Just a few hours after members of Congress, staffers and Capitol Police officers were reportedly shot at a baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, the chair and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee used their opening statements at a hearing on “violent extremism” to address the morning’s violence.
Committee Chair Ron Johnson (R-WI) opened by emphasizing that the committee’s priority is “countering extremism and violence in any form, including Islamist terrorism,” and added: “There’s no way anybody can deny we have a problem worldwide in terms of extremism and violence. We witnessed it just a few hours ago on a baseball field for a charity event.”
Republican lawmakers who were at the baseball practice described the suspected shooter, who was killed by police, as a middle-aged white male, and police say they have found no connection to international terrorism.
Yet Johnson continue to connect the morning’s tragedy to the hearing, which focused on Islamist terrorism specifically. “I appreciate those who stand up and tell the truth and describe reality in a world that is very, very dangerous, in a world that doesn’t want to hear the truth and reality,” he said, indicating the invited witnesses. Johnson then spent several minutes talking about how much the United States welcomes immigrants and how those immigrants must “accept constitutional law” and “assimilate.”
“We’ve got to get to the point where people feel free and safe to go practice in the morning on a baseball field, or walk a street, or raise their family,” he said.
In her own opening statement, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), the top Democrat on the committee, also referenced the shooting, but seemed to hit back at Johnson for appearing to draw a connection between the morning’s tragedy and Islam.
“Make no mistake about it: what we saw this morning was evil,” she said. “I hope that this hearing doesn’t stray from the fact that we should be focusing on the evil, on violence, on enforcing our criminal laws against evil and violence. We should be focusing on those people who twist and distort any religion, be it Islam or Christianity or Buddhism. They’re an exception to the rule, not the rule. We should not focus on religion and the freedoms our country embraces.”
“Our danger, at least to date, has not been from those who slip into the country unnoticed, who illegally cross our borders, or who are seeking refuge from a humanitarian crisis,” she added. “That’s not where the danger has come from. It has come from people who are Americans, or who are legally in this country, who have been radicalized. We face threats from a range of sources, including white supremacists, eco-terrorists, ISIS-sympathizers—there is a long list.”