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Understanding the Threat

Understanding the Threat is the group that anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist and former FBI agent John Guandolo, who now promotes himself as an independent national security expert, uses to run his Islamophobic training programs and other activities.

In Their Own Words

“Just because jihadis are not currently blowing themselves up in U.S. malls or schools or storming the gates of military posts (today), Americans should still pay attention to what the most prominent Islamic organizations in America and their suit-wearing jihadi leaders are doing. To be clear, ALL of the prominent Islamic organizations in the United States are a part of a well-organized coordinated effort to undermine America's founding principles, Constitution, laws, and civil society, with the stated objective of imposing sharia, Islamic Law, on every American while establishing an Islamic caliphate here.”
– John Guandolo, Understanding the Threat blog post, January 2022.

“The purpose of Islam – as stated in all textbooks for 11 year olds [sic] in U.S. Islamic schools – is to wage war against non-muslims [sic] until the entire world submits to ‘allah’s divine law’ or ‘sharia.’ No book of Islamic law or text book [sic] used by muslims to teach Islam to muslims – in any country and in any century – says anything different.”
– John Guandolo, Understanding the Threat blog post, August 2022.

“Islam teaches a mosque is the seat of the Islamic gov't, where battles are planned, jihadis trained & weapons stored[.] Would the US gov't allow China to build military bases in the US? Neither should we allow mosques in America.”
– Understanding the Threat Twitter post, June 2019.

“Why did 19 muslims [sic] attack the United States on 9/11/01? Why do muslims attack people with knives, cars, planes, vest-bombs, and anything else they can get their hands on today? According to the Koran, Islam’s prophet Mohammad is the most perfect human being for all muslims for all time, and he commanded muslims fight the non-muslims with all means possible [...] America was not attacked on 9/11 because of its foreign policy or because of its relationship with Israel or because Islamic nations lack money or education. Islam wages war on America and the rest of the non-muslim world because Islam commands it until the world is under Islamic rule.”
– Understanding the Threat blog post, January 2019.

“Mosques and Islamic organizations are being built in strategic locations – near key infrastructure facilities, military bases, or some other key position in the community; taxicab drivers at the largest airports in the U.S. are Muslim; and there is a noticeable increase in sharia-compliant Muslim TSA officers, baggage handlers and airline/airport employees at U.S. airports. Additionally: Muslims are purchasing hotels, quick marts, and 7-11 type stores with gas stations, and a majority of major hotels in cities across the U.S. have a manager or assistant manager who is a Muslim, which is statistically impossible unless this activity is intentional.

Quick marts and gas stations provide their Movement with a logistics train that will be needed in a battle.”
– Understanding the Threat newsletter, September 2016.

“From a U.S. warfighting perspective, that naturally makes sharia the enemy threat doctrine and adherents to sharia a direct threat to the Republic. Until American leaders and national
security professionals identify the threat and formulate policies and strategies that address adherents to this ideology we will continue on our current path of defeat and eventually lose this war here at home as we did in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
– former Understanding the Threat Vice President Chris Gaubatz, submitted Congressional testimony, June 2016.

“The global Islamic movement says that it's going to begin its turn from its total focus on the Islamic world, where it is seeking to impose Shariah law on the Muslim world first and then the non-Muslim world. That turn is going to begin this year. That means instead of a couple of people in San Bernardino, several people in Brussels and lone shooter in Orlando, you're going to have dozens of jihadis doing multiple operations in conjunction with the Marxists and the socialists of groups like Black Lives Matter, which will be burning and looting cities like they did in Ferguson and Baltimore.”
– John Guandolo quoted at WorldNetDaily, June 2016.


A former military figure and FBI agent, John Guandolo now operates Understanding the Threat (UTT) where he spreads anti-Muslim conspiracy theories full time.

A 1989 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Guandolo spent years in the U.S. Marine Corps, including taking part in Operation Desert Storm. In 1996, he left the Marines to join the FBI as a field officer. It was during his time working in the FBI post-Sept. 11, 2001, that Guandolo seemingly became steeped in conspiratorial ideas of Muslims and the Islamic faith posing a kinetic and cultural threat to the United States. His ideas mirror other conspiracy theories popular among those comprising the organized anti-Muslim movement. This includes claims that the foreign political group the Muslim Brotherhood is working to infiltrate and overthrow the U.S. government. He also pushes ideas of “civilian jihad,” a fifth column-type conspiracy theory that asserts Muslims are gaining a foothold in American institutions and culture for nefarious purposes.

Guandolo resigned from the FBI in 2008 when he was being investigated by the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility, according to documents filed in court in connection with the prosecution of former Congressman William Jefferson, whom Guandolo as an FBI agent had been tasked with investigating. Guandolo admitted to having affairs with other agents and a confidential source he was assigned to protect while working a corruption case, as revealed in the court documents. He also reportedly solicited that source for a $75,000 donation for an anti-terrorism group he was putting together, according to a report from The Times-Picayune. Guandolo later “expressed deep remorse for his actions” to the FBI, per that same report.

Guandolo left the FBI at a time when a cottage industry of anti-Muslim figures self-styling as counterterrorism experts began taking root. These figures were able to harness fears of a post-September 11 world to push their own anti-Muslim bigotry under the guise of counterterrorism education. They found an audience among the burgeoning Tea Party Movement and racists with anxiety about America’s first Black president whose middle name happened to be Hussein. An expansive, interconnected and well-funded network devoted to spreading anti-Muslim hate was eventually solidified around 2010.

Guandolo was able to leverage his FBI background to gain notoriety and soon became interwoven within this network. His credentials also allowed UTT access to spread anti-Muslim bigotry to law enforcement professionals in the form of counterterrorism training.

Connections to the anti-Muslim network

In a 2013 interview with Tom Trento of the United West, another SPLC-designated hate group, Guandolo made headlines when he accused John Brennan, whom then-President Barack Obama had nominated to lead the CIA, of being a secret Muslim convert.

Guandolo said in the interview, “Some would say it is most disturbing, Mr. Brennan did convert to Islam when he served in an official capacity on behalf of the United States when he served in Saudi Arabia.” In a mass email answering questions about why it would matter if Brennan had converted, Trento wrote, “We care – because Islam, by DEFINITION, is BOTH a religion and a POLITICAL system. Moreover, by DOCTRINE, full allegiance to the political mandate of Islam (world domination) SUPERCEDES allegiance to anything else, including the United States of America!”

Guandolo found common ground with ACT for America, another anti-Muslim hate group that operates a network of chapters throughout the country promoting Islamophobic policies. Guandolo appeared on ACT’s web show in 2011. During the program, Guandolo stoked fear about Muslim civic institutions in the U.S., telling ACT’s Brigitte Gabriel and Guy Rodgers that “the vast majority of Islamic organizations in North America are controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood.”

This conspiracy theory is based on an “explanatory memorandum” that was uncovered and included as evidence by the U.S. government as part of a 2007 terrorism trial against the Holy Land Foundation. The document sought to show plans for the Muslim Brotherhood to infiltrate and sabotage America and Western civilization from within. Anti-Muslim figures like Guandolo have hitched their paranoia about Muslims in America to this document.

But as Pulitzer Prize-winning author and journalist David K. Shipler noted in an article in The New Yorker, the document is “of questionable authority and relevance.”

“The memo, however, is far from probative,” Shipler wrote. “It was never subjected to an adversarial test of its authenticity or significance. Examined closely, it does not stand up as an authoritative prescription for action. Rather, it appears to have been written as a plea to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership for action, by an author we know little about, Mohamed Akram. He is listed elsewhere as a secretary in the Brotherhood, but he writes in the tone of an underling.”

Shipler added that the document reads more like “a mere proposal” and points out “[n]o other copies have come to light.” Still, the document remains widely cited and circulated by the anti-Muslim network.

Guandolo also appeared at ACT’s national conference in Washington, D.C., in 2013 and 2014. During ACT’s 2013 conference, he unveiled a new website created with his consultation tailored to law enforcement. Titled the Thin Blue Line Project, it was designed to be a one-stop internet resource for information concerning the perceived threat of Muslim infiltration and terrorism in the country. The website was open to any law enforcement official and, according to ACT, was utilized by members of the NYPD, the FBI, Homeland Security, ICE and Border Patrol. It offered tips on identifying terrorist threats such as how to identify “jihadis” during traffic stops. Other materials on the site peddled anti-Muslim tropes like Islam condoning pedophilia.

One of the more concerning components of the website was its “Radicalization Map Locator,” which listed addresses of mosques, Muslim civil rights organizations and chapters of the Muslim Student Association, a student group found on many college campuses. Guandolo regularly smears Muslim civil society groups as being fronts for the Muslim Brotherhood and terrorist organizations. He has also claimed the only purpose of the Muslim Student Association is to “recruit jihadis.”

As of 2023, the Thin Blue Line website is defunct. But it represented one of Guandolo’s many forays into inundating law enforcement, especially local officers, with anti-Muslim messages.

Law enforcement training seminars

Guandolo’s UTT is regularly booked by law enforcement agencies to give counterterrorism training seminars. These seminars are steeped in anti-Muslim conspiracy theories associated with the former FBI agent. In a 2014 radio interview with anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney, Guandolo said local law enforcement officials, particularly sheriffs, are his preferred audiences for his Islamophobic messages. “I always focus on the sheriffs because the sheriffs are the most powerful law enforcement officer in the country,” he told Gaffney. “Get them to understand this […] I believe that it’s at the local level that this has to be handled.”

In 2011, the Columbus, Ohio, Police Department hosted Guandolo for a counterterrorism training. During the event, he falsely accused a college professor of having ties to terrorism. The training was suspended after attendees reported the “presenters were making offensive statements” about the professor. The police department shut down the event and condemned Guandolo’s statements.

Culpeper County (Virginia) Sheriff Scott Jenkins has invited Guandolo to speak on numerous occasions. In 2014, the sheriff booked Guandolo for a three-day training seminar on the so-called “jihadi networks in America.” Jenkins invited Guandolo back in November 2017 to give a similar training. Registration per attendee was set at $225. After advocacy groups and citizens raised concerns about the training, the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy, the agency that oversees law enforcement training courses in Virginia, announced it would withdraw accreditation for the training. Jenkins doubled down on the event and hosted it without accreditation, attracting 50 law enforcement officials from Culpeper County and surrounding areas.

In July 2014, then-Maricopa County (Arizona) Attorney General Bill Montgomery’s office paid Guandolo $70,000 for a training seminar advertised to “cover threats posed to our local communities by Hamas, Hezbollah and Shariah Law.” Several Arizona police departments, including the Phoenix Police Department, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and Peoria Police Department, declined to attend the event, according to the Phoenix New Times. Three hundred law enforcement officials still reportedly attended the event despite criticism from local chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Anti-Defamation League of Arizona.

Guandolo has given training seminars in other states including Colorado, Louisiana and Mississippi. From 2016 to 2018, he was joined by former UTT Vice President Chris Gaubatz. Gaubatz joined UTT in 2016 but was a well-known name among the anti-Muslim network after posing as a Muslim convert to infiltrate and spy on a Muslim civil rights organization. Gaubatz once represented UTT at a Congressional hearing in 2016 on “radical Islam” at the invitation of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. In his testimony, Gaubatz shared his story of infiltration and pushed other anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.

Guandolo’s law enforcement efforts were buoyed by a letter of recommendation from Greg Champagne, who served as president of the National Sheriffs' Association from 2016 to 2017. The National Sheriffs' Association, under Champagne, gave a platform to Understanding the Threat at its winter conference in January 2017 and in June 2017 at its educational and technology expo. However, UTT’s affiliation with the National Sheriffs’ Association would soon run out.

In August 2017, a police report came to light showing then Hennepin County (Minnesota) Sheriff Richard Stanek filed a restraining order against Guandolo, claiming he physically assaulted him during the National Sheriffs’ Association’s educational and technology expo in Reno, Nevada. Stanek had previously been on Guandolo’s radar. In an Oct. 24, 2016, article posted on UTT’s website, Guandolo claimed that under Stanek, the “jihadi threat” in Minnesota had “increased exponentially.”

In 2019, Stanek was awarded $600,000 in a civil lawsuit against Guandolo when jurors sided with the Minnesota sheriff for claims of pain and suffering and physical disfigurement, from when he was reportedly assaulted by Guandolo after confronting him about handing out “discriminatory” materials. The National Sheriffs’ Association issued a statement critical of Guandolo but later retracted it.

Civilian trainings and expanded audiences

Law enforcement are not the only audiences UTT caters to- they also offer trainings to civilians and other non-law enforcement audiences. In August 2015, UTT held a “threat-focused operational-strategic training and consultation” at the Centennial Gun Club in Denver, Colorado, that was advertised to legislators, pastors and the general public.

Guandolo offered a five-hour firearms training course in April 2014 in Culpeper, Virginia. For $225, participants could learn “Basic combat handgun shooting skills” and “Practical decision-making skills applicable to a range of threat scenarios.”

In April 2018, UTT embarked on a five-city speaking tour across the Midwest warning of the “threat of the Islamic Movement.” The group was able to hold the first night’s event in Des Moines, Iowa. But they suffered a major setback when the venues where the other events were scheduled to take place canceled after public outcry from local groups and residents. The group suffered another setback after Gaubatz resigned amid the cancellations.

The Midwest tour was just one of the public humiliations Guandolo faced in 2018. A month prior to the tour, Guandolo’s anti-Muslim paranoia caused an uproar on social media after he posted a picture of an unsuspecting Southwest Airlines employee accompanied by an Islamophobic message.

“I wish this were shocking...a sharia adherent muslim (aka jihadi) at my plane,” he tweeted on March 23, 2022, along with the hashtag “#shariakills.”

The tweet, which was deleted, prompted a response from Southwest, calling it “cruel and inappropriate.”

Guandolo speaks at events across the country at the invitation of organizers. In 2013, Guandolo spoke at a writers’ workshop event hosted by the Social Contract Press, an anti-immigrant publishing operation founded by white nationalist and eugenicist John Tanton. Guandolo spoke on the “threat that Islam poses to Homeland Security in the United States.” He was introduced by K.C. McAlpin, an anti-immigrant figure who heads the Social Contract Press’ parent group, U.S. Inc.

During his remarks, Guandolo fearmongered about mosques and Islamic centers, lamenting there being around 2,200 in the U.S. at the time. He said on top of being a place to pray, mosques are used to “train jihadis, prepare battle operations [and] to house jihadis.”

He said that Islamic houses of worship are not like Christian churches because when a mosque is built, it is to occupy an area and demonstrates Muslims “claiming space, claiming territory for Islam.”

Attracting lawmakers

Guandolo and Understanding the Threat are funded by donations they receive through an Aurora, Colorado-based tax-exempt organization called Americans 4 America. The organization was founded by John Andrews, a former Colorado state senator who has his own history of making anti-Islam remarks. Andrews is listed as UTT’s national board chairman.

Andrews is not the only former lawmaker to be associated with UTT. In 2019, former Oklahoma state Rep. John Bennett joined UTT as its vice president after leaving office. While serving in the state legislature, Bennett called Islam “a cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out.” He also invited UTT to testify before the Oklahoma State House Judiciary Committee in October 2016. Bennett ran for a seat in the U.S. of House of Representatives in 2022 but was defeated in the primaries. UTT threw its support behind Bennett, writing in an email, “UTT supports John’s efforts, and we offer our prayers and best wishes as he launches into this new journey. John will continue to serve UTT going forward.” As of publication, Bennett is still listed as UTT’s vice president.

Peggy Mast, another former lawmaker from Kansas, serves as UTT’s director of outreach. While serving in the Kansas House of Representatives, Mast was instrumental in pushing through an anti-Sharia bill. Such legislation has been criticized as being unconstitutional and rooted in anti-Muslim prejudice.

Trump and Jan. 6, 2021

UTT was hopeful after Donald Trump’s election as president, considering him a viable option “to dismantle the jihadi network in the United States.” While in office, UTT urged Trump to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization, a move civil rights advocates warned could have serious knock-on effects on Muslim civil society.

Guandolo claimed that he regularly talked to Trump’s attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in the lead up to the 2016 election and after. In an undercover interview with an Al Jazeera reporter in 2018, Guandolo said, “I was speaking three or four times a week with Jeff Sessions up to the election and after the election, before the inauguration.” He reportedly attempted to get a meeting with Sessions. It’s unclear whether the meeting took place.

Guandolo was on the ground outside of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, for the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” rally. The rally would later devolve into the deadly Capitol insurrection. Guandolo maintains he was only there with a group to pray for the nation and did not cross any barricades. In a video posted after the events of Jan. 6, Guandolo said those storming the Capitol showed “restraint” for not executing members of Congress.

“It is amazing to me that patriots haven't strung up these traitors already with the amount of evidence on the table of what they're doing,” he said. Guandolo actively pushes conspiracy theories about that day, such as those responsible for storming the Capitol were actually antifa posing as Trump supporters. He also claims President Joe Biden has declared “war against American Patriots.”

New partnerships and programs

In September 2022, the right-wing youth organization Turning Point USA partnered with John Guandolo to release a documentary “FBI Whistleblower: The Enemy Within.” In the film, Guandolo peddled Islamophobic rhetoric, including urging governors to deploy the National Guard to turn away planes resettling Afghan refugees.

UTT continues to offer various training programs. One being offered as of 2022 was UTT’s “Train the Trainer” program, which offers to “demonstrate how to legally research, identify, and dismantle communist & jihadi networks at the local level.”