STANARDSVILLE — Despite concerns from across the community and the nation, Greene County Sheriff Steve Smith said his seminar, “Understanding the Jihadi Threat,” still will take place this Saturday in Stanardsville.
The all-day seminar will feature Chris Gaubatz, the son of “Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That’s Conspiring To Islamize America” author David Gaubatz, and Charlottesville-area resident Suzanne Shattuck, whose LinkedIn profile refers to her as a nurse, an immigration and national security activist and a writer.
Smith said that, as of Tuesday morning, approximately 100 people have signed up to attend the seminar, which was originally titled “Understanding the Muslim Threat,” at Piedmont Virginia Community College’s Eugene V. Giuseppe Center.
Although the event is taking place at PVCC’s Greene County facility, college representatives stressed they are not sponsoring the controversial seminar.
“PVCC does not endorse the ideas being presented and is troubled by the apparent one-sided nature of the presentation towards the Muslim religion,” PVCC officials said in a statement.
The sheriff’s office is utilizing space in PVCC’s satellite center as part of an agreement that the county has with the college, which allows county entities to use the facility for seminars that are open to the public, officials said.
“As a publicly funded institution, PVCC does not engage in censorship based on the content of a presentation being given by a third party that is renting or utilizing college facilities. To do so would violate the First Amendment right to free speech,” PVCC officials said. “The college feels that the best way to combat objectionable ideas is through public discussion and dialogue.”
Smith said that the seminar isn’t about “bashing Muslims” and encouraged people to sign up to attend and ask questions. However, he said, “I will not have anybody try to disrupt anything.”
The Albemarle County-based Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Expression, which each year hands out its Jefferson Muzzles awards criticizing institutions that quash free speech, defended PVCC’s decision to let the seminar go on.
“Given [the] wave of collegiate anti-free speech sentiment sweeping the country, it would not be surprising if the PVCC administration followed suit, acquiescing to the many calls in the community for the college to disallow the use of its facility for what is seen as a bigoted, one-sided presentation on the Islamic faith,” officials from the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Speech said Monday on the center’s website.
“PVCC administration should be commended for recognizing that the value of the First Amendment is not that it shields ideas from criticism, but rather that it exposes them to it,” they said.
PVCC representatives noted, however, that its facilities, including the Greene County center, are gun-free zones for anyone who is not a police officer. That includes academic buildings, offices buildings, child-care and student centers, dining facilities and any other place people congregate.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, which calls itself the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, last week called on Smith to drop its sponsorship of the seminar. CAIR called Chris Gaubatz “a representative of an anti-Muslim hate group.”
CAIR said the seminar is being “presented by an employee of notorious Islamophobe and anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist John Guandolo. ‘Understanding the Threat’ is a presentation normally offered by Guandolo himself.”
CAIR also called Shattuck an “anti-Muslim anti-immigrant activist ... who has called for the deportation of American Muslims.”
Attempts to reach Gaubatz and Shattuck for comment were unsuccessful.
“Everyone, even anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bigots, have the First Amendment right to spew their hatred and conspiracy theories, but that bigotry should not have the implicit endorsement of a law enforcement agency,” CAIR Department to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia Director Corey Saylor told Smith in a letter. “Let these individuals pay for their own private speaking venue and be ignored, as they deserve.”
“The sponsorship of this event by the sheriff’s office sends the message to members of the local Muslim community that they may not be protected against the growing number of hate incidents targeting Muslims nationwide due to rising Islamophobia,” Saylor said.
As of Tuesday, no organized protests of Saturday’s seminar had been announced.
To register to attend the event, call (434) 985-2222.