An Open Letter To Phillip Terrell, Rapides Parish District Attorney

Dear Mr. Terrell,

I am writing to urge you to immediately cancel the upcoming seminar for local law enforcement officers titled Understanding and Investigating the Jihadi Movement. With all due respect, your office has been deceived into believing this seminar is objective, informative, important, and potentially life-saving training about the existential threats posed by radical jihadists, and I imagine this misunderstanding is why you stated that you were “surprised at the objections” leveled by the Southern Poverty Law Center and many others over the last few days.

Unfortunately, you are not hosting a credible and respected anti-terrorism expert. You are spending $12,500 of the public’s money to pay a thoroughly debunked conspiracy theorist who has made a living by trafficking in bigotry and fear against a religious faith shared by 1.6 billion people (23% of the world’s population) and hundreds of decent, hard-working members of our community here in Rapides Parish. They are our neighbors, our classmates, our colleagues, our doctors, our lawyers, our teachers, and our friends, and they deserve to be treated with the same respect and the same protections under the law as anyone else.

I am also alarmed and disappointed that your office did not reach out to a single member of the local Islamic faith community prior to scheduling this seminar. If the intention was to educate law enforcement about the threats posed by people who espouse a radicalized and perverted form of Islam, you should first seek to understand and constructively collaborate with local faith leaders. Bring them to the table.

I know you are a good man. When I was a high school student, competing in mock trial, you volunteered to judge several of our competitions, and you were always encouraging and incredibly kind to me. You gave me confidence in my voice, and I will always be grateful for that. As you may recall, one of the stars of my high school mock trial team was a young Muslim woman, who was vastly more talented and intelligent than I ever was. Today, she is an accomplished lawyer and a new mother of her own little girl. I wouldn’t presume to speak for her, but I wonder whether she would have been able to accomplish so much if she had grown up in a community in which the District Attorney and the local law enforcement agencies had been trained to believe in the things espoused by John Guandolo and his colleagues at Understanding the Threat.

Among other things, Mr. Guandolo once claimed that the former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, was a secret Muslim under the control of a foreign power. He believes it is “a permanent command in Islam for Muslims to hate and despise Jews and Christians and not take them as friends.He’s claimed that mosques are merely “front groups” for the Muslim Brotherhood and asserted that Muslims have no civil rights.

This is the man you have invited to Rapides Parish and intend on paying, with taxpayer money, to educate law enforcement officers about Islamic terrorism. And it’s precisely why the Southern Poverty Law Center, among others, has been so fiercely critical of your decision. This man is an ignorant hate-monger.

In response to the controversy, Mr. Guandolo issued a written statement to The Times-Picayune. (For whatever reason, the paper down in New Orleans has covered this story with much more diligence and attention than any of the local media in Central Louisiana). Quoting:

“The Southern Poverty Law Center is giving direct aid and comfort to Hamas which is a terrorist organization,” Guandolo, founder of Understanding the Threat, wrote in his emailed response. “The leader of the SPLC is aware the Council on American Islamic relations (CAIR) is a Hamas organization because he sat next to (Understanding the Truth Vice President) Chris Gaubatz at a Senate hearing where (he) spoke about it.

“(Gaubatz) spent six months undercover (at CAIR) where he retrieved over 12,000 documents indicating (CAIR) is directly involved in fraud, sedition and terrorism. So we can only assume SPLC is intentionally supporting a terrorist organization in violation of U.S. law.”

The truth is that Mr. Guandolo and Mr. Gaubatz have been engaged in a veritable witch hunt against CAIR for many years, and Mr. Gaubatz may be even less credible than his boss.

Chris Gaubatz is also a well-known conspiracy theorist who believes that President Obama  is a secret Muslim and, among other things, once argued that a vote for “Hussein Obama is a vote for Shariah Law.” His Twitter feed is filled with bizarre and unhinged conspiracies, and he is an outspoken supporter of Frank Gaffney, a man who continues to believe that President Obama was not born in the United States and that our government is being infiltrated by Muslim radicals.

Mr. Terrell, it is beneath the dignity of your office to host and pay these men to “educate” our local law enforcement officers. It is also an insult to the intelligence of our law enforcement agencies and a sign of deep disrespect to the men, women, and children of Central Louisiana who are members of the Islamic faith.

Perhaps even more importantly, it undermines the credibility of our entire local judicial system, because if both the people responsible for enforcing the law and those responsible for prosecuting the law are certified graduates of a seminar conducted by a well-known conspiracy theorist, it may be impossible for any Muslim citizen, charged with any crime, to receive fair and equal treatment.

Thankfully, it isn’t too late. You can cancel this event right now. You can issue a statement affirming your respect for the local Muslim community, and you can plan a more constructive and collaborative training seminar that brings people together.

I know you’re a good man. I trust that you will do the right thing and spare the good people of Rapides Parish from any more embarrassment.

Sincerely,

Lamar