MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WMOT) -- More than 100 Tennessee law enforcement officers, including deputies with the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office, are being trained this week in Murfreesboro by an organization that believes an Islamic insurgency is underway in the United States.
The training sessions are being held each day through Wednesday at the World Outreach Church on New Salem Highway. The Tennessee Freedom Coalition (TFC) is scheduled to host a one-time seminar beginning this evening at 6:30 p.m. featuring the same training group at the same location.
The TFC and its Director, Lou Ann Zelenik, have been outspoken opponents of plans by the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro to build a new Mosque in Rutherford County.
The Strategic Engagement Group (SEG) is conducting the training. According to the company’s website, its purpose is to defeat efforts to “subjugate the American people.” SEG did not follow up on email requests for an interview and doesn’t list a phone number or physical address on its webpage.
SEG conducted a similar training seminar for the Columbus, Ohio, Police Department in 2010. That seminar reportedly dissolved into a shouting match when a SEG trainer allegedly made unsubstantiated accusations against a state employee who is Muslim.
Columbus Police Department Deputy Chief Jeffrey Blackwell says he was shocked at how quickly the officers in attendance became polarized, with some officers defending the Muslim employee and others siding with the SEG trainer. In a phone interview with WMOT, Blackwell commented,
“I would only caution agencies to be mindful of the content that’s going to be covered and the method with which that material is going to be delivered. The last thing you want in your community, in any community, is for training that is supposed to help agencies to become better equipped to deal with people, actually inflame people and create fences.”
The new mosque currently under construction by the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro is located in an area patrolled by Rutherford County Sheriff’s deputies. The department is also responsible for investigating as-yet unsolved 2010 cases of vandalism at the construction site.
Rutherford County Sheriff Robert F. Arnold declined to be interviewed for this story, but did provide a written statement that reads in part, “We actually need to be on the cutting edge of all terrorist training."
A spokesman for the Sheriff’s Office tells WMOT News that the seminar will make up more than half of the department’s yearly requirement for ongoing professional training and that SEG is approved by the State of Tennessee to conduct such training.
However, a state spokesperson says that Tennessee approves private organizations like SEG to provide training if that instruction is conducted by a local police department.
Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Director Brian Grisham declined to be interviewed for this story, but a written statement from his department notes that the state takes the local police department “at its word that the training it is sponsoring is credible."