House Homeland Security Committee chair Pete King (R-N.Y.) held the latest hearing on the threat of homegrown radicalization of Muslims this morning, focusing specifically on radicalization in American prisons. Law enforcement experts testified that a small but dangerous group of convicts are converting to radical Islam within state and federal prisons, threatening America’s security.
“This issue of Islamic radicalization in U.S. prisons is not new,” King said in his opening remarks. “In fact, this is the third congressional hearing on this problem in recent years. It is a hearing which is necessary because the danger remains real and present, especially because of al Qaeda’s announced intention to intensify attacks within the United States.”
King cited the case of Michael Finton. A convert to Islam, Finton was radicalized in an Illinois state prison and plead guilty last month to charges that he planned in 2009 to bomb the courthouse in Springfield to assassinate Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.). Additionally, King mentioned James Cromitie, who will be sentenced tomorrow after being convicted of conspiring to launch a weapon of mass destruction in New York. Cromitie and his co-conspirator, Onta Williams, converted to radical Islam in a New York prison.
“Limiting this committee’s oversight of radicalization to one religion ignores threats posed by violent extremists of all stripes,” said Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the ranking member on the committee. “The violent right-wing ideology of many of these gangs must be discussed. Let us not forget that James Byrd was dragged to his death on a back road in Texas by right-wing gang members who were radicalized in jail.”
“I do not disagree that radicalization occurs,” said Laura Richardson (D-Calif.). “What I disagree with, and I say it with all due respect to the chairman, is the scope of this committee focusing on one particular group. I actually believe that the focus on one particular group on the basis as race or religion can be deemed as racist and as discriminatory.”
“I disagree 100 percent with the gentlelady,” King responded. “Your party had control of this committee for four years. [You held] not one hearing at all…on skinheads, on Nazis, on Arayan nation, on white supremacists at all. Suddenly this issue emerges when we start talking about Muslim radicalization. That is the purpose of this committee.”
“When we find out the neo-Nazis are allied with foreign powers and they come in this country, we will investigate it,” King continued. Watch a video of the exchange here.
Witnesses at the hearing spoke about their experience with radicalization within prisons, which one expert referred to as “Prislam.”
“It is generally understood that the majority of prison converts assimilate back into what they were doing prior to going to prison,” said Michael P. Downing of the Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau of the Los Angeles Police Department. “However, it is the exception cases that have and will continue to strike fear in the hearts of Americans.”
Kevin Smith, a former assistant U.S. attorney from California, prosecuted a case in 2005 involving a group of radical Muslim converts called Jam’iyyat Ul Islam Is Saheeh (JIS), which began within the California prison system. Smith testified that he’s seen an alarming “convergence of criminal sophistication and the commitment to jihad” with those who become radicalized in prison.
“You have an individual who is committed to jihad and who has already acted outside normal society,” said Smith. “So the jihadist mentality is basically overlaid on an individual who knows how to use weapons, who knows how to access weapons.”
Smith noted that there needs to be a distinction from the problem of general gang recruitment within prisons and the particular problem radical Islam poses.
“A gang member, a criminal, is interested in enriching themselves personally with their criminal activity. It’s selfish motivation,” Smith explained. “[Radical Muslims] are not interested in engaging in criminal activity as anything other than means to carry out violent jihad, to carry out their war against the United States.”