Earlier today, Rep. Peter King (R., N.Y.), the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, opened his second hearing on radicalization in the Muslim-American community.
King, who drew fire from the left in March when he first addressed this issue, began the hearing by arguing that this second session, examining Islamic radicalization behind bars, was both “necessary” and nonpartisan.
“I have repeatedly said the overwhelming majority of Muslim Americans are outstanding Americans,” he said. “Yet the first radicalization hearing which this committee held in March of this year was met with much mindless hysteria — led by radical groups such as the Council of Islamic Relations and their allies in the liberal media, personified by the New York Times.”
“Countering Islamic radicalization should not be a partisan issue,” King intoned. “I would urge my Democratic colleagues to rise above partisan talking points.” The Obama administration, he added, “recognizes prison radicalization is a serious threat and that prisons are a fertile ground for recruitment.”
King quickly made his case as the packed committee room looked on. “A number of cases since 9/11 have involved terrorists who converted to Islam or were radicalized to Islamism in American prisons, then subsequently attempted to launch terror strikes here in the U.S. upon their release from custody,” he said. “Dozens of ex-cons who became radicalized Muslims inside U.S. prisons have gone to Yemen to join an al-Qaeda group run by a fellow American, Anwar al-Awlaki, whose terrorists have attacked the U.S. homeland several times since 2008, and generally acknowledged to be al-Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate.”
King’s pursuit, however, was not warmly embraced by Democrats on the committee. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D., Miss.), the ranking member, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D., Texas), among others, expressed concerns, asserting that the hearing was too narrow in its focus and should have broadly considered a wide array of extremist groups.
Jackson Lee, for her part, urged King to also investigate “Christian militants” and the “Aryan brotherhood.” King noted that Democrats, when they were in the majority, could have looked into such movements, but did not hold a hearing on those topics.
Much of the early discussion at the hearing was driven by recent examples of radicalization within prisons, most notably the case of Kevin James, a California State Prison inmate who converted to Islam during incarceration then spearheaded a plot against U.S. military facilities and synagogues in the Los Angeles area.
James “hatched a terror plot from behind bars at California’s Folsom Prison,” King said. “It was not just aspirational — it was operational — spreading from the prison to a local mosque and resulting in a plot to attack a U.S. military recruiting center on the 9/11 anniversary and a Jewish temple on Yom Kippur.”
King’s witnesses included Patrick Dunleavy, a former inspector in New York’s Department of Correctional Services; Kevin Smith, a former assistant United States attorney who prosecuted Kevin James; and Michael Downing, a counterterrorism officer in the Los Angeles Police Department.
Dunleavy said that “prison walls are porous” and that despite heavy police presence in prisons, radicalization is very much a threat. The New York state government, he said, has made “sustained efforts to target inmates for radicalization,” but remains vulnerable, since there is still a “need for education” about Islam and the various forms of radicalization within prisons.
“If you don’t know, you can’t vet,” he said, and that is a “weakness.”