An anti-terrorism drill based on a fictional scenario involving white supremacists angry over an influx of minorities and illegal immigrants was canceled Friday after officials of the school that was hosting the training exercise said they received threatening phone calls and emails.
Pottawattamie County Sheriff Jeff Danker said he sent three deputies to the Treynor schools as a precaution, but classes were held without any problems.
"During the last 24 hours, the Treynor school system has received threats to their employees and buildings due to the planned 'active shooter' exercise," county officials said in a statement.
"After consultation with the Treynor school district and the Pottawattamie County Sheriff's Office, we have jointly decided to cancel the exercise due to these threats which we must consider viable. The Pottawattamie County Sheriff's Department is now actively investigating the threats."
Kevin Elwood, superintendent of Treynor school district, said the schools received about 100 emails from across the United States, as well as some angry phone calls.
He said one caller left a particularly disturbing voice-mail message.
"They basically indicated that if we went through with this type of a drill that potentially that type of an incident could become a reality in our school district," Elwood said.
Sheriff Danker said investigators believe the call came from outside of Iowa and Nebraska. He said he has doubts about the threat's credibility, but he sent deputies to the schools Friday because he didn't want to take any chances.
Elwood said he was disappointed because local residents supported the training exercise.
"We are not going to jeopardize our kids' safety for some of the extreme views that are out there and for people who are misinformed," Elwood said. "We had a fantastic drill pieced together that had nothing to do with that background scenario. ... Unfortunately, we are going to have to cancel now."
The drill had been expected to attract more than 300 participants from about 42 agencies, including area hospitals, fire departments, law enforcement agencies, schools and other organizations. Planning had been under way for more than four months.
Members of so-called patriot groups opposed to illegal immigration had strongly objected to plans for the exercise, which was scheduled for today at Treynor High School.
Their complaints focused on a scenario for the drill in which two young white supremacists shoot dozens of people amid rising racial tensions. In reality, Treynor has 919 residents; only one of them is a racial minority, according to U.S. Census records.
The town is about 16 miles east of Council Bluffs.
Patriot group leaders complained the exercise was intended to portray people who legally possess guns and who fight illegal immigration as extremists.
County officials said in their statement that they found it "astounding" that people claiming to be patriots would be opposed to emergency response agencies drilling to be prepared for any threat. They said they came up with the scenario to meet U.S. Department of Homeland Security requirements to qualify for federal money to help pay for the exercise.
"In no way has our office or any other response agencies favored a political view or issue," county officials said in their statement. "Our only intent was to prepare for a worst-case scenario to build our capacity for such an event and to test any gaps in our response system."
Jeff Theulen, coordinator of the Pottawattamie County Emergency Management Agency, said, "I apologize to the true patriots who have endured profane-laced telephone calls, threats, and generally had their operations disrupted over this event."
Craig Halverson of Griswold, national director of the Minuteman Patriots, one of the groups that objected to the drill, said he is skeptical that any threats were actually made. He said he suspects county officials cited threats as an excuse to drop the exercise as controversy spread.
News coverage about the drill got national attention via the Internet in the past two days.
"We are God-fearing people who believe in the sovereignty of our country and the Constitution," Halverson said. "If somebody in my organization is making threats, I don't want them in my organization."
Robert Ussery of Des Moines, state director of the Iowa Minutemen activist group, said he believes government officials were pursuing a political agenda supporting amnesty for illegal immigrants when they crafted the scenario. Cancellation of the event supports that agenda, he added.
"What they are basically saying is, 'See. We are right. We had to cancel it because of these people.' It would be very, very stupid to make threats like that," Ussery said. "People are upset, but I don't believe they would do that."
Mark Potok, a spokesman for the Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, said he doubts county officials had malicious intent in developing the drill. He noted there have been recent cases of anti-immigrant extremists charged with violent crimes.
"The reality is that we have seen anti-immigration terror. We have seen white supremacist terror," Potok said.
Doug Reed, Pottawattamie County's lead planner for the exercise, said Friday there has been no discussion about rescheduling it.
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