Interview with Representatives King and Ellison

Interview with Representatives King and Ellison

By State of the Union - March 6, 2011

Joining me here in Washington, Congressman Peter King, chairman of the committee holding hearings on the radicalization of Muslim Americans, and Congressman Keith Ellison, who was the first Muslim elected to Congress.

So we're going to get a little preview here.

Congressman, something that you said to the Associated Press caught my attention, and I just want to read it here for our viewers. This was end of February. "There is a real threat to the country from the Muslim community, and the only way to get to the bottom of it is to investigate what is happening."

And I read that and I thought, whoa, you know, that just sounds like, kind of, blanket guilt here. There's a -- the Muslim -- there's something in the Muslim community that's threatening us. What is it?

KING: Well, something from within. And I've said time and time again, the overwhelming majority of Muslims are outstanding Americans but at this stage in our history, there is an effort to -- to radicalize efforts within the Muslim committee.

And I've said, when we've gone after the Mafias, we looked at the Italian community; the Westies, the Irish community. In New York, when they went after the Russian mob, they go into the Russian community in Brighton Beach and Coney Island.

And right now there is an effort -- and this isn't just me saying this. Eric Holder said he stays awake at night worrying about the numbers of young Muslim men who are being radicalized.

CROWLEY: But do you worry about -- and let me ask you, Congressman, do you worry about that message being sent to Muslim Americans, that there is an investigation going on because there's a threat within the community to their country, essentially?

ELLISON: I worry about it. Everybody I talk to worries about it. And we're concerned about the breadth of this -- I mean, I would -- I think that there's -- it's absolutely the right thing to do for the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee to investigate radicalization, but to say we're going to investigate a -- a religious minority and a particular one, I think, is the wrong course of action to take.

I mean, taking up on the chairman's point, you know, look, if we're going to talk about gang violence, I don't think it's right to talk about, you know, only the Irish community and the Westies. I think we talk -- we talk about gang violence. I think, if we're going to talk about organized crime, it's not right to just talk about the Russian community.

CROWLEY: But if you're going to talk about the influence of Al Qaida, does that not take -- I mean, I'm assuming that's what you would say, and I'll let you say it, is that you're talking about the influence of Al Qaida, not just terrorism in general. Is that... KING: Right. We're talking about Al Qaida. We're talking about the affiliates of Al Qaida who have been radicalizing, and there's been self-radicalization going on within the Muslim community, within a very small minority, but it's there. And that's where the threat is coming from at this time.

To be having investigations into every type of violence will be suggesting an equivalency that's not there.

I mean, Eric Holder is not saying he's staying awake at night because of what's coming from anti-abortion demonstrators or coming from environmental extremists or from neo-Nazis. It's the radicalization right now in the Muslim community. Janet Napolitano said two weeks ago, when she testified before our committee, the terror threat now is as high as it's been since September 11 because of domestic radicalization.

CROWLEY: Congressman Ellison, why participate if you're worried that this message to the Muslim-American community is a bad one?

ELLISON: Because I believe in engaging in the process. I think you've got to be involved in the conversation. You've got to offer an alternative view. And I do plan on saying that I challenge the basic premise of the hearings, that I do agree that we should deal with radicalization and violent radicalization but that singling out one community is the wrong thing to do.

CROWLEY: I know there's this specific definition of terrorism, but if you're one of the people that was shot in Tucson, Arizona, along with your colleague, Congresswoman Giffords, that seems like an act of terrorism. So why is the influence there not in your purview, or why isn't it in this investigation?

KING: The Department of Homeland Security was set up after September 11th. The Committee on Homeland Security was set up after September 11th. And we're talking about a radicalization in this country which is linked to an overseas enemy.

This is Al Qaida internationally; it's attempting to recruit within the United States. People in this country are being self- radicalized, whether it's Major Hasan or whether it's Shahzad or whether it was Zazi in New York. These were all people who were identifying, in one way or another, with Al Qaida or Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula. So it's an international movement with elements here in the United States.

And to me, that is a real distinction. There's always going to be isolated incidents, isolated fanatics, isolated terrorists, even. But an organized terrorist effort, to me, is different, which requires an investigation unto itself.

CROWLEY: So, you know, I think the problem here is do you already have -- you already have an idea of what you think is wrong, correct? I mean, you believe that Muslim-American leaders are not -- not cooperating enough with law enforcement. Is that correct? KING: I believe not enough. Wait, I'm starting off with a number of hypotheses and theses that I believe in. However, what I want more than anything is to have a national debate on the issue, which is why I welcome Keith Ellison...

CROWLEY: What is -- what does this debate do?

I mean, what -- you know, what do you want to know? Why have it? I'm just -- I'm lost as to why, because so many people say, this may fuel Islamophobia; this may make leaders in the community less likely to cooperate with the government because it, kind of, looks like the government's after them, when you hold these big old hearings.

KING: Well, I would say, let people watch the hearing and decide then. I think the hearing is going to be very productive; it's going to go forward; and it's going to talk about something which is not being talked about publicly, which I think should be.

ELLISON: Well, let me say that, you know, Anwar al-Awlaki, Osama bin Laden, all these people are the enemies of all Americans, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, all. And I don't want them to be able to stand up and claim, you know, "See, we told you; America's at war with Islam."

That's one of their main recruiting arguments. That's why I think that we need to -- we need to be careful about how we use the instrumentality of the government in investigative hearings.

CROWLEY: But al-Awlaki is not calling my kids. I mean, there's not -- I mean, you know, al-Awlaki is, you know, targeting Muslim Americans. I mean, I'm assuming that's a point of focusing on this.

ELLISON: I'm glad you made that point because let me be clear. I think that it does make sense to talk with people in the Muslim community about how we can meet the challenge of public security. I do think so.

I think it makes sense to talk about Internet, confronting ideology of people like Anwar al-Awlaki. I think where he's trying to exploit and misuse Islam, we should counter him with what Islam really does say. And so I do think that there is a place for that. I just think it doesn't make sense to narrow in on a discreet insular group that has already been the target of a certain amount of discrimination.

CROWLEY: I want you both to hang with me a minute. We have to take a quick break. These hearings begin on March 10th. We'll talk more about what the Congressmen expect to come out of them, right after this.


CROWLEY: We are back with Congressman Peter King, chairman of the House homeland security committee and Congressman Keith Ellison.

Do you think the Muslim-American community, leaders in the Muslim-American community has been as helpful as they can when it comes to dealing with law enforcement? Do you think they have been as helpful as they can?

ELLISON: The stats say yes. As a matter of fact, if you look at these five gentleman who have tried to go from the Virginia-Maryland area to Pakistan to fight in some holy war it was Muslim-Americans who actually reported them. If you want to talk about Faisal Shahzad, who tried to blow up that bomb in Times Square, a man named Niasa (ph), a Muslim from Senegal was one of the people who reported it.

There are occasion after occasion. That's why I think the strategy should be to engage the community, don't frighten the community, engage the community and help and say look we embrace you as fellow Americans. Let's all together hold hands and meet the security challenge.

CROWLEY: I want to just to this point and then I want you to comment. There was a triangle center on terrorism and homeland security report backed by some prestigious universities which found that since 9/11 of the cases that we know about that law enforcement is telling us about, that were thwarted, there 120 thwarted, 48 of those -- about a third -- came out of tips from the Muslim-American community. So doesn't that tell you there is cooperation there?

KING: No. I'm aware of a number of cases in New York where the community has not been cooperative. We have, for instance, Venus (ph) who was captured in Afghanistan. He went to two mosques in Suffolk County in Long Island, said he wanted to engage in jihad. They said we don't do it, but never told the police. And then he went off to Afghanistan. So there's just one example. I can give others.

And I don't believe the is sufficient cooperation. Certainly in my dealings with the police in New York and FBI and others say they do not believe they do not get the level of cooperation that they need, and even in Minneapolis we had occasions with Somalia-Americans who felt that there were imams in their own community who were telling them not to cooperate with the FBI.

ELLISON: You know, let me tell you, when you delve into the Somali community, it is a very rich, vibrant and complicated community, but I will tell you this Minneapolis what we've done is we have pulled together citizens from the community, youth together with the U.S. attorney, people from homeland security and everybody to try to bring people into a point where we can have some trust.

I think if you have people that feel like there's an open door, that they can report things and there's a welcoming environment, I think we begin to help protect more Americans. But once we start to say we're going to investigate you, we're after you as a community I think that we kind of -- we kind of undermine our own effort.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you a broader question about homeland security something that Janet Napolitano, head of Homeland Security, said. And she said if the 2012 budget which you all will eventually get around to is based on the cuts that are being made in the 2011 budget, Homeland Security will suffer from that. Do you believe that?

KING: Yes, I do. Let me shock Keith by saying it. And I think a number of cuts that Republicans have made in the continuing resolution are wrong. They cut port security by two-thirds, they cut transit security by two-thirds, that's one example right there. We cannot afford those cuts. They are too dangerous. And one attack on one subway train or one attack in one port will cost us more money going into future years than any small amount they are saving. So I agree with them on that, yes.

CROWLEY: And let me ask you, there's been criticism of the FBI, Attorney General Holder from Muslim American groups about what they see as stings, undercover FBI agents who went into a mosque in California, the young man in Oregon where they supplied a device to that he thought was an explosive but it was from an FBI informant. Do you think the FBI has gone too far?

ELLISON: You know, what I think the FBI has done a commendable job on many occasions, but every institution needs to be about improving what it does, becoming more effective.

I would just counsel the FBI keep on reaching on out, keep on talking, don't shut anybody out of the conversation. You don't have to agree with what people say but at least be engaged.

So I'm not here to say there's been any -- I don't think that the FBI has failed, but I do think that there's room for improvement. But they have done excellent work in some other occasions.

CROWLEY: And Congressman King let me close with you, and this is just flat out politics, Judson Phillips was the founder of the Tea Party Nation. He has recently said that he thinks Speaker Boehner looks like a fool, that there should in fact be a primary challenge to him because the $61 billion cuts is not enough. Can you give me just your reaction to that?

KING: It's totally wrong. It's entirely wrong. John Boehner is an outstanding speaker. He's going to provide great leadership. I think he has respect from both sides of the aisle, even though those who disagree with him. And I think John is an outstanding speaker. And when people make remarks like that to me are marginalizing themselves. John Boehner has a very tough job. He's doing it commendably.

CROWLEY: You don't think it looks like civil war inside your party?

KING: I would stand by John Boehner to the end. And as far as I know everyone on our side of the aisle stands with him.

CROWLEY: Good guy?

ELLISON: Nice guy. We disagree on almost everything, but he's personable.

KING: That's what I say about Keith.

CROWLEY: OK. Thank you Congressman Ellison. Thank you so much, Congressman King. Thanks for joining us.


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