John Andrews, the former Colorado state senator and founder of the right-wing think tank Centennial Institute, is helping bring two of Europe’s most vocal anti-Islam crusaders to the Embassy Suites in Centennial for what he calls an “anti-Sharia” event on Tuesday, October 1: Katie Hopkins, a British TV pundit who once had to pay 150,000 Euros to a Muslim family whom she had falsely accused of having extremist links, and Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, an anti-Muslim activist who was convicted of hate speech in her native Austria.
“As they can attest firsthand,” Andrews wrote in an email blast advertising the event, “we face a choice between Islamic supremacy and sharia law or the US Constitution and Western civilization. It's one or the other. What's to be done?” The event is organized under the name of "Bright Lights of Liberty." Andrews did not respond to a request for comment about the event.
Krista Cole, a Muslim and vice-chair of the Colorado chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says that "[Colorado Muslims] have never been confronted with this hateful of speech before." ACT for America, the largest U.S.-based anti-Muslim group, held an event in Colorado last year, but Cole says that she considers Sabaditsch-Wolff and Hopkins to be even more extreme in their hate. "I call on Embassy Suites to shut this down. Would they allow the KKK to hold a conference in their suites?
"People have the right to understand what’s being said about them behind closed doors and how people are being instructed about Islam," Cole adds.
Andrews himself hadn’t received much attention for his views on Islam until a speech he gave at this year’s Western Conservative Summit, during which he argued that religious freedom should not be granted to Muslims, characterizing Islam as a “totalitarian political and economic system” that threatens to dominate the world with “unbending absolutism and its dreams of global conquest.”
But this event is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Andrews's connections to a transatlantic network of anti-Islam activists, who often prefer to call themselves "anti-Sharia" or "counter-jihad," but run with a similar, factually incorrect message that Islam commands its followers to engage in violent warfare against non-Muslims. The Western Conservative Summit, which Andrews ran as the director of the Centennial Institute until 2015, has brought in numerous anti-Islam speakers since at least 2012, including Geert Wilders, the head of the Dutch far-right Party for Freedom, who has compared the Quran to Mein Kampf, and advocated for ending Muslim immigration and banning the construction of new mosques. Frank Gaffney, head of the anti-Muslim think tank Center for Security Policy, has spoken at the Summit numerous times.
Andrews also uses his organization Backbone America as a platform for Islamophobic ramblings. “I have no dislike or fear of my neighbors who happen to be Muslims,” Andrews writes in one blog post titled “There’s No Such Thing As Islamophobia.” He continues, “But Islam as a system is self-evidently bad.”
And Andrews isn’t just talk on this issue.
Since at least 2016, Andrews has run an organization called Americans for America, which, its website states, “contracts for training courses to benefit law enforcement and citizenship seminars to benefit key influencers, in support of A4A’s core beliefs.”
The discriminatory nature of those core beliefs are thinly veiled in patriotic language: Americans for America supports “our nation’s free way of life,” truth, justice, and the idea that, “Western civilization and its Judeo-Christian heritage are worth defending against all enemies, especially Islamic supremacism.”
Andrews wrote in an email to Westword that the organization is not active. “I wish we had something substantive to brag on right now, but the group is currently inactive. Looking at program options, seeking funders. No projects active or pending at this time.” Andrews has not responded to Westword’s repeated requests to elaborate on these comments.
But Americans for America is still actively seeking donations. And as recently as last year, it was using that money to fund a Southern Poverty Law Center-classified hate group. According to its 2018 tax documents, Americans for America raised over $600,000 in small contributions and grants, and spent over $650,000. It paid over half a million dollars alone to John Guandolo and his organization, Understanding the Threat.
Guandolo is an ex-FBI agent who left the agency in 2008 after he had an ongoing sexual relationship with the key witness in a corruption case against a Louisiana congressman. After leaving the agency, he began spreading wild anti-Muslim conspiracies; in 2013 he released a video claiming that former CIA director John Brennan had converted to Islam and was acting as a secret agent. He has been reported as saying, “Every major Muslim organization is controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood," including the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which he also believes "is Hamas" [the Palestinian terrorist group]. He believes that all versions of Islam require jihad, yet also believes that Muslims are "obligated to lie," so that asking a Muslim what his own religion teaches is "unprofessional."
Most recently, he lost a jury trial to a former Minnesota sheriff who accused Guandolo of "assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress" after the sheriff said that a presentation Guandolo gave at a conference was "discriminatory" and "inappropriate."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
For at least two years, Andrews's Americans for America has funded Understanding the Threat's anti-Islam "training" to U.S. law enforcement agencies and the general public in states including Texas, Virginia, Mississippi, California and Nevada. At least in the past few years, Guandolo hasn't held these trainings in Colorado, but he appears to have deep ties not only to Andrews, but to other Colorado conservative organizations, as well: He conducted a seminar in partnership with Rocky Mountain Gun Owners at the Centennial Gun Club in 2015 and gave another lecture at the Centennial Institute about "civilizational jihad" in 2017.
Many of his trainings are certified as continuing education credits for law enforcement officers in their respective states. What goes on in them, exactly, is somewhat of a mystery. In 2017, Wired reported that Guandolo was teaching cops to use a website called the Thin Blue Line Project, which Guandolo promises will help them "find these jihadists." In reality, it tracks the location of benign Islam-affiliated places: Muslim student associations, mosques, and offices of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. It even identifies leaders of such organizations as potential "targets" for law enforcement. However, the website for the Thin Blue Line Project is no longer online.
Cole, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says that there's a common thread between Hopkins, Sabaditsch-Wolff, Andrews, Guandolo and other noted Islamophobes: "To me, they’re disconnected from Muslims in an odd way: Their whole life revolves around Islam, and yet they don’t appear to know very much about it at all. It’s weird. It's almost as if someone has given them a set of talking points and they've believed them with all their hearts without visiting a single solitary mosque."
The same anti-Islam conspiracy circle that Andrews has spent years weaving himself deeper into, pulling the Centennial Institute and various Colorado conservatives along with him, has also spent years embedding itself into mainstream government and thought. While Hopkins is not widely respected in the U.K., President Donald Trump regularly retweets her views on Islam, immigration and more. ACT for America, with which all figures have worked closely, has touted its "direct line" to the Trump administration.
In years past, even after 9/11 stoked fears about Muslims, Cole says, "CAIR did not comment on a lot of these folks, because we don’t want to give them press coverage." But a change in the national environment has prompted a change in approach: "This is no longer limited to just a few little voices that have gone astray."