(CNSNews.com) – Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D.-Texas) likened "Christian militants" to Islamic radicals in a hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday, suggesting they posed a comparable threat to the rule of law in the United States.
At the same hearing, a witness told the committee that the conversion of U.S. prison inmates to radical Islam is an “evolving threat” to national security.
Michael Downing, the head of counter-terrorism and special operations at the Los Angeles Police Department, was one of three witnesses who testified at the hearing on Muslim radicalization called by Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican.
But Democrats on the committee condemned the proceedings as “racist” because of its focus on Muslims. They said the hearing should focus on broader issues, including gangs, unfair sentencing practices that target young black men, and other extremists, including white supremacists.
King rebuffed those criticisms, telling Democrats that they controlled the Homeland Security Committee for four years, yet they did not call one hearing on any of the issues they claimed should be part of Wednesday’s hearing.
“Suddenly this issue emerges when we start talking about Muslim radicalization,” King said. “The purpose of this committee is to combat Islamic terrorism because that is the terrorist threat to this country,” King said.
In his prepared testimony, the LAPD’s Downing said nearly 300 people are spending time in federal prisons on terrorism-related charges, including nearly two dozen al-Qaeda-linked terrorists who were involved in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the 1998 East African embassy bombings, the 1999 millennial plot to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport and the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole.
Another witness testified that many prison inmates who are jailed for lower-level crimes emerge from prison “committed to Jihad” because of their contact with Muslim inmates.
“Every one of them, while incarcerated, was exposed to extremist ideology through literature, visitors, volunteers, and clergy with ties to terrorist organizations or extremists and/or known terrorists who were also doing time in prison,” said Patrick Dunleavy, retired deputy inspector general with the criminal intelligence unit at New York Department of Correctional Services.
Rep. Laura Richardson (D-Calif.) grilled Dunleavy on the definition of the world “radicalize” and said that “various groups,” including white supremacists, also have been radicalized in U.S. prisons.
Richardson criticized the hearing for focusing only on Muslim radicalization: “I actually believe that the focus of one particular group on the basis of race or religion can be deemed as racist and as discriminatory.” She said a hearing singling out one group on the basis of race or religion “is flawed and should not be done in the House of Representatives.”
But Rep. King, the committee chair, said he “disagreed 100 percent” with Richardson. He noted that the Homeland Security Committee was formed to investigate terrorist threats following the attack by radical Islamists on Sept. 11, 2001.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee expressed “angst” about the hearing and compared radicalized Muslims to what she called “radical Christian militants.”
Jackson Lee cited the case of Verne Jay Merrell, one of three men described by prosecutors as “extremist” and “paramilitary,” who was sentenced to life in prison for setting off bombs near a Spokane, Washington, newspaper office and an abortion clinic.
Jackson Lee described Merrell as a “Christian militant.”
“Mr. Dunleavy, are you familiar with the Christian militant?”
“Yes I am,” Dunleavy answered.
“Can one say that they might possibly want to undermine this country?” Jackson Lee asked. “Because right now, constitutionally, the right for women to choose (abortion) is a constitutional right.
“People disagree with it, but here’s an individual attempting to undermine the protections that are given to women,” Jackson Lee continued. “Would you suggest that that might be compared to trying to undermine this country? That’s a possibility, is it not?”
Dunleavy responded that anyone who kills in the name of God is an ideologue, but that he did not believe Christian militants were connected to foreign groups that pose a threat to U.S. security.
“I don’t think that’s the issue,” Jackson Lee said. “The issue is whether or not their intent is to undermine the laws of this country. And I think it is clear that that is the case,” she said.