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Anti-Islam speaker known to rural Minnesota heads for Twin Cities

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

A group calling itself Understanding the Threat is coming to the Twin Cities early next month to host an event dubbed "Understanding the Threat of Islam to America" featuring an ex-FBI agent considered an anti-Muslim extremist by a national organization that tracks hate groups.      

    John Guandolo and another speaker claim that they will reveal details about "the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood, their doctrine (sharia), modus operandi, and how they have penetrated our American system at the local, state, and national level," according to the event's registration page posted on the conservative Christian website Worldview Weekend.    

    It's not yet clear who's sponsoring the April 8 event at the Minneapolis Airport Marriott in Bloomington. Understanding the Threat is planning similar events in Iowa and Wisconsin in early April.      

    Guandolo is an ex-FBI agent and founder of Understanding the Threat. He joined the FBI in 1996 and was assigned to the counterterrorism division of the FBI's Washington Field Office shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.         

Guandolo talks about what he considers a growing threat of a Jihadists.
John Guandolo, a former FBI agent, speaks to the audience in the Warroad Baptist Church on Oct. 17, 2016.
Monika Lawrence for MPR News 2016

    He quit the FBI in 2008 after several ethical breaches, including having affairs with female FBI agents and a confidential source, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which listed Guandolo as one of the nation's leading anti-Muslim extremists, a group the center identified based on their "pernicious brand of extremism and hate they espouse against Muslim communities and the Islamic faith."  

  The Washington, D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations also accused Guandolo of being an "infamous Islamophobe."    

  Guandolo has been in Minnesota before. He's one of a number of traveling speakers who've built a presence across the nation spreading alarm about the danger they say Islam poses inside U.S. borders. Northern and central Minnesota have become fertile ground for that message in recent years.  

      In October 2016, he told 120 people at Warroad Baptist Church that refugees from Somalia, Syria and other Muslim countries intended to wage holy war on the United States and overthrow the government and justice system.     

    He claimed Muslims were buying gas stations and working at airports to pave the way for a violent takeover.       

    After quitting the FBI, Guandolo has promoted himself as an anti-terrorism expert and has provided trainings and seminars to law enforcement and right-wing groups about how to "defeat the jihadi threat," according to his biography included in the event's page.       

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

  In a statement, Guandolo slammed Council on American-Islamic Relations as a "Hamas entity" and said: "Their opinions of our organization have no weight." He went on to encourage a reporter to buy his book: "Raising a Jihadi Generation."    

Guandolo’s books were available for purchase.
Several of Guandolo's publications were available for purchase, Oct. 17, 2016.
Monika Lawrence for MPR News 2016

  The Bloomington event is set to happen less than a month after three central Illinois men were arrested and charged in connection with the August bombing of Bloomington's Dar al Farooq Islamic Center.    

        One of those three allegedly told the FBI they bombed the mosque in order to "scare [Muslims] out of the country."    

        No one was hurt, but the explosion extensively damaged the imam's office. Gov. Mark Dayton called it an "act of terror."      

  Ibrahim Hooper, spokesperson for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said they would be concerned if law enforcement officials or a reputable organization hosts or sponsors Guandolo's event.  

    "Even bigots like John Guandolo have free speech rights," he said. "If he personally wants to rent a room at a hotel and spew his anti-Muslim bigotry, I guess that's his right."    

        Hooper called Guandolo "one of the nation's most notorious anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists."        

  "This is a guy who thinks 7-Eleven clerks and hotel managers are conspiring to take over America," he said. "This is a guy who thinks the former CIA director converted to Islam and is plotting to institute sharia in America."      

    Hooper said Guandolo's speeches about Islam have an impact on the lives of U.S. Muslims.    

    "We see the results of the type of bigotry and misinformation spread by John Guandolo every day in terms of the rising number of hate incidents targeting American Muslims," he said.