Standing Up To Terrorist Sympathizers // A conversation with Florida political influencer and former NYPD cop John Cardillo

Back in October, John Cardillo got into a heated dispute with a Fort Lauderdale restaurant. Cardillo was dining at Voodoo Bayou when two waitresses began cheering as a truck drove by carrying pro-Hamas protesters. The ex-NYPD officer and prominent backer of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis told them that their behavior was disgusting and asked for a manager. The manager, who identified himself as Jewish, came out and sided with the demonstrators. Cardillo then posted the story along with the restaurant’s phone number on social media.

Many commenters called for a boycott of the restaurant and praised Cardillo’s actions. “John Cardillo is a hero,” one person wrote. “He’s not a Jew. He’s a man of common sense and decency and has a brain.” Others began posting negative reviews of the restaurant, asserting that it espoused terror and mistreated a dissenting patron.

Throughout it all, John Cardillo has remained an unabashed critic of Hamas and its sympathizers. I spoke to him last week.

You’ve been very outspoken against the pro-Hamas agitators, both on and off campus. As a former member of the NYPD, your words have resonated with many people.
I joined the media after leaving law enforcement. I started out as a law enforcement analyst and then moved on to politics, but I came back full circle after these terror protests, which are reprehensible. They’re stomach-turning.

You had an interesting encounter with some pro-Hamas people in a restaurant.
Yes. The New York Post published the story, but they got some of the details wrong because the restaurant wasn’t honest. It’s a local place on Las Olas Boulevard, which is the main commercial strip. I was with a friend of mine, and we both wanted to try this restaurant. It was the day of the pro-Hamas protests a couple of weeks after October 7. I don’t really like to call these things protests because I believe that they are Iran- and Qatar-sponsored terror-recruiting and fundraising events. I think we sanitize them when we call them protests.

The irony is that Iran doesn’t allow protests in their own country.
Right. And now that the Iranian universities are offering scholarships to anyone who has been kicked out of these schools, in law enforcement that’s what we call a clue.
In any event, these things were happening about a mile or two north of Las Olas Boulevard. They had been broken up pretty effectively by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and the Fort Lauderdale Police Department. Then the demonstrators started to drive up and down the streets while I was sitting at an outdoor table.
In the report, they made it seem that these were innocent kids in a pickup truck; they weren’t. They threw their keffiyehs around their faces and were simulating shooting machine guns in the air with their hands. They were trying to look like Hamas and ISIS. When two young waitresses chimed in and cheered them on, I’d had enough. I said, “Do you realize that you’re cheering on terrorists? You are all disgusting and reprehensible. You’re trying to make believe that you are murderous terrorists. One day you’re going to get yourselves shot because you’re going to reach into your jackets in front of the wrong person.” The waitresses got all sheepish and I demanded my check.
The headline was that I was booted from the place. That’s not true. I was disgusted, so I told them to give me my check and I paid it. As I was leaving, I went to use the restroom and demanded to speak to the manager. The manager comes out and says, “Well, I’m Jewish, and there are two sides to every story and three sides to this conflict.” I said, “You should be ashamed of yourself. Forget the fact that you’re Jewish. As an American, you should be ashamed of yourself for saying that there are two sides to this story. One of the phrases I’ve hated the most in my life and avoided using is ‘Do you know who I am?’ But in this case I’m going to say it in the context of having a pretty big following. Please don’t make me blast your restaurant on social media, because it will affect you.”
The manager then called the Fort Lauderdale police. So a young cop walked over from around the corner and told him that I wasn’t doing anything wrong. “First of all,” he said, “he was your customer so he’s entitled to use the restroom. Second, he’s having a conversation with you right now on a public sidewalk, where he’s allowed to be.” Essentially, the cop was telling him not to bother him with this nonsense. I later found out that he’s an army veteran who was disgusted by the whole thing. He was great.

What was the manager’s reaction?
The manager started yelling and screaming that everyone is entitled to free speech. I said, “In that case, I’m entitled to put you guys on blast.” So I put it out on Twitter, where I have over 300,000 followers. A few hours later the owner called me, and I would have found it pretty amusing if it wasn’t in the context of the tragedy of October 7. He said, “Can you please ask people to stand down? All of our reservations are being canceled and no one can get through on the phone.” “No problem,” I replied. “I don’t want to see anyone lose their job. These waitresses are 19-year-old kids. Dress your manager down, have him apologize to me and train your staff better.” “Well, I have to investigate this first,” he said. “Okay, so I’ll stop after you investigate because there shouldn’t be any investigation,” I told him. “If you don’t know basic right and wrong and don’t understand that siding with terrorists is wrong… We live in a dumb world these days, but there is no other side to this issue. People were beheading children.” It turned out that four of his main investors in the restaurant were Jewish, and they weren’t happy. “Nor should they be,” I told him. “They’re siding with me. Get your priorities straight. Get a grip.”
Then the local rabbi of the Las Olas area called me; he serves the businessmen in the area. His shul was burned down in an arson attack a couple of months ago. He tried to set up a meeting between me and the restaurant, but they were hedging and didn’t really want to do it, so it never came to fruition. A woman who is one of this rabbi’s congregants is an acquaintance of mine. He had told her about the story, and she put him in touch with me.
That’s the real story of what happened. Their behavior—both the people at the restaurant and those in the truck—was far more egregious than the Post made it out to be. But I don’t blame the Post because they never called me for an interview.

That happened very early in the war. I spoke to Shabbos Kestenbaum, one of the students at Harvard who testified before Congress. He told me that on October 7, long before Israel did anything in response to the attacks, the students were already cheering on Hamas. This was happening at one of the most elite universities in the country.
Exactly. That’s what really set me off that day. I posted on X: “Palestinians = Hamas = Palestinians.” There’s no daylight. It’s the same group of people. We sanitize it when speak about “Palestinian rights.” It’s all terror propaganda.

They’re taught to be martyrs from a very young age as a way to redeem themselves.
I had dinner last night with a friend who’s a Syrian Christian and was born in Iran. He spent 13 years with the CIA operating in the region. He told me, “They are so far ahead of us thanks to this propaganda war.” How do you fight that? We have a good portion of the American public and even Republicans playing into the narrative by using the words “Palestinian” and “protests.” By the way, a congressman who is a former national security official told me, “Rashida Tlaib is a bona fide terrorist. She shouldn’t be in Congress or have access to information. I’m not afraid of many things, but her being in Congress scares me.”

What really touched me about you is your common sense approach, as opposed to what is either a lack of good judgment or deliberate distortions coming from the media.
I’d like to add a third category: a lack of historical knowledge. And we could even add a fourth: too much revisionist history is being taught. There are now conservative influencers like Candace Owens trying to say that we shouldn’t have bombed the city of Dresden, which was a strategic target, and that the German people were as much the victims of World War II as many others. It’s preposterous, but it’s becoming mainstream with the younger generation. The people who are doing this don’t even believe what they’re saying. They’re doing it because they know it sounds sensational and makes them appear to be alt-right, edgy and fringy. But what they’re really doing is dumbing down the next generation. I also think that some people just buy into it because they’re truly anti-Semitic.

The question is why they are doing it.
We can dive into why. Is it cultural? Did they grow up being taught to hate Jews? Do they align with influencers who are anti-Semitic? I think that most people are simply followers. They don’t have great lives and want to be accepted by a group of some kind. It’s the same reason why people join cults. They see a group of far-leftists who think it’s great to support terrorists and that they are the true marginalized victims. Then you have this quiet sentiment on the far right that the Nazis were really the good guys who had it all figured out. There are a few key players on both sides, but this sentiment permeates the left much more than it does the right because you can see how even moderate Democrats are terrified of telling Rashida Tlaib to take her Hamas flag down from the US Capitol. I don’t want to hear that it’s a Palestinian flag; it’s a Hamas flag because they’re the same thing. Let’s be honest. Anyone who has ever studied the region and the conflict knows that they are one and the same. There’s a lot of follower mentality involved.
Karol Markowicz, who writes for the Post, and her husband are close friends of mine. They live in Boca Raton. We always joke that it’s the nerds versus the cool kids. All these people who weren’t popular or didn’t have a lot going for them are now becoming the radicals on both sides and aligning with these savages.

Anti-Semitism has always existed, but it has now become fashionable.
That’s a great way to phrase it.

One of the interesting historical turns is how the Republicans are now defending the Jewish people and Israel, whereas the Democrats have been taken over by the far left.
But please tell me more about yourself.
I spent most of the 1990s and early 2000s with the NYPD. Then I moved to Florida and went into the private sector. I created a business tracking predators in online communities. We originally set it up to track terror fundraising and recruiting alongside various other bad guys, but as luck would have it—this was right around the time when the social networks and online dating platforms were really springing up—a bunch of the big players in that arena, including News Corp, asked if the platform could also work for predators. We told them of course, because a bad guy is a bad guy and we were agnostic in terms of which kinds of bad guys we were going after; we could deploy it to go after anyone. So that became the crux of our business because the commercial market demanded it, and we had to keep the lights on.
We did a lot of work with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Around that time, Bill O’Reilly of Fox was making that his big issue and was going after these guys and unmasking them. He did really great work. I later got to know him when we worked together at Newsmax. Because News Corp was already our client, we were providing them with information and data. The logical progression was that they started putting me on the air and having me accompany them to testify before legislatures to get sentencing enhancements. That led to my career in the media. I returned to the private sector and private equity space in 2020, but I still do a couple of media hits a week on other people’s shows.

Which unit were you in when you were a police officer?
Everyone starts off in patrol and then you bounce around and try to get yourself into a better unit. I would have stayed in law enforcement; I loved it. My plan was to go to one of the federal agencies—either the US Marshals or the Secret Service—but when this business started to grow, I decided to stay there. I tripled my salary when I joined the private sector, so it was kind of hard not to do it. I stayed there because it was the best of both worlds: I was making a good living while providing support for law enforcement. It was great.

I interviewed Police Commissioner Ray Kelly at Police Headquarters. It was fascinating, almost like a military headquarters with all the screens and equipment.
Yes. It’s like a command station. I know Ray pretty well because his son is a good friend of mine. We worked together at Newsmax.

The NYPD has a great force and is spectacular at gathering intelligence.
I would say that the NYPD has the best intelligence apparatus of any local law enforcement agency in the world, and it’s better than some federal agencies for the simple reason that the CIA came in right after 9/11 and helped build it. In fact, NYPD detectives are deployed around the world to funnel intelligence on anti-terror operations back to the city and share intelligence with partners around the world. In many respects it’s a law enforcement agency, but in many other areas it’s a global law enforcement agency with local jurisdiction.

How is the NYPD doing these days in countering these so-called protests?
As I’ve explained on a couple of shows this past week, even though there’s a police commissioner, the NYPD has always ultimately been run by the mayor, because the commissioner serves at his pleasure. The commissioner can have a lot of great ideas—Ray Kelly was very effective and served the longest consecutive term—but he can only do what the mayor allows and what the City Council will allocate a budget for.
We saw how Giuliani’s policies were directly implemented by the NYPD and worked really well. Rudy went through three police commissioners—Bratton, Safir and Kerik—because even though he was brilliant, he wasn’t the easiest person to work for because he wanted to call all the shots. In his case, however, he was incredibly knowledgeable and competent, so it was the right way to go. When you have a proactive mayor like Rudy Giuliani, you have the best agency in the world.

It’s an agency that’s been around for many years.
The NYPD is a 179-year-old agency that has consistently had between 35,000 and 40,000 sworn members. That’s thousands of years of collective experience. These days, it has a budget of over $5 billion and growing, and it has access to the very best in terms of minds and training.
The thing that’s so frustrating to me about what’s been happening is that the NYPD wrote the book on disorder control and breaking up riots. It’s one of the few agencies on the planet with a dedicated unit. It used to be called the Disorder Control Unit, but they changed the name to the Strategic Response Group. They have the best resources in the world, but the mayor was holding it back. They could have ended the riots at Columbia in 15 minutes if they’d been allowed in. It ended up taking two hours, but that was only because the place was barricaded. Imagine if they’d been allowed to go in in the beginning. Nothing would have happened.

I just read that NYU called in the police to clean up their campus as well. Why do these universities have to do that? Why shouldn’t the police be there from the get-go?
What they’ll say is that it’s private property, and the police aren’t allowed to operate there without being called in. While that’s technically true, the part they’re leaving out is that the police have always been able to enter private property if there’s a 911 call or an emergency. For example, if we were on patrol in the Bronx when I was a rookie and we heard someone screaming in an apartment building that wasn’t owned by the city, and when we got to the front door it was unlocked, we were permitted to walk in and investigate. There are exceptions to search warrants in case of emergency, one of which is if someone is in imminent danger. The NYPD was watching rioting, criminal trespass and burglary. They were watching Jewish and Christian students being accosted and threatened with violence. They had more than enough reason to enter those campuses. The only things holding them back were the far-left administrations of those universities who were coordinating with the mayor’s office. Those cops were being told to stand down. That’s why it’s such a tragedy.

I’m sure you’ve had the opportunity to observe Mayor Adams. He talks the talk when it comes to law enforcement, but does he really walk the walk?
He doesn’t, and that’s the problem. Eric Adams is an eloquent guy. He’ll get up and say all the right things, but then he’ll go back to his office and succumb to the demands of far-left donors. Many of those donors are rabidly anti-Semitic and very pro-Hamas because they think it’s fashionable. It’s because their friends in the entertainment industry and Democratic Party politics think that if you’re not part of BDS and hating Israel and don’t want to see Netanyahu tried at The Hague, you’re not going to be invited to the right parties and won’t get to hang out with the cool kids anymore. It’s truly as pathetic as it sounds.

Do you think he’s as bad as Mayor de Blasio when it comes to controlling crime?
In many respects, I think he’s worse. He was a police commander in Harlem, a borough president and a state senator, so he knows exactly how to fix these problems, but he’s letting far-left politics trump common sense. De Blasio was simply a moron, but Adams isn’t. So you have to ask yourself which one is more egregious. Is it a guy like de Blasio, who’s a true radical, or Adams, who knows what works but is willing to let people get injured and possibly killed because he doesn’t want to offend his donors?

Do you think that what happened on the Columbia campus was a turning point for him and the NYPD?
I think it was a turning point for the United States. It put Democrats in a really tough position because people are now watching one of the most legendary and iconic institutions of scholarship the world has ever known allow itself to be taken over by terrorists and used as a stronghold.

Did you like what you saw coming from the NYPD?
Once they went in, they were able to squash it within two hours. No one was beaten. All of the things people said were going to happen didn’t happen. People were arrested for committing crimes. We’re in a bizzarro world where if you arrest someone for committing a crime but he claims to be in a protected class you shouldn’t enforce the law. The cops did exactly what they are paid to do. They went in and arrested bad guys who were breaking the law and were threatening people who were just trying to go to school or work.

There was a recent news story about a gun accidently going off.
I just read about it right before we started talking. One of the cops was using the flashlight mounted on his firearm to illuminate the dark areas. It appears that he had poor firearm discipline. He put his finger on the trigger and a round went off, which can sometimes happen if you haven’t been trained properly. I don’t know which model he has, but on my weapons, one of those buttons is very close to the trigger and it’s easy to slip and hit it. The round hit a wall. There were only police officers around at that point, so no one was in danger. They’re going to investigate and he’ll probably lose a few vacation days and have to be retrained.

Does this go back to the administration?
Yes, because the NYPD, considering the size of the organization and the threats they encounter, probably has the most limited tactical training of any big-city agency. They focus on sociology, American Sign Language and other things that don’t apply to life-and-death situations on the street. They aren’t hiring cops who are good athletes anymore. They aren’t hiring based on test scores. They aren’t hiring based on firearms or tactical aptitude. They aren’t giving preferential treatment to members of the military like they did when I was there. Now it’s all about diversity, and it doesn’t matter how qualified or unqualified you are.

But you still have faith in the NYPD.
Yes, but my faith is dwindling. Thanks to diversity hiring, the quality isn’t going to be what it once was.

We appreciate your commonsensical approach to wokeism. You’re on our side.
As an Italian guy from Queens, I think it’s insane that people are still being persecuted for their religion and there are people in the world who are justifying the brutality of terrorists because of some ridiculous narrative. It’s just nuts. But maybe I’m a unique case. I grew up in New York City, where half your friends are going to be Jewish. Italians and Jews are also very culturally similar outside of religion with regard to family and food, and you don’t necessarily have that with other ethnicities.
I was the anomaly who left. I moved to Florida 20 years ago and never looked back. I moved here before the big rush.

I guess Donald Trump followed you instead of the other way around.
That happened to a lot of people. A lot of our media friends followed me here. Florida is booming and it’s great.

If you’re given a choice been the weather in New York and the weather in Florida, why would anyone choose New York?
My partner from the NYPD told me, “You’re a New Yorker; you’ll be back in six months.” That was at the end of 2004. A year later, I was visiting during the winter and scraping snow off a rental car, and I vowed, “I will never live here ever again.” That sealed the deal.

Going back to our not-so-happy story, I know that you have commented on the fact that this isn’t an anti-Jewish story, it’s an anti-American story.
Yes. It’s an important story about a longtime, fully assimilated immigrant group that has loved this country and prospered in it and is now being persecuted by those who hate this country. But no one is telling it that way.

There was a great book written a while ago called While Europe Slept on how the radical Islamists came into Europe and are now controlling its streets. It now seems that America is sleeping.
That’s right. It’s so frustrating for those of us who were in New York on 9/11. We watched this barbarism happen, but 23 years later we seem to have forgotten about it. As I said on Dave Rubin’s show last week, “If these protests had been carried out by white nationalists or Israeli nationalists at a Muslim madrasa, the FBI would already be kicking in doors. If these were a bunch of students in MAGA hats, people would already be in jail. But because they’re supporting Hamas, the FBI and DOJ have thrown their hands up in the air and won’t do anything.” It’s also a story about a two-tiered system of justice.

Every time Joe Biden condemns anti-Semitism, he always makes sure to add the word “Islamophobia.” It never fails, but it doesn’t work in the opposite direction.
A lot of this is being driven by Obama. Biden isn’t running anything. A good friend of mine who has a brilliant analytical mind grew up in DC with a father who was an FBI agent. He once said, “Every president in history couldn’t wait to get out of DC. Barack Obama was the only president who set up shop there after leaving office.” Obama is at the White House all the time and meets with world leaders. He’s very instrumental in what’s going on now, because Joe Biden was never pro-Muslim. If anything, he was kind of a hawk back in the day. This is all being driven by Obama, Valerie Jarrett, Susan Rice and that whole radical, terror-sympathetic crew.

You’ve pointed out that they hate Christians as much as they hate Jews.
They hate everyone: Christians, non-denominationals, Jews, Buddhists and Hindus. The thing that baffles me is that these green-haired liberals who would be the first to be killed by these people in the Middle East are protesting on their behalf. It’s just so bizarre; a suicidal mentality. Radical Islam has one doctrine: kill the non-believers or force them to be dhimmis. There’s really no gray area.

Do you have any optimism about the future? I sometimes feel that what’s happening in the universities right now might be a turning point in a good way.
I don’t think it’s unfair to call it a good thing because we live in such a bizarre world, and black clouds need silver linings. I was encouraged when I saw that group of frat guys tearing down Hamas flags and putting up American flags in their place. They were helping the police dismantle the encampments. This whole notion that we have to be fair to terrorists… If someone wants to protest peacefully and put up a sign that’s one thing, but when you’re screaming at Jewish students and saying, “We want you to die. We’re here because we want to eradicate every last one of you,” that’s not peaceful protest. If you and I decided to call a radical imam right now and say that, we’d be charged with making felony terroristic threats. That’s not protected speech. Columbia University is not a public square; it’s private land. What they were doing violated a dozen or so statutes under the New York State Penal Law, but they were given a complete pass by the Manhattan DA, the New York State attorney general, the governor, the DOJ and the FBI. That’s the other story the media should be reporting.

As someone who still has a law enforcement mentality, what would you advise universities to do?
I would tell them to follow the models of Florida and Georgia. Let your police officers enforce the law. It’s not a radical concept. Ron DeSantis issued a directive at the state-run University of Florida saying, “We have zero tolerance for this stuff. Protest is fine, but if you threaten students, faculty or anyone else, you’re done. You will never be in a state university again. You will be kicked out, and if you received financial aid, you will owe the money.” You have to be punitive. One of the things I’ve learned, especially when it comes to radical Muslims, is that there can be no carrots; there must only be sticks. They don’t respond to carrots; they will always see it as a weakness.
I’m not talking about taking unconstitutional or draconian action. Just enforce the laws on the books. I really think that people are starting to wake up. They’re saying, “Wait a second. I just paid $80,000 for my kid to go to school and no one is protecting him?” I think it’s also incumbent upon the media to stop with the narrative that both sides have a point, because they don’t.

What do you think tomorrow holds for these universities?
These universities have big endowments, and they like to use that money to invest in states like Florida that are prosperous, and they especially like to invest alongside pension money from them. The Florida CFO, Jimmy Patronis, is a very proactive guy and called out the woke banks. I don’t think it’s inconceivable—in fact, I think it’s very plausible and probable—that the next thing you’ll see will be these governors and state CFOs and comptrollers going to the big funds where they have billions in pension money invested and saying, “If you take a dollar in endowment money from that university and help them prosper, we’re pulling our pension funds out.” They have a lot of financial leverage to put these universities in their place.

You have a no-nonsense governor in your state, and he doesn’t just talk the talk.
The thing about DeSantis is that he walks the walk and only then tells you about it. I’ve watched him in Congress and also as governor, and I’ve gotten to know him well. He doesn’t go up to the podium and say, “I’m going to do this.” Instead, he says, “Let me tell you what I just did.” That’s rare in a politician.

I assume you supported his run for the Republican nomination for president.
I did, and I got beaten up rather badly by my friends for going with DeSantis. It wasn’t anything personal against Trump; I just didn’t feel that he was tough enough. I thought he made a bit of a left turn.

Why do you think DeSantis failed so miserably?
It was a very poorly run campaign and a miserable showing. Number one, I think he had the wrong campaign team and they were running the wrong campaign. A bunch of us—it’s no secret; we were in public photos with him—tried to advise him, but the team was using an obsolete playbook. DeSantis is an outstanding executor. He’s probably the best CEO in politics today, but he’s not the kind of guy who wants to kiss babies and slap you on the back. He’s a super good guy when you’re with him one-on-one, but he’s not comfortable in those environments. But in my opinion, the biggest reason was that too much of the base just wasn’t ready to move past Trump. They felt that Trump deserved another shot, and you weren’t going to convince them to give someone else a chance.

He came across a little stiff.
At events he sometimes has a hard time finding his sweet spot to engage with the crowd, whereas if you go to dinner at the Governor’s Mansion he’s one of the funniest and most engaging guys you’ll ever be around. The good thing is that some of these things are teachable. There have been plenty of people who weren’t comfortable working crowds and learned how to do it.
Look, I’ve been in this game for a long time. I’ve met some of the most brilliant people in the world, and I can tell you that he’s one of the smartest people I know with regard to his ability to comprehend and retain information. It’s just a different level of intellect. He’s truly brilliant, which is almost a hindrance when you’re running for office. When you’re unwilling to engage in drama and showmanship, it’s very hard to win in retail politics.

How close are you with him?
I’d say that we’re friendly. I don’t talk to him every day, but I’m invited to Tallahassee for dinner from time to time and I’m invited to events. He’s always warm and cordial, and whenever he sees me he always stops to chat. I would call him a really friendly acquaintance. He knows that I’m a supporter and that I believe in what he’s doing here in Florida.

He drew a red line in the sand when it came to the riots at the universities.
He was one of the first to work with the legislature to enact a law saying that if you block roadways you’re going to be arrested. No one is going to have to wait two hours to get to Miami Airport because a bunch of knuckleheads are blocking the roads. They’re going to be picked up and handcuffed if they try. ●

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