King History Lesson:
The McCarthy-esque Muslim Hearings of 2011
Believe it or not, Rep. Pete King actually had a solid working relationship with the Muslim community before 9/11. He supported the NATO interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo to save the Muslim population from genocide by the Serbs in the 1990s, went to weddings and dinners with leaders in the Muslim community, and even attended the ribbon cutting of a local mosque.
But 9/11 changed everything. King quickly reversed course and turned against Muslims out of political expediency, and also toned down his support for the IRA in the process. King then served his first term as Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee from 2005-2006.
In a 2004 interview with Sean Hannity, King claimed that “85% of mosques in this country are controlled by extremist leadership” and in a 2007 interview with Politico, King said “there are too many mosques in this country.”
After King won re-election in 2010 (the last election before the district was redrawn to its current boundaries) and regained his Chairmanship of the House Homeland Security Committee, he announced in an Op-Ed published in Newsday that he would hold hearings on the alleged radicalization of American Muslims.
The hearings began in March 2011 with the title “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and That Community's Response.” Condemnation of the hearings was swift, and comparisons of King to Joe McCarthy and his House Un-American Activities Committee during the Red Scare were made.
Criticism of the hearings hinged on three key facts that undermined King’s premise that Muslim-Americans as a whole posed the biggest threat to homeland security.
A study published a month before the hearings by a University of North Carolina professor and terrorism expert Charles Kurzman at Duke University’s Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security reported a drop in attempted or actual terrorist activity by American Muslims - 47 perpetrators and suspects in 2009, 20 in 2010. This drop continued in subsequent years and was documented in further reports.
The Triangle Center report also found that, contrary to King’s claims, American Muslims were cooperative with law enforcement, turning in 48 of the 120 Muslims suspected of plotting terror attacks on the U.S. since 9/11.
Critics also charged that right-wing domestic terrorism posed a bigger threat than radicalization of American Muslims. A 2009 Department of Homeland Security Report warned “right-wing extremists could use the bad state of the U.S. economy and the election of the country’s first black president to recruit new members to their cause.”
In light of these facts, Richard Cohen in the Washington Post wrote at the time:
“This does not mean that there is no threat, but, when measured against ordinary violent crime, it is slight. In fact, the threat from non-Muslims is much greater, encompassing not only your run-of-the-mill murderers but about 20 domestic terrorist plots, including one in which a plane was flown into an IRS building in Austin… Not only does this contradict King's implicit charge that the American Muslim community is one vast terrorism enabler, but it suggests that an outcome of his hearings will be the further alienation of this community - and less cooperation with the authorities.”
A must-watch is how Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, and Jon Oliver eviscerated King for his hypocrisy conducting a Congressional hearing on Muslim radicalization in light of his ties with the IRA. Read more.
As for the hearings? Can’t say that too much really came of them (remember that in 2011 the Republicans only controlled the House). Keith Ellison, then the only Muslim-American Congressman and a member of the Committee, teared up giving emotional testimony.
Said Ellison: "This committee's approach to this particular subject is contrary to the best of American values and threatens our security," and also said that King was assigning "collective blame to a whole group" and "stereotyping and scapegoating."
King disputed the Triangle Center report’s findings that Muslim-Americans were cooperative with law enforcement.
“I can tell you that in New York, we're in the epicenter, we're in the eye of the storm. There has been no virtually no real cooperation coming from the Muslim-American community. The police commissioner's office in (Suffolk County) has said that they have not gotten one tip from the Muslim-American community," he said.
King invited no law enforcement officials to be witnesses at the March hearing -- neither the FBI director, nor the attorney general, nor any of the New York officials who he says tell him they're concerned. The only one who attended was Los Angeles Sheriff Leroy Baca because he was invited by Democrats on the panel.
Sheriff Baca backed up the findings of the Triangle Report with his own personal experiences of Muslims being cooperative and helping in investigations, and stressed the need to build trust between police and Muslim-Americans.
Ultimately, even though the hearings didn’t really amount to much at the time, it set King firmly against the Muslim-American community and foreshadowed what was to come: Donald Trump’s Muslim ban, and King’s support for it.