Peter King, R-N.Y
Chairs Congressional Probe "Radicalization of Muslims in US Prisons"
June 16, 2011
The House Homeland Security Committee has held a hearing on the
radicalization of American Muslims in U.S. prisons. Several state and
local law enforcement officials told the panel that radical Islamic
groups abroad are targeting the U.S. prison population for recruits to
carry out terrorist attacks against Americans. But some Democrats on the
committee protested the narrow focus of the hearing on one religious
group, saying there are other serious threats, including prison gangs.
Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.,
Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee
Republican Congressman Peter King, Chairman of the House Homeland
Security Committee, strongly defended his decision to hold the second in
a series of hearings on the threat of radicalization of Muslim
This hearing focused on the conversion to radical Islam of some U.S.
prison inmates, which King said is an increasing threat. "I will say
that again: dozens of ex-cons who became radicalized Muslims inside U.S.
prisons have gone to Yemen to join an Al Qaeda group run by a fellow
American, Anwar al-Awlaki, whose terrorists have attacked the U.S.
homeland several times since 2008 and are generally acknowledged to be
Al Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate," he said.
Most of the Democratic members of the committee objected to the narrow
focus of King's hearings, pointing out that there are many different
kinds of violent prison gangs, and white supremacist groups which also
operate inside prisons and pose a threat.
The ranking member, Democrat Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, said,
"Limiting this committee's oversight of radicalization to one religion
ignores threats posed by violent extremists of all stripes. And there
are other threats to be concerned about."
Thompson said the number of violent attacks by people who converted to
Islam in prison is small compared to the problem of gang violence
emanating from prisons. One of the experts testifying to the panel,
Professor Bert Useem of Purdue University, agreed, saying prisons are
not fertile ground for those who would seek to recruit Islamic
He said U.S. prisons are supervised and operated much better than they
were 30 years ago, and that most convicted felons have different
backgrounds than most terrorists.
"A large body of evidence has shown that terrorists tend to come from
better-educated, advantaged backgrounds, and U.S. prisoners tend to have
low education and come from poor communities. The profiles of criminals
and terrorists are different," he said.
But the other witnesses to the panel disagreed, saying the threat of
Islamic radicalization within U.S. prisons is real. Patrick Dunleavy is
a former Deputy Inspector at the New York Department of Correctional
"Despite appearances, prison walls are porous. Outside influences access
those on the inside, and inmates reach from the inside out. Individuals
and groups that subscribe to radical Islamic ideology have made
sustained efforts to target inmates for indoctrination," he said.
Michael Downing, a top official in the Los Angeles Police Department,
described the prison conversions to radical Islam as a low-volume
occurrence, but said it is of consequence considering the size of the
U.S. prison population, the largest in the world. "Prisoners by their
very nature are at risk and susceptible to recruitment and
radicalization by extremist groups, because of their isolation, their
violent tendencies and their cultural discontent," he said.
of the Democratic members of the panel, Laura Richardson of California,
condemned Committee Chairman King for focusing on Muslims. "I actually
believe that the focus of one particular group on the basis of race or
religion can be deemed as racist and is discriminatory," she said.
Congressman King responded, saying Democrats had their chance to hold
hearings with a different focus and failed to do so. "Your party had
control of this committee for four years. Not one hearing at all, not
anything at all involving prisons on skinheads, on Nazis, on Aryan
Nation, on white supremacists at all," he said.
King rejected what he called the "political correctness" of opponents of
the hearing, saying Islamic radicalization is different than other
homegrown violent groups because it is backed by foreign terrorist
networks which are actively recruiting Americans. King's first hearing
on Islamic radicalization within the Muslim American community in March
unleased a fury of protests, and a coalition of Muslim advocacy and
civil rights groups also sent a letter to the committee protesting
Wednesday's hearing, saying it paints an unfair picture of the estimated
seven million Muslim Amercans.