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The Grio: White supremacist threat overshadowed by Muslim fears

March 21, 2011- The way they both happened together, at what felt like the same moment, seems like something out of a script: On March 9, Kevin William Harpham was arrested in the town of Addy, Wash., suspected of the attempted Jan. 17 bombing of a Martin Luther King unity rally in Spokane, 55 miles south of Addy. Harpham, a known white supremacist with past and possibly current ties to the neo-Nazi National Alliance, was charged by federal agents of building a "weapon of mass destruction" -- the bomb found in his backpack -- and planting it on the rally route hours before it started.

The next day, Rep. Peter King, the new chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, convened the first of his congressional hearings on the radicalization of Muslim Americans and the potential for domestic terrorism. In his opening statement, King stated that "not one terror-related case in the United States in the last two years involved neo-Nazis."

That disconnect between fact and assertion highlights a more troubling one: the congressman's high-profile attention to one form of American terrorism at the expense of exposing the dangers in another.

King's hearings were a two-headed affair. Despite the domestic focus of the hearings, in reading the transcripts and watching videos of the event, what was obvious was an underlying interpretation of Islam as foreigner -- the evil, terrifying other -- even as King went to rhetorical lengths to praise most Muslim Americans as foundational, necessary members of American society.

What's been galling to many is the way King's hearings occurred despite evidence contradicting the notion of Muslim Americans as a shadowy fifth column bent on destruction. In 2008, FBI Director Robert Mueller testified before a House committee that "99.9 percent of Muslim-Americans or Sikh-Americans, Arab-Americans are every bit as patriotic as anybody else in this room, and that many of our cases are a result of the cooperation from the Muslim community in the United States."

Mueller said much the same thing a year later before a Senate committee. In a 2010 paper, a RAND analyst identified American Muslims as a community that "remains hostile to jihadist ideology and its exhortations to violence."



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