A self-proclaimed “former terrorist” with strong ties to the Religious Right recently provided a training session to Ocean County, N. J., police academy. According to the Asbury Park Press, Palestinian-American Walid Shoebat openly encouraged his audience to single out Muslims for special scrutiny. He also told aspiring officers to beware of Muslims taking martial arts classes as this was evidence they were preparing for jihad.
Shoebat is a fixture in fundamentalist circles, largely due to his claim that he once belonged to the Palestinian Liberation Organization and committed terrorist acts. Via his website and his Shoebat Foundation, he promotes the debunked assertion that President Obama is a Muslim and accuses him of wanting to “kill Christians.”
He’s also virulently anti-LGBT. “A New Biblical Plague Has Risen Which Homosexuals Are Catching By The Droves And Is More Brutal And Violent Than HIV And Aids Which NO CONDOM Can Stop It!” screams a headline on his website. (This isn’t true, if you were curious.)
But despite Shoebat’s clear extremism, this isn’t the first time he’s spoken to Ocean County police officers. He has offered the trainings for years, and police departments all over the country have booked him for events. A 2011 investigative report by CNN’s Drew Griffin and Kathleen Johnston uncovered more of his typical content.
“All Islamic organizations in America should be the No. 1 enemy. All of them,” he told Rapid City, S.D., police officers.
Griffin and Johnston also examined Shoebat’s central claim: That he participated in terrorist activity before leaving Palestine for the U.S. It turns out the evidence for this is thin.
“But CNN reporters in the United States, Israel and the Palestinian territories found no evidence that would support that biography. Neither Shoebat nor his business partner provided any proof of Shoebat's involvement in terrorism, despite repeated requests,” Griffin and Johnston reported.
Some aspects of Shoebat’s story – like his claim that he was briefly held by Israeli authorities for inciting violence – should be easily verifiable, yet no record of his incarceration exists.
His own family can’t even back up Shoebat’s story. In comments to CNN, family members described Shoebat as a “regular kid” who aspired to become a computer programmer. “I have never heard anything about Walid being a mujahedeen or a terrorist,” his cousin, Daood Shoebat, told reporters. “He claims this for his own personal reasons.”
Those personal reasons may have a lot to do with money. Shoebat received $109 per person from Courses Offering Police Specialization (COPS) for the event, resulting in a total fee of approximately $6,000 for one appearance. Although COPS is a private vendor, the Associated Press reports that it is owned by Jackson Township Police Detective Mitch Cowit. Cowit didn’t return the AP’s request for comment, so it’s still unclear why he decided to invite Shoebat.
The good news is that it’s unlikely that Shoebat will get another chance to address Ocean County officers. Peter Aseltine, a spokesman for Acting Attorney General John Jay told the Press that his office has issued guidelines to county prosecutors to prevent a similar event from taking place again.“The private training program that took place in Ocean County last week clearly was not appropriate training and is not the type of training we want our police officers attending,” Aseltine said.
And that’s the right move. Shoebat’s recent appearance in New Jersey was underwritten by a combination of funds from the taxpayers and from a police union. That’s bad enough, but it’s his sectarian extremism that makes Shoebat unfit to train any police officer.
Shoebat certainly demonstrates no respect for the First Amendment: It’s unconstitutional for the police to profile anyone on the basis of religious affiliation (or lack of it) alone. That’s the sort of information that would-be police officers actually need.