Pete King’s hearings ignore extremism in a different hue
It’s ironic that today on one end of Pennsylvania Avenue we have a White
House summit on bullying, which, as my MSNBC colleague Jonathan
Capehart points out, is focused on addressing the problem in its full
scope, tools that are available to students, teachers, administrators
and parents, and fostering understanding about how this happens and
identifying effective solutions. Yet on the other end of Pennsylvania
Avenue, there is a bully who also happens to be a member of the U.S.
House of Representatives, abusing his power and the platform it provides
to promote racism, bigotry and hate, rather than understanding the full
scope of the problem and identifying solutions.
Recent discussions about Rep. Pete King’s (R-N.Y.) hearings have felt a lot like the week leading up to the Rev. Terry Jones’s threat to burn a Quran. Like King, Jones cited concerns regarding 9/11 and the shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, as examples of why we should be afraid, grafting the actions of a few onto a whole group of people. Following King’s logic, we should assume that all Baptists are extremists like Terry Jones, or that anti-abortion extremists who use violence and murder as part of their cause are representative of everyone who might in the least bit oppose abortion.
Concerns about the increase in extremism and radicalization in America are absolutely legitimate. Data does show an increase in domestic terrorism. The responsible thing for our leaders to do is to examine the whole picture in terms of causes and solutions. Singling out one group, demonizing and ignoring other relevant factors, is not only irresponsible, it leaves other extremist groups to keep doing what they are doing without consequence. On its website, the FBI says this about post-9/11 domestic terrorism:
“Nothing before or since has come close to the terror attacks of 9/11 in terms of lives lost, scope and impact. And we know that al Qaeda-led and -inspired operatives still seek to strike our homeland — including with weapons of mass destruction. Which is why globally fueled terrorism continues to occupy much of our time and attention these days. And yet, as we were reminded by shootings in Kansas, Arkansas and the nation’s capital over just 11 days this spring, the threat of domestic terror — Americans attacking Americans based on U.S.-based extremist ideologies — is alive and well. Today’s domestic terror threats run the gamut, from hate-filled white supremacists … to highly destructive eco-terrorists … to violence-prone anti-government extremists … to radical separatist groups.”
So if the real goal of these hearings really were to examine domestic terror threats, you would expect these other groups to be included in the discussion and hearings. Ignoring the full picture, and King’s determination to home in on one group, only makes it clear that the real objective here is to stoke fear, perhaps for a cheap headline or fundraising. Using fear to scapegoat and divide Americans is an old tactic in the GOP playbook — we’ve seen it in action against illegal immigrants and gay people most recently. But a rejection of bigotry crosses party lines, just as the disgust toward King crosses party lines, regions, religions and geography.
In an op-ed published in Newsday in December 2010, King made a number of unsubstantiated claims, including that “Federal and local law enforcement officials throughout the country told me they received little or — in most cases — no cooperation from Muslim leaders and imams.”
Yet not one member of law enforcement, from local police to the FBI, was willing to testify in support of that claim. Not one. What we have heard from law enforcement is that time and again, the American Muslim community has played an invaluable role in our anti-terrorism efforts. And while authorities say the threats posed by homegrown Islamic extremism are growing, the FBI has reported that roughly two-thirds of terrorism in the United States was conducted by non-Islamic American extremists from 1980 to 2001; and from 2002 to 2005, it went up to 95 percent.
Two-thirds of terrorism in the United States from non-Islamic American extremists is a lot to ignore. So again, we have to ask: Why aren’t any representatives from these groups appearing before King today? There certainly are plenty to choose from. As the Southern Poverty Law Center pointed out in a report released just last week, for the first time since 1980, when the SCLC started tracking, the number of hate groups in America is over 1,000, representing a staggering increase from the estimated 602 groups in 2000. One such group, known as the Sovereign Citizens, two members of which were responsible for the deaths of two police officers in West Memphis, Ark., is now estimated to have 300,000 members nationwide. Two of the most notorious groups are on both the FBI and SCLC list:
• The Ku Klux Klan — Klan groups in the U.S. increased significantly in 2008, from 155 chapters to 186. It is broken down into smaller sub units, with the Brotherhood of Klans Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (BOK) one of the fastest-growing, with 17 new chapters added in 2008.
• Neo-Nazis — There are around 300 different groups, including the two largest — the American National Socialist Workers Party and the National Socialist Movement. Other white supremacist groups include: the Hammerskin Nation Volksfront, Blood & Honour American Division, Atlantic City Skins and the American Front.
Why is King avoiding the threat these groups pose to American citizens and law enforcement? Is it because their skin is a different hue?
Let’s be honest with ourselves. King’s hearing exemplifies the ugly truth, that since 9/11 there’s been a level of acceptance of racism aimed at Arab Muslims, men in particular, in America. We have been vulnerable to our post-9/11 fears and collective ignorance about the people and religion, and to those who promote fear of “otherness,” that seems particularly potent against men with dark skin. This continues even now, despite the images we’ve seen over the past weeks of Arabs — Muslim and Christian — working together in a non-violent struggle for freedom in Tunisia, Egypt and across the region.
It’s the same kind of fearmongering that lies at the heart of what Mike Huckabee meant when he essentially equated being an American with having participated in Little League and Boy Scouts. “This is not a kid who grew up going to Boy Scout meetings and playing Little League baseball in a small town.” Otherness. It’s also what GOP leaders like Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour are speaking to when they use the old code phrase “states’ rights” or say that some Americans feel like they “just don’t recognize our country anymore.” Otherness.
America is changing. There are many who were more comfortable or miss the old ways, now questioning where they fit in and afraid of the changes they see around them — a black president, gay couples proudly walking hand in hand, marriages where the woman makes more money than her husband, who stays home with the kids, a woman who chooses to have a child on her own, or people trying to follow in the footsteps of the Irish, Italians, Polish, Russians, etc., and emigrate to America.
What they refuse to accept or understand is that like it or not, from our inception, the definition of the American experience and what it is to be an American has been evolving and expanding to include people of all shapes, sizes, colors, abilities and faiths who love America and pledge allegiance to our flag. In other words, we can all fit the definition.