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King Hearing Was Counterproductive and Discriminatory

Sandra Fulton,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
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March 11, 2011

It was a sad day on Capitol Hill as Rep.Peter King (R-NY) chaired a misinformed, counterproductive and discriminatory hearing in the House Homeland Security Committee to discuss the "radicalization" of American Muslims. Instead of focusing on the real threat of terrorism facing the U.S., King allowed his hearing room to be used to target and isolate the entire American Muslim community. We have seen similar behavior from those in power in the past and Rep. Laura Richardson put things in perspective when she announced that "the only difference between today's hearing and the McCarthy hearings she watched as a child is that today's are televised in color."

Chairman King has taken his lead from a thoroughly discredited 2007 NYPD report that presented a flawed theory of "radicalization." The report claimed terrorist activities are directly linked to the adoption of certain beliefs and that there is a uniform four-step process that ordinary citizens follow on the path to terrorism. But each of these steps describes a constitutionallyprotected action of religion or association, and the theory fails to acknowledge that millions of Americans go through all or some of these phases without ever turning to terror.

People who commit acts of domestic terrorism cannot be identified by any religious, ideological, ethnic, economic, educational, or social profile, and holding hearings that suggest otherwise is counterproductive to keeping America safe from real terrorist threats. Last February, Andrew Joseph Stack III, a white man from Texas, flew a plane into an IRS building leaving behind an anti-government rant about taxes. A lot of Americans hate taxes, but this did not lead to an investigation into all tax reformers. We have seen acts of violence against abortion doctors and clinics but Congress has not called for hearings to investigate how those opposed to abortion for religious reasons become "radicalized" to commit such crimes. People can have deeply held beliefs – even extreme ones - without committing acts of violence.

Los Angeles County Sherriff and former Marine Leroy Baca was the only witness representing law enforcement and has been working on counterterrorism efforts for years. Sheriff Baca tried repeatedly to explain to the committee that the focus on the Muslim community was dangerous because any ideology or belief system has the potential to be "radicalized" or violent. He cautioned members of Congress that rhetoric singling out certain organizations or belief systems will harm the public trust that encourages organizations to work with law enforcement.

Unfortunately, Chairman King did not get Sheriff Baca's message. During the post-hearing press conference, he said he believed today's hearing was productive and that he would continue with a series of hearings in the same vein. The ACLU and a broad coalition of civil liberties and civil rights groups sent a letter explaining our concerns. Please click here to sign a pledge of opposition asking King to cease holding hearings that target any specific religious or ideological group for investigation based on unsubstantiated theories about "radicalization" and instead focus the government's anti-terrorism investigations on actual terrorist acts and those who commit them.

The ACLU's statement for the hearing can be found here.

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