By Jordy Yager - 03/09/11 01:19 AM EST
Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) is receiving a barrage of threatening phone calls, some from overseas, which has led to increased police protection ahead of Thursday’s hearing on the possible radicalization of American Muslims.
King told The Hill that he’s not concerned about his safety and that the hearing, which will examine whether the Muslim community in the U.S. is being targeted by terrorist groups to carry out attacks, will proceed as scheduled.
Added security is coming from the Nassau County Police Department and the New York City department for the hearing, King said.
But the 10-term lawmaker is not the only security concern. Some in the intelligence community are worried the hearing could jeopardize national security.
The hearing has sparked a furor in the media and among Islamic and civil-liberty groups, like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), that say Muslims are being unfairly targeted. They have called for King to cast a wider net that encompasses neo-Nazis and environmental extremists.
The worry in the intelligence community is that the hearing — which is aimed at investigating recruitment tactics — has reached such a contentious level that ideological extremists could use it as evidence the U.S. is discriminating against Muslims.
“If the Islamic community feels that they’re being targeted, it could fuel the fire of people who are recruiting [and] saying, ‘This is discrimination, this is why we want you to join our side, this is why we want you to attack,’ ” said Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “And unfortunately, they could use the religion to get to the endgame of an attack.”
Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper voiced similar concerns in testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence last month, saying that terrorist recruiters could attempt to exploit “anti-Islamic incidents, legislation and activities, such as threat of Koran burning and restrictions on Muslim attire.”
King acknowledged the precariousness of the situation, saying he nonetheless would rather hold the hearing than bow to the concern that it could be used as ammunition against the U.S.
“This becomes a vicious cycle,” he said. “There’s a cause of this radicalization in the Muslim American community that is a real threat to the United States. The only way we can counter it is by letting the public know about it and by encouraging the Muslim American community to speak out against it.
“Then when I do that and radical Muslim groups attack me, they say I’m creating division and will create more recruits. Well, we can’t have it both ways. And my point is, in that case we would do nothing because it may inflame a certain people in the Muslim community. I have made a decision that it’s more important to expose it for what it is and bring it out in the open, as you do in a democracy. Anyone who’s going to attack is going to attack us anyway.”
For all of the opposition to the hearing, King does have his supporters. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) backs the hearing, saying that it is essential to understand the evolving terrorist threat against the U.S.
“That’s where the war is going,” Graham told The Hill. “The more we know about what’s out there and how we can prevent it, the better off we are. No one’s suggesting putting anyone in jail, but Peter is suggesting that we try to find out what is being used out there by our enemies directed toward young Americans. I think that’s a good thing to inquire into.”
The ranking Republican on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), told The Hill that — while she wasn’t fully acquainted with King’s hearing — her panel has looked into the very same issue many times.
King echoed Collins’s remarks, saying that he’s been surprised by the objections to his hearing, mainly because the Senate has held similar hearings in the recent past, with little or no opposition.
The hearing is expecting a bevy of protesters and is taking RSVPs from the press because it expects such high attendance.
The White House, as if anticipating the potential for damage control on relations with the Muslim American community, sent President Obama’s deputy national security adviser, Denis McDonough, to address the All Dulles Area Muslim Society on Sunday in Northern Virginia.
“Our challenge, and the goal that President Obama has insisted that we also focus on, is on the front end [of] preventing al Qaeda from recruiting and radicalizing people in America in the first place,” McDonough said. “And we know this isn’t the job of government alone. It has to be a partnership with you.”