A Deschutes County commissioner, another commission candidate and a candidate for governor were among several dozen Republicans who turned out Tuesday to hear a presentation from a former FBI agent considered an anti-Muslim extremist by a national organization that tracks hate groups.
Deschutes County Republican Party members nodded attentively and often chimed in during an hour-long speech in which John Guandolo argued that Muslims and Democrats are part of a vast conspiracy to take over the U.S.
Guandolo, a former Marine, joined the FBI in 1996 and began working in its counterterrorism division following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He left the FBI in 2008.
Since then, he’s worked as a consultant and hosted seminars for law enforcement organizations and right-wing groups about what he describes as “jihadi threats.”
Guandolo also is allegedly responsible for starting a rumor that former CIA Director John Brennan secretly converted to Islam, according to testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee by Farhana Khera, president of Muslim Advocates.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups, considers Guandolo an anti-Muslim extremist.
Patti Adair, chairwoman of the Deschutes County Republican Party, said she didn’t know about Guandolo’s reputation before the group invited him, but she stood by the invitation.
“I think it’s always good to hear both sides,” she said.
She said the party wanted security for his speech. But Bend Police Chief Jim Porter declined a request to provide security and made it clear Bend officers wouldn’t attend.
Guandolo lacks credibility as an instructor, in part because of past incidents including a June 2017 fistfight with a sheriff in a Nevada hotel, Porter said.
“We found that a lot of his curriculum was unsubstantiated,” Porter said. “There was no way to verify the allegations he was making in his training process.”
The Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office did provide security. While Adair said she invited Sheriff Shane Nelson, he did not attend.
Oregon’s Democratic Party and the state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights organization, called on Deschutes County Republicans to cancel Guandolo’s speech. The state Democratic Party also asked three Republican gubernatorial candidates — Bend state Rep. Knute Buehler, Bend businessman Sam Carpenter and motivational speaker Greg Wooldridge — to condemn the event.
Wooldridge spokesman Jonathan Lockwood said via Twitter that Wooldridge would not be attending and therefore had no comment. Two Buehler spokespeople did not return phone calls.
Carpenter attended Guandolo’s speech and afterward said it rang true to his experience doing business in Pakistan and Kashmir.
“The Islamic threat is real,” he said. “We need to start paying attention.”
Deschutes County’s Democratic party signed on to the state party’s press release and criticized the event on social media. Chairman Jason Burge said he hoped no local law enforcement officers would take Guandolo seriously.
“At the end of the day, the parties decide how they present themselves,” Burge said.
There were no protesters at Guandolo’s talk.
Guandolo spent several minutes of his speech criticizing the Council on American-Islamic Relations and state Democrats for trying to cancel his presentation.
“The reason they don’t want me here is because we’re going to speak truth here,” Guandolo said. “The truth offends people who don’t have it.”
County Republican Party Vice Chairman Paul DeWitt previously worked with Guandolo. DeWitt said Guandolo is a “realist” who speaks from experience.
“He’s certainly not a right-wing ogre the way the Southern Poverty Law Center describes him,” DeWitt said. “He’s an expert on the threat of radical Islam. If that makes him an Islamophobe, then I’m Islamaphobic too.”
Deschutes County Commissioner Phil Henderson, who is one of the county-level delegates to the state Republican Party, said he attends most meetings to report to the state party. He said he isn’t involved in setting meeting agendas and didn’t know much about Guandolo.
After the presentation, Henderson said he had been exposed to things he hadn’t heard before and felt like he needed to hear more than an hour to fully understand them.
Ed Barbeau, a Tumalo pizzeria owner challenging Deschutes County Commissioner Tony DeBone in the Republican primary, also attended.
He said after Guandolo’s presentation that he came only to turn in precinct paperwork and refused to comment on the speech.
The kind of comments espoused by Guandolo and others like him can make it hard for Muslims to feel comfortable in Oregon, said Susan Gregory, chairwoman of the Interfaith Network of Central Oregon.
She said the group, which focuses on finding similarities between different faiths, has had active Muslim participants in the past but is now having trouble encouraging Muslim people to attend because many in Central Oregon keep a low profile.
“So many Muslim people are gentle, wonderful people,” Gregory said. “Just like Christians, there are people on the margins who are radical and violent. Christians are the people who bomb abortion clinics.”
— Reporter: 541-633-2160; firstname.lastname@example.org