Anti-Islam speakers urge rural MN crowds to prepare for Muslim attack

Guandolo speaks at the Warroad Baptist Church.
John Guandolo, a former FBI agent, speaks at the Warroad Baptist Church on Oct. 17, 2016.
Monika Lawrence for MPR News

At Minnesota's northernmost border, about 120 people filled the Warroad Baptist Church to hear former FBI agent John Guandolo warn them about what he calls the threat of Islam.

It was big turnout for an event that was not advertised in a town of less than 2,000 people.

"Are you prepared?" Guandolo called out. "Are you prepared for the two or three dozen jihadis in, pick a city in Minnesota, with mortars or shoulder-fired rockets? You don't think they can get those in the United States?"

More than one hundred people attended.
More than one hundred people attended the "Understanding the Jihadi Threat" event at the Warroad Baptist Church.
Monika Lawrence for MPR News

North and central Minnesota have become fertile ground for traveling speakers who have built national careers spreading alarm about the danger they say Islam poses inside U.S. borders. At dozens of rural churches and schools, speakers have warned crowds about refugees and called on them to be prepared to oppose Muslims in Minnesota. This comes at a time of mounting political tension over immigration ahead of the contentious presidential election.

Guandolo travels all over the country talking to police groups and citizens. He is a regular on Fox News and national conservative talk shows.

On stage in Warroad, he warned that refugees from Somalia, Syria and other Muslim countries intend to wage holy war on the United States, and overthrow the government and the justice system. He claimed that Muslims are buying up gas stations and working at airports to pave the way for a violent takeover. And told the crowd to prepare.

"You're essentially getting the county fortified," he said.

ohn Guandolo points to a passage in a Quran commentary.
John Guandolo points at a page from the Tafsir ibn Kathir, a 14th century commentary on the Quran, asking an attendee to read passages aloud.
Monika Lawrence for MPR News

FBI officials in Minneapolis said Guandolo's views do not reflect the opinion of FBI counterterrorism experts.

Protest, religious tension, violence

Guandolo was in northern Minnesota twice last week ahead of the final presidential debate. But he is not even close to being the most frequent visitor among a group of anti-Islam speakers on the circuit in the northern half of the state.

Usama Dakdok travels the county preaching against Islam.
Usama Dakdok travels the county in an RV preaching against Islam more than 200 times a year.
John Enger | MPR News

Usama Dakdok appeared in northern Minnesota more than 20 times in just a year and a half — drawing hundreds of supporters. The son of a Baptist preacher in Egypt, Dakdok travels America in an RV, speaking more than 200 times a year.

Earlier this month, he held an event at the Sawmill Inn in Grand Rapids — his fifth Minnesota appearance in just two weeks.

"Islam is not a religion," he said, highlighting one of his frequent talking points. "It's a savage cult. Therefore, it is unconstitutional for a Muslim to practice Islam in America."

Dakdok argues for the mass deportation of Muslims from the United States. He wears a Donald Trump pin on his suit jacket. He warns of the end times.

Audience members listen to John Guandolo.
Audience members listen as John Guandolo speaks in Warroad.
Monika Lawrence for MPR News

His Minnesota talks have been met with protests by groups that consider what he says hate speech. In some cases, religious tension and violence have followed in his wake.

A Minnesota man firebombed a Muslim-owned restaurant in Grand Forks a month after one of Dakdok's appearances there last year.

International students at Bemidji State University started receiving disparaging anti-Muslim comments after Dakdok appeared in the area twice late last year.

The Bagley school district was threatened with lawsuits for canceling a Dakdok event.

On a recent trip through Minnesota, Dakdok spoke in Brainerd at the Oak Street Chapel. The church board resigned over infighting about whether he should have been invited.

A few days later Dakdok disrupted a "Meet Our Muslim Neighbors" event organized in Detroit Lakes, taking over the question and answer part of the event, and arguing with the speakers.

Police chief Tim Eggebraaten said he had to threaten Dakdok with arrest and escort him to the back of the room before the meeting could continue.

"His public speaking is very good," Eggebraaten said, "If there was a room full of people that were fearful of Muslims ... I can see how he could get them agitated and worked up into a frenzy pretty quick."

Dakdok said his events don't cause the crime and tension that often follow, and the man convicted for firebombing the Grand Forks restaurant did not attend his speech. His Christian faith, he said, demands that he love his enemies.

"Brother, I speak all over the country," he said. "Can you show me anywhere in America where this is happening? And can you tie these people who did this tension to me? Only in Minnesota do we have two or three cases where they try to lump me to it."

The Warroad Baptist Church
The Warroad Baptist Church on the night of the "Understanding the Jihadi Thread" talk with John Guandolo in Warroad, Minn., on Oct. 17, 2016.
Monika Lawrence for MPR News

Anti-Islam speakers 'first sign' of organizing against Muslims in a community

Jaylani Hussein, director of the Minnesota Council on American-Islamic Relations, said anti-Muslim speakers are a symptom of sentiment that already exists.

"These speakers don't just arrive in a community," Hussein said. "They are invited by a local group. It's probably the first sign that there's some form of organizing against Muslims that's brewing in that community."

Most of Dakdok's events are held in local churches. He's invited by pastors, or members of the congregations. His Grand Rapids event was organized by ACT! for America, a national group that warns Islamic radicals have infiltrated the United States.

ACT! also helped bring John Guandolo to Warroad, according to Daryl Fish, a sheriff's deputy in Lake of the Woods County who said a ACT! planner he met at a prior Brainerd speech reached out to ask him to organize the Warroad event. Lake of the Woods County Sheriff Gary Fish did not return calls for comment.

According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Guandolo often works with ACT!, which they call the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America.

Dakdok holds the bulk of his Minnesota events in small northern towns — places with few, if any Muslims. So does Guandolo, and he said that's intentional. The Twin Cities, he told the Warroad crowd, are overrun with Muslims.

Guandolo’s books were available for purchase.
Several of Guandolo's publications were available for purchase at the Warroad event.
Monika Lawrence for MPR News

"Minneapolis is lost," Guandolo said. "Gone." A woman in the crowd asked if there was no hope to get it back.

"No I didn't say that," he said. "I'm telling you. Marines, we fight for hills. We take them back. It's time to put freedom back on the offensive where it belongs."

Paul King sat in the first row of Guandolo's audience. He's a former Air Force translator and coder for Marvin Windows. He's been researching Islam for years and said people in rural Minnesota are in a better position to recognize what he called the threat posed by Muslims.

"If you're rubbing shoulders with a lot of Muslims," he said, "there may be an immediate dismissal as, you know that's just racist, or that's just xenophobic, or that's hateful. So, there might be more of an open-mindedness to look at what's a possible threat up here."

An audience member takes notes.
An audience member takes notes as John Guandolo speaks to the audience.
Monika Lawrence for MPR News

Hussein said anti-Islam speaking events are becoming more common, and they're making it hard for the few Muslims who do live in rural Minnesota.

"Just think about being a Muslim," he said. "To have a speaker come to your community to demonize you, and to make you anti-American. To pretty much turn your neighbors and friends and schoolmates against you. That's the type of hate that these speakers speak."