A man was wounded during a shooting in the French Quarter late Saturday night (May 27) near the intersection of St. Louis and Chartres streets, according to the New Orleans Police Department. A witness said the man was shot by a security guard during a scuffle outside the Louisiana Supreme Court on St. Louis Street. Dylan Coggins, who works as a food runner at the Original Pierre Maspero’s near the shooting scene, said he was walking by the courthouse when he saw a security guard struggling to arrest a man who “looked belligerent.” Somehow, Coggins said, the man wrestled the security guard to the ground and lay on top of him, at which point the guard shot the man. Coggins said he heard just one shot.
“After that, I just bolted,” he said. “I’m still a little shaken up. Not the first shots I’ve ever heard, but definitely close.”
By midnight, NOPD officers assisted by mounted units and Louisiana State Police deputies were investigating the scene outside the courthouse. Officers blocked St. Louis Street from Chartres to Royal streets with crime tape. Several onlookers watched the scene as police investigated. Among them were Gary Walker and Max Brown, a couple visiting from England. They had just arrived to their hotel across from the shooting scene when they saw a swarm of police activity.
“I’ve never been this close to a situation where there’s been a shooting,” Brown said. “To have something kick off here instead of Bourbon Street, that’s something of an alarm, isn’t it?”
Police had not indicated the condition of the victim as of 12:30 a.m. Sunday. No additional information was immediately available in an alert issued by police around 11:30 p.m.
Stay with Nola.com | The Times-Picayune for updates to this story.
The intersection of St. Louis and Royal streets in the French Quarter.Google Maps
There were no safe places.
That s how Culpeper Air Force veteran Kerry Romesberg describes Vietnam during his six-month stint at Phu Cat Air Base in 1969. The reality of North Vietnamese guerrilla tactics such as sniper fire, booby traps and organized raids meant never letting your guard down. That, and the constant barrage of rockets and mortars raining down on a nearby American military base. Still, his time in Vietnam holds some of his most cherished memories of a long military service and distinguished federal government career.
The oldest of seven children, Romesberg was born on a farm in Rockwood, Pennsylvania. A November snowstorm in 1948 forced the local doctor to travel on a sleigh to deliver the 11-pound Romesberg into the world. A bonafide Pennsylvania farm boy, Romesberg wasn t sure what he d do for a living. His grandfather and father, both military veterans, also worked in the field of journalism, which was one option. But then, in 1965, the 17-year-old high school senior received a visit from an armed forces recruiter. After taking the aptitude tests, Romesberg was offered a position in Navy intelligence in Washington, DC. The opportunity, and the accompanying salary, were too good for the teenager to pass up.
But with growing American involvement in a war raging a hemisphere away, Romesberg knew it was only a matter of time before he d be drafted to serve overseas. In 1966, he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and was assigned to the Air Police. He traveled to Texas for training.
I got my draft notice when I was already in basic training, he said. He requested a post at Andrews Air Force Base (now Joint Base Andrews) in Prince George s County, Maryland, but was instead assigned to a post in South Korea. From there, he saw the marshaling of U.S. forces explode.
The base went from 700 to 7,000 in a week, he said. Because he already had clearances for handling classified information, Romesberg landed a desk job processing security clearances for others during his tour in South Korea. As his time there came to a close, others warned him not to request a return to the states because he d likely end up somewhere like South Dakota.
Again, the young man pressed for a posting at Andrews.
I got Rapid City, South Dakota, he said, laughing. To pass the time, the Air Police crew there would often go out to play cowboys and Indians with squirt guns. They d ride horses. Sometimes they d go to town. They visited the Badlands and Mount Rushmore. There wasn t much else to occupy their time. While there, Romesberg volunteered to train for a new, elite 500-man squadron of Combat Security Police within the Air Force generally known as Rangers. He was sent to Fort Campbell in Kentucky to learn survival and weapons skills used to repel raiding parties in Vietnam. After six months of training, he boarded a nonstop transport for Qui Nhon Airfield.
I was lucky, he said. Most got three days of survival training before they landed in Vietnam.
There, he worked with his unit and the Korean Tiger division (Capital Mechanized Infantry) to provide base security. It was a close-knit group.
There wasn t a man in that squadron who wouldn t have cut their arm off for the commander, he said. He was a Lt. Col. and he crawled through the mud just like we did. Eventually, however, the Air Force decided the Ranger concept of swapping out units every six months wasn t working. When he finished his tour, Romesberg flew back to England Air Force Base in Louisiana and was asked to submit a new assignment request. He asked, yet again, for Andrews.
It was what I wanted, he said, laughing about his time as a desk sergeant at the coveted post. And it was probably the worst nine months of my career. When a VIP flies in, the base essentially closes down and everyone hates you.
Still, for a man in his early 20s, Romesberg felt lucky. When his time at Andrews ended, he had a job waiting. And he immediately started sporting a ponytail and a beard.
I went to work for the Navy again and also worked at the Pentagon in defense supply, he said. It was while working as a federal contracting officer at Ballston in Arlington that he was approached by a Navy chief about another possible assignment.
He said, Kerry, let s go down the cafeteria. I d like to talk to you, Romesberg recalled. He asked me, Kerry, you ve been in Vietnam, right? How would you like to go back to Vietnam? A two-rank promotion and a housing allowance sealed the deal. Romesberg called his parents and asked them if they d garage his beloved 1963 Buick convertible.
Less than three weeks later, Romesberg boarded a plane to Saigon where he spent the next 18 months in the defense attache s office handling access to classified information for operatives, both overt and covert. Safely home well before the city fell in 1975, he worried for his remaining friends and their families attempting to evacuate. One of his personal heroes was the station manager for Flying Tiger Airline who told his employees to show up at the airport and he d get them out.
He was kicking off the Vietnamese police, and the plane took off without permission, Romesberg said. He meant what he said. He got them out. To top off his 39-year career as a public servant, Romesberg worked for four years as a program manager on various Native American reservations.
About 80 percent of the residents don t have basic communications, many don t even have electricity, he said. And more than that live in abject poverty. I think the Native Americans are entitled to everything they can derive now.
Continuing to honor all of his heroes is a priority for the Air Force vet. He serves on the Honor Guard for Culpeper s VFW Burton-Hammond Post 2524 showing his deep respect at area veteran funerals.
We ve done about 50 already this year, he said. We did seven just last week. In VFW organizations across the country, Romesberg said, there s a enormous need for new members.
It s kind of a hard sell, he said. There just isn t the same veteran mentality these days. I m a Vietnam veteran and I m one of the younger ones! He d like to see veterans of all ages get involved and he believes many organizations aren t doing enough to recruit and keep them with activities that younger people enjoy.
I have so much respect for the people who are volunteering today, Romesberg said. They serve five or six terms. No one is making them.
Along with his peers in the Honor Guard, Romesberg plans to participate at the 11 a.m. ceremony Monday at Culpeper National Cemetery. He reserves his greatest respect for those heroes we recognize on Memorial Day.
There s no more that you can give, he said.
A former FBI agent with a penchant for spreading anti-Muslim conspiracy theories trained a senior U.S. marshal, five federal contractors, and five National Guard members at a three-day event in Louisiana, according to documents obtained by The Intercept through a Freedom of Information request.
John Guandolo, a prominent figure in what has become a cottage industry of ex-national security professionals exploiting fear of terrorism for cash, ran the March training on behalf of his firm, Understanding the Threat. Guandolo was paid $12,500 for the seminar, sponsored by the Rapides Parish District Attorney s Office in Alexandria, which promised to show how jihadis operate in the United States, why understanding sharia is important to law enforcement agents, and how to find and research jihadi organizations and leaders in local communities. At a previous event, Guandolo labeled a local Muslim community leader as a religious extremist with no proof. The documents obtained by The Intercept underscore how federal law enforcement and members of the military continue to frequent anti-Muslim trainings, despite past attempts to stop Islamophobic instructors from teaching soldiers and federal officers. Advocates have long expressed concern that such events encourage racial profiling and further corrode trust between government agencies and Muslim communities already weary of surveillance and infiltration by informants. They say these trainings are particularly troublesome at a time of rising anti-Muslim sentiment sentiment that has been blessed by members of the Trump administration.
Under no circumstances should federal law enforcement agents gain credit for attending anti-Muslim trainings, or be under the impression that it could be a legitimate part of their duties, said Lindsay Schubiner, senior program manager at the Center for New Community, a Chicago-based group that tracks anti-Muslim trainings, referring to the continuing education credits often required of law enforcement officers. Federal law enforcement agencies have to clearly send the message to their agents that anti-Muslim bigotry is unacceptable and that anti-Muslim conspiracy theories that Guandolo promotes should not be driving the implementation of federal law. Guandolo, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, resigned from the bureau in 2008 while he was being investigated by the FBI for affairs with female agents. The following year, he confirmed to the FBI that he had a sexual relationship with a key witness in a corruption case against a Democratic lawmaker in Louisiana.
But instead of fading into obscurity, Guandolo has leveraged his status as a former FBI agent into a lucrative career. Guandolo has made tens of thousands of dollars in recent years giving dozens of law enforcement trainings, many of them taxpayer funded. Sheriffs departments or police associations that put on conferences for local law enforcement sponsor most of Guandolo s events. But the trainings are usually open to federal agents as well. Guandolo has said that all American Muslim groups share the same ideology as ISIS and that President Obama committed treason by working with Muslim groups to combat terrorism. He has also called for the majority of mosques in the U.S. to be shut down and for the arrest of leaders of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation s largest Muslim American civil rights group.
Guandolo s training is basically terror porn for people who want to be scared into fearing segments of society, said Imraan Siddiqi, the executive director of CAIR in Arizona, a state in which Guandolo has given multiple trainings. Guandolo and the Rapides Parish District Attorney s Office did not return The Intercept s requests for comment.
John Guandolo, a former FBI counterterrorism agent, speaks to audience members in the Warroad Baptist Church in Warroad, Minn., Oct. 17, 2016. Photo: Monika Lawrence
The Louisiana seminar was one of nine trainings Guandolo has given in 2017 alone. He is scheduled to give two more in June, according to the Center for New Community. Sign-in sheets for the Alexandria training obtained by The Intercept indicate that officers from nearly two dozen state and local law enforcement agencies attended, in addition to the federal employees and contractors. Bernard McLaughlin, a mediator and former U.S. Army colonel who attended the seminar, said the training could prove especially useful for local law enforcement officers. They don t get taught a course on Islam or domestic terror or how radicals may plan attacks, McLaughlin told The Intercept. So you have to look at an introductory training just to get people oriented so they have a better understanding of Islam, what it is and what its proponents are.
However, as critics of Guandolo have pointed out, he does not speak Arabic the original language of the Quran and has no scholarly expertise in Islam. The most senior federal officer who attended the Alexandria seminar was Drew Koschny, chief inspector of the U.S. Marshals Service and deputy assistant director of Interpol Washington, the U.S. branch of the global police force Interpol. U.S. Marshals are required to get approval from the Marshals Service before attending external trainings. But for the Guandolo training, Koschny accepted the invitation and attended the event without completing the required USMS request for external training; therefore, the training course was not vetted and approved by the USMS, said Drew Wade, a U.S. Marshals spokesperson. Mr. Koschny felt the training would support his work at Interpol. He was not aware of any views attributed to individuals conducting the training.
Four employees of Centerra, a security contractor that guards government facilities across the country, also went to the training. Three of the Centerra employees were listed in the documents as working for the Department of Energy. Another federal contractor who works for Fluor Federal Petroleum, the sole company guarding the U.S. government s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, attended the training. The Department of Energy, Centerra, and Fluor did not respond to The Intercept s requests for comment. In addition, five Louisiana National Guard members, including an anti-terrorism officer, went to Guandolo s three-day training.
It is very commonplace, and very typical for us as a statewide organization, to get invited to attend and participate in training that is being conducted by any number of our various partner agencies, Col. Ed Bush, a spokesperson for the Louisiana National Guard, told The Intercept. The fact that we attended this training is a best practice for us, and whenever possible we always try to have representation at these training events, just for our own situational awareness and to maintain those partnerships that are key to our ability to respond as a state. He added: Attendance isn t an endorsement. This was not the first time members of the military attended a Guandolo class. In an email obtained by The Intercept through a separate public records request, Guandolo told a local detective planning an upcoming training that Department of Defense employees had signed up for his February 2014 event in Culpeper County, Virginia. And in July 2011, he gave a guest lecture at the Joint Forces Staff College to a class for captains, colonels, and commanders. In that class, Guandolo used material that justified the Crusades and claimed that Muslims were enemies of the West and commanded to hate Jews and Christians.
After Wired exposed that class and other anti-Muslim material given to FBI agents, the Obama administration ordered government agencies to review their counterterrorism trainings. The FBI purged hundreds of anti-Muslim documents from its training material.
The Understanding the Jihadi Threat event at the Warroad Baptist Church in Warroad, Minn., Oct. 17, 2016. Photo: Monika Lawrence
But the problem of anti-Muslim counterterrorism training persists. The documents related to Guandolo s seminar in Louisiana suggest that federal government workers have attended locally sponsored anti-Muslim events with little oversight. And the problem isn t limited to Guandolo. In March, CAIR asked the U.S. Air Force to cut its ties with Patrick Dunleavy, an instructor who lectures at the United States Air Force Special Operations School in Florida. Dunleavy has written that the values of religious freedom and free speech are contrary to the moral code of Islam and that to many Muslim parents, visions of violence and death are the future they aspire to.
It doesn t look like this is an area where the federal government is doing its job and ensuring that its employees don t participate in bigoted trainings, said Farhana Khera, the executive director of Muslim Advocates.
In 2011, Khera secured a commitment from John Brennan, then President Obama s counterterrorism adviser, to create an interagency task force to ensure that law enforcement training material was not biased. But in 2014, after The Intercept published a document showing anti-Muslim bias in National Security Agency training documents, Muslim Advocates and dozens of other organizations called on the Obama administration to go beyond that task force. They asked the administration to be more transparent about how pervasive anti-Muslim trainings were and to ensure that the officials responsible were disciplined and the participants in those trainings were retrained. It is unclear if the Obama administration took any of those steps. While biased trainings for federal employees are not a new issue, civil rights groups say they are especially disturbing in light of the election of Donald Trump, who has brought anti-Muslim activists like White House strategist Steve Bannon who hosted Guandolo on his Breitbart radio show into the halls of power.
It s even more troubling today because we now have a president and senior members of his administration who traffic in anti-Muslim bigotry, said Khera. So our concern is that you have the senior most official in the U.S. government giving a wink-wink, nod-nod to exactly this kind of bigotry. Top photo: John Guandolo, a former FBI agent, speaks to the audience in the Warroad Baptist Church in Warroad, Minn., Oct. 17, 2016.
- ^ cottage industry (www.publiceye.org)
- ^ event (www.npr.org)
- ^ tracks anti-Muslim trainings (imagine2050.newcomm.org)
- ^ former FBI counterterrorism agent (theintercept.com)
- ^ confirmed (www.nola.com)
- ^ said (www.rightwingwatch.org)
- ^ called (www.rightwingwatch.org)
- ^ arrest (www.rightwingwatch.org)
- ^ according to the Center for New Community. (imagine2050.newcomm.org)
- ^ does not speak Arabic (www.phoenixnewtimes.com)
- ^ no scholarly expertise (www.mpac.org)
- ^ used material (www.wired.com)
- ^ Wired exposed (www.wired.com)
- ^ given to FBI agents (www.wired.com)
- ^ ordered (www.wired.com)
- ^ purged (www.npr.org)
- ^ CAIR asked (www.cair.com)
- ^ written (www.familysecuritymatters.org)
- ^ secured (www.muslimadvocates.org)
- ^ The Intercept published (theintercept.com)
- ^ called (www.muslimadvocates.org)