In the wake of Sunday's deadly attack on American Sikh worshippers in Wisconsin by a white supremacist gunman, it's time for Washington to reframe its debate about fighting terrorism to address all its forms. But before that can happen, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) must step down from his position as chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security.
The now-obvious truth is that King, known as Congress's iron-fisted champion of all things security in this frightening post-9/11 era is, in actuality, soft on terrorism -- at least where it counts. Since his tenure as chairman began in 2011, he has repeatedly refused to devote serious attention to the threats posed by white supremacist groups and right-wing extremism, opting instead to focus nearly all of his committee's time and resources to Muslim extremism, a statistically minimal threat by comparison.
Since 9/11, right-wing extremist groups have committed twice as many attacks in the United States as jihadist-affiliated groups, according to research conducted by the New America Foundation. Even more startling, 53 reported acts of violence, the majority comprised of assaults and murders, were carried out by white supremacists between January 2007 and November 2009 alone. In light of last Sunday's attack, it's clear that King's refusal to thoroughly examine the threat that these groups represent is, at best, an outright failure in his responsibilities as committee chairman. At worst, his inaction may have cost lives.
For years, King has
branded himself on both the floor of Congress and in his incessant cable news
appearances as the indefatigable foe of violent extremists. King's House staff bio
touts the congressman as having led the fight to "protect the New York-Long
Island region from nuclear dirty bomb attacks." However, overblown rhetoric
like this represents precisely the kind of counterterrorism fervor that leads
the chairman to minimize the very real risks posed by hate-filled white
supremacists in favor of delusions that he might foil a 24-style nuclear plot in the country's largest metropolitan area.
And what kind of modern cinematic plot involving terrorists would be complete without Muslims, the demographic on which King has focused his misguided attempts to gauge loyalty? King's anti-Muslim witch hunt reached its apotheosis last year with his now-infamous hearings on the "Extent of Radicalization in the Muslim American Community," which featured a parade of dubiously qualified witnesses portraying the entire U.S. Muslim community as a hotbed of terrorist activity.
Prior to the hearings, the committee's ranking member, Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS), feared that hearings headed by a man who once claimed, without any factual backing, that "80 to 85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists," would be little more than a modern McCarthy-style trial of Muslim Americans, and asked that the chairman expand the proceedings to reflect all ideologically based threats.
King's response? "There is no equivalency of threat between al Qaeda and neo-Nazis, environmental extremists or other isolated madmen," and "to back down would be a craven surrender to political correctness and an abdication of what I believe to be the main responsibility of this committee -- to protect America from a terrorist attack."
King has not only failed to fulfill, in his own words, the main responsibility of the committee he chairs but, in the wake of his bullheaded charge to undermine political rivals, managed to overlook years of compelling research on the non-jihadist terror threat. In his letter to King, Thompson cited two reports, one from the University of Maryland Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, and the other from the Institute of Homeland Security Solutions, both of which warned of the more viable and statistically significant dangers posed by "lone wolf" terrorists.