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Civil rights group apologizes for false allegations against Macon County Sheriff’s Office 

A week after a video segment aired on WLOS News 13, The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization emailed a letter to Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland accusing the sheriff of holding an active shooter drill using a target that featured a photo of a man wearing a headscarf and holding an AK-47 style weapon. 

After the letter was made public by CAIR, the National News outlet VICE News published an article on September 13 with the headline “Cops Used Target of Arab Man With AK-Style Rifle During School Shooter Drill” followed by a subhead reading: “The Macon County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina held school shooter training with a target of an Arab man holding an AK-Style rifle.” 

The VICE News article, written by Manisha Krishnan, quotes a statement released by CAIR released on Monday of this week identifying the image as being, “inaccurate and harmful use of the stereotypical image,” and called for the Sheriff’s office to stop using the image. 

The VICE News article was picked up by dozens of advocacy groups and the information provided by CAIR and VICE News resulted in social media posts, Tik Tok videos, and negative and even threatening emails being sent to Sheriff Robert Holland and the Macon County Sheriff’s Office. 

One such comment was left by a reader on The Southern Scoop Facebook Page, responding to a comment left by Sheriff Robert Holland an article praising his 30-year law enforcement career. The reader questions Sheriff Holland and demanded an apology for the use of the image and posted a link to the VICE News article. The Southern Scoop viewed the VICE News article and immediately knew there was an error made somewhere due to the fact that Macon County Sheriff’s Office has never conducted any active shooter trainings at Rosman High School, which is where the alleged photo was used. 

The Southern Scoop News reached out to both Manisha Krishnan and CAIR regarding the error. Shortly thereafter, the VICE News article was updated to feature a correction citing misinformation provided by CAIR in their initial letter to Sheriff Robert Holland. 

“A previous version of this story named the incorrect sheriff’s department based on a letter sent by Council on American-Islamic Relations. Those references have been removed. VICE News regrets the error,” reads the correction now found at the bottom of the original article. 

CAIR Communication Representative Ibrahim Hooper responded to the inquiry citing a further review of the incident: “We understand the sheriff is saying the training was not by his department but has not informed us who did use that stereotypical target. We are seeking to find that out and will issue an update when we have more information. The sheriff had a week to review our letter and respond. He also apparently did not respond to Vice.”

Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland stated that he was able to find an email sent to him by CAIR on September 7 in his junk mail, a letter he only found after being contacted by The Southern Scoop regarding the VICE News article. Sheriff Holland spoke with CAIR on Wednesday to inform the group that Macon County did not participate in any such training and they had no information as to what agency or organization did participate in such training and informed them it would be inappropriate for him to “inform CAIR who may have used the target” as Sheriff Holland no knowledge of the incident. 

“Our training was held this summer in our county and never included what is being depicted in this news story,” said Sheriff Holland. “This was not our training in the video and we in no way were involved with any other training at Rosman. It appears to me someone failed to do their research when they pieced a story together to create their own story.” 

VICE News’ article was based on the September 7 letter sent by CAIR to Sheriff Holland that the group made public, without speaking to anyone at Rosman School or Macon County prior to making the allegations, which specifically named Sheriff Robert Holland. The letter from CAIR stems from a WLOS News segment published on August 31 entitled “Old buildings create vulnerabilities in mountain school districts, educators say” where WLOS reporter Kimberly King interviewed Macon County Schools Superintendent Dr. Chris Baldwin regarding vulnerabilities on Franklin High School Campus. The 5-minute long segment, which includes the roughly 20 seconds CAIR focused in on, included information about several mountain school districts including Transylvania and Jackson County. During a portion looking at issues in Transylvania County, King interviews members of the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office that discuss active shooter training held at Rosman High School. The video clip then shows the image of the man holding an AK rifle, however, no other context or information regarding the image or how it was used was provided in the clip. 

Although CAIR did not answer questions as to how they reached the point to make inaccurate and harmful allegations against Macon County Sheriff Robert Holland, they did release a statement Wednesday night addressing their error. 

“CAIR emailed a letter to the Macon County Sheriff’s Office on Sep. 7 thanking them for conducting the training but expressing concern about the inaccurate and harmful use of the stereotypical image. CAIR sent a follow-up message today, Sept 14. The sheriff’s office responded to CAIR’s letter today… to say that they were not the agency responsible for its use,” according to a statement released by CAIR.

CAIR then released another statement on Thursday afternoon explaining that the Transylvania County Sheriff’s Office responded to concerns regarding the use of the image during the training.

According to the statement from CAIR, “In an email to VICE News, Transylvania County Sheriff David Mahoney said the image was donated by a local gun range. The sheriff said that an image of a man holding a gun was needed for one of the training scenarios and that the image was the only one they had that depicted a man holding a gun.  

 “I did not hear any comments from the participants that would indicate Islamophobia or that negative stereotypes were reinforced. That certainly was not our intention. With that said, I understand the concern shared, and for that, I apologize for any misunderstanding,” Sheriff Mahoney said.”

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