Brushing aside protests from religious and civic leaders, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) held another Homeland Security Committee hearing on Wednesday investigating Islamic radicalization in America, this one focused on terrorist recruitment in prisons. Like past entrants in his radicalization series, Tuesday’s event featured plenty of contentious words from committee Democrats, including a dramatic and emotional speech from a Detroit Democrat recalling his own friends’ experience in prison.
Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-MI) used his question period to deliver an impassioned address about the broader problem of prison reform, at times holding back tears as he discussed how the issue impacted his own life.
“We talk about political correctness, you know what pisses me off? I’m a damned member of Congress here and my friends have rotted in prison and those that have gotten out, they’ve never been the same again,” he said. “Some of you who are Tea Party members, this is the waste we got to stop. We’re spending too much money incarcerating young men, young black men, whose lives can be saved. It’s not about Islam, it’s abut the sentencing policy, it’s about this prison system. We got to change that.”
He added that based on his own discussions with prisoners who converted to Islam, inmates did so largely to gain protection from dangerous gangs and to make a clean break from their criminal past, not to engage in any kind of radical behavior.
The event featured local law enforcement officials, former corrections officials, and academics testifying on the dangers of radical Islam to America’s prisoners. Examples cited included the story of Kevin James, a California gang member currently behind bars for plotting attacks against military and Jewish targets with a radical Islamic group he founded.
Not all the witness agreed that the issue was especially serious in American prisons compared to broader issues of recidivism. Professor Bert Useem of Purdue, a sociologist who studies prisoners, testified that few cases of terrorism had actually involved prison radicalization and cited a number of possible reasons why, including a surprising amount of patriotism among prisoners.
“Sociologist Charles Kurzman has identified 178 Muslim-Americans who, since 9/11, have committed acts of terrorism-related violence or were prosecuted for terrorism- related offenses,” Useem said. “For twelve of those cases, there is some evidence for radicalization behind bars. There have been zero suicide (or attempted suicide) attacks undertaken by former prison inmates. Putting these data points together, Muslim-American terrorists are not especially likely to emerge from our prisons.”
King clashed with Democratic members at several points over whether the event should be held at all.
“I actually believe that the focus on one particular group on the basis or race or relgiion can be deemed as racist and discriminatory,” Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA) said, saying the hearing was “flawed and should not be done in the House of Representatives.”
Those words drew an angry rebuke from King, who said that Democrats had failed to hold any hearings on non-Islamic radicalization in prisons during their time in the majority and that gang activity from other groups was not relevant to their focus on terrorism.
“I disagree 100% with the gentlelady — she is entirely wrong,” King said. “If we find out the Aryan Nation is allied with a foreign power we will address it…we are not going to spread out and investigate everything, which means investigating nothing.”