jim Cavanaugh’s tolerance and inclusiveness were at, at Waco? Has his mortality finally signaled it’s time to make right his sordid, perjurying, murdering past? Too late Jim, you’ve let the lie exist for too long.

  • Sean

    Where was Little Jimmy Cavanaugh when the MIAC report was released in 2009? I don’t disagree that all muslims have 1st Amendment rights……I have a problem with the fact that Jimmy’s hypocrisy recognizes that one group has civil rights, while denying them to others when a much larger government entity (DHS) is the one doing the “training”.

    Jimmy said, “If this training takes place, how could any Muslim in Rutherford County trust that a sheriff’s deputy coming to his or her aid does not view them as some sort of terrorist, a person whose rights are of no consequence? How could a Muslim there have the confidence to pick up the phone in an emergency and call people who are trained to see them as a dire threat? Trained to believe they have no Constitutional rights? How can Muslims expect that they will be entitled to due process under the law? Equal protection? Equal treatment?”

    That could just as easily apply to the “potential domestic terrorists” characterized in the MIAC report…..but then the SPLC supports those kinds of characterizations….because they are just as bigoted as those they purport to defend against.

  • Pax

    I thought it was a well thought-out article. There was one comment of descent which deserves a response (Sean Roberts). Perhaps Jim Cavanaugh could address his points? All others? Typical ad-hominem attacks used to discredit the author because they can’t discredit the content. Love will prevail.

  • Sam Molloy

    Kudos to Jim Cavenaugh. Working with moderates so you can focus limited resources on the extremists is a great idea. There is a large faction of extremist “christian” groups in Tennessee, who have their tentacles into the state government. They are hell bent on making the lives of Muslim and also GLBT people miserable and dangerous.

  • Iconoclast

    This letter was written by Jim Cavanaugh, the not so recently retired ATF agent, who had a significant role in the Waco atrocity leading to the slaughter of how many women and children? Not exactly a sterling record.

  • Knitebane


    “Waco Jim” Cavanaugh lecturing people on religious tolerance?

    What’s next? An article by Mullah Omar on anti-semitism? One from David Duke on racism?

  • Longbow

    Quote: “That statement alone is so anti-American on its face that no law enforcement executive should ever engage a trainer who would utter it, period. It is so clearly in violation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that it strains any semblance of reality.”

    This statement is coming from Waco Jim Cavanaugh? Has this man suddenly grown a conscience? Has a new respect for the U.S. Constitution sprouted in his heart? I highly doubt it. Leopards don’t change their spots. Unless Mr. Cavanaugh has had a “St. Paul on the road to Damascus, come to Jesus” moment, he is still Waco Jim to me. I will never forget that touching moment when Waco Jim testi-lied before congress, crying crocodile tears, blubbering, “…I’d throw my badge on the carpet. It didn’t happen!”

    Yeah, Jim, you’re just dripping with credibility.

  • Ruslan Amirkhanov

    “I’ve been to Mr Guandolo’s training and none of it was bigoted, or hate based and ALL of it was referenced directly and sourced in front of the audience from the Muslim Brotherhood.”

    Why were you listening to this speech with members of the Muslim Brotherhood?

  • krissy

    Someone needs to explain the constitution to him, Bloomberg and Ray Kelly. I don’t know how any American could be so confused about the first amendment.

  • Joe McKnight

    “That statement alone is so anti-American on its face that no law enforcement executive should ever engage a trainer who would utter it, period. It is so clearly in violation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights that it strains any semblance of reality.”
    Jim Cavanaugh, the recently retired Special Agent in Charge of the Nashville, Tenn., office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

    Well this just warms my heart. The thought that an ATFE agent is worried about staining the reality of our Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Please let me review ATFE recent history of staining reality. Ruby Ridge, Waco, Murrah Building, and Hurricane Katria.

    I do not think anyone from the ATFE can bad mouth anyone about violation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, PERIOD!

  • Maurice Muhammad

    Wow. You said everything so perfect. As a Muslim I felt very upset that he would have haters train his officers. And after reading the comments from the Tennessean I see that I’m not alone. There are many good people who don’t what people to be done wrong because of our religion. It makes me happy to see that everybody is not out to get us. And there are people willing to stand in the breach and say NOT on our watch! Thanks Peace and Blessings!

  • Betsy

    This Sheriff needs to read Karen Armstrong’s book on Islam. I grow weary of ignorance.

  • Ed Weston

    If you identify radical islam, how ever grayly, as a pervasive and real threat then I suppose Mr. Guandolo is reasonable.

    92 christian supported abortion restrictions were made state law last year. Iowa and Oklahoma are about to declare a zygote a human being. But no a major threat to our society comes from the wrong kind of religious extremists.

    Mr. Cavanaugh speaks from experience and speaks quite well.

  • Curtis Rivers

    Thanks for a cogent and accurate article. Sheriff Arnold, as an adult, has to know just how twisted and sick is the view of all who are Muslim as enemies. This is another great case of “good old boy racism.” We Southerners have dealt with this for a while, and we all know it is still going strong in the hearts of those motivated by fear and hatred. His duty is to protect all the people, not protect some and persecute those he chooses.

  • Sean Roberts

    I’ve been to Mr Guandolo’s training and none of it was bigoted, or hate based and ALL of it was referenced directly and sourced in front of the audience from the Muslim Brotherhood. I didn’t see Mr. Cavanaugh at the training that the RCSO sponsored with the church. All of the Q&A with the audience was likewise professional and on point of the threat of Radical Islam, both form the participants and the trainers. This was not my first training session on Radical Islam, I sat quietly and listened to the presenters to gauge their credibility and was not disappointed or I would’ve left. Someone needs to check their facts first hand before they enlist a well respected, career law enforcement professional to rail against someone without evidence – I believe that was the point of this letter, wasn’t it?

  • Jack Wolford

    Sheriff Arnold should check out Sheriff Buser Pusser of ” Walking Tall ” fame , formerly of McNairy County Tenessee , whose wife’s mother was full blooded Indian and unable to vote . Sheriff Arnold should follow Sheriff Pusser’s lead and defend those that only want freedom and protection . Being elected by the people asks the question if this is how the people think around Murfreesboro and those that commute to Nashville . If so , then who is responsible ?

  • Chris Martin

    Mr Cavanaugh, thank you for such a thoughtful letter, and thank you for making your points so UNemotionally! I hope Sheriff Arnold will respect your professional credentials, and heed the lessons of your experience, and change his course of action. Hopefully a change of mind and heart will follow.

  • june elizabeth connolly

    Well said. this has also been my experience.

  • Aron

    Sorry, make that HB 56.

  • Aron

    Mr Cavanaugh,

    That was a very heartfelt, impassioned letter. But more importantly, it was very well reasoned. I truly hope that Sherriff Arnold gets wind of this before he follows through with his plans. Alabama is in a tough enough position with HB 59.

    I would very much like to shake your hand. You deserve our respect.

  • Walterius

    I have seen this type of behavior firsthand with law enforcement. It is usually politically motivated enforced with threats of “get with the program or you will lose your job.”

    To LEO’s everywhere, when this type of behavior happens, remember your oath of office; “to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” To paraphrase Dr. King, ‘judge someone not by the color of their skin (or their beliefs) but by the conduct of their heart.’

  • Rael Nidess, M.D.

    What a superb letter!

    Kudos & thanks to Mr. Cavanaugh. Let’s just hope that Sheriff Arnold is intelligent enough to read & heed!

  • Mike James

    As a 35+ year veteran law enforcement officer from Alabama I wish publicly support Jim Cavanaugh, his postion and his clarity in addressing this issue. Law Enforcment offciers have a special duty to fight bigotry and often NOT being a bigot or racist is the harder path to follow. Supervisors have a duty to lead and to lead by example. Sheriff Arnold your postion is popular but wrong.