Peter King staged his investigation into the loyalty of Muslim Americans in an appropriate place: a hearing room once used by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
The New York Republican was eager to avoid the red-scare taint, and he allowed the 84-year-old dean of the House, Democrat John Dingell of Michigan, to open the session with wisdom learned during his time as a chairman. “I kept a picture of Joe McCarthy hanging on the wall so that I would know what it was I did not want to look like,” Dingell said, cautioning the committee not to “blot the good name or the loyalty” of Arabs or Muslims.
But the ghost of Tailgunner Joe would not be denied. It found a host in the body of freshman Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., who asked Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca, a witness, about his work with a large Muslim group called CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
“You are aware that this is a Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood entity?” the lawmaker asked, pronouncing Muslim as “moo-slim.”
“No, I’m not aware of that,” the sheriff replied.
Cravaack informed Baca that CAIR was founded by two people identified as “Hamas members” by the FBI. “Basically you’re dealing with a terrorist organization,” he said.
“If the FBI has something to charge CAIR with, bring those charges forward,” Baca replied, coolly.
Cravaack was indignant. “Are you saying that the FBI was wrong in identifying that CAIR is part of Hamas, an entity of Hamas?”
This is the very definition of McCarthyism: false allegations of subversion.
King didn’t even bother inviting the group to defend itself.
I’m no fan of CAIR, which was one of 250 unindicted co-conspirators in the Holy Land Foundation terrorist finance case of 2007. But the FBI doesn’t call CAIR a terrorist group. Nor does it allege that CAIR was founded or financed by Hamas. In America, if somebody — even somebody unpopular — has committed a crime, we bring charges. We don’t float Internet rumors at a congressional hearing.
Happily, King won’t become another Joe McCarthy, even if he wanted to. This time, the opposition has no fear. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., a Muslim, sobbed as he testified about a Muslim American who died as a first responder on 9/11; King looked away uncomfortably.
It could not have been any more comfortable as King and his white Republican colleagues listened to the Democrats — most of them black or Latino — speak up for another minority. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee theatrically waved a copy of the Constitution and proclaimed: “This breathing document is in pain!”
King and his courtiers were evidently sensitive to appearance, because many of them prefaced their accusations in the way people sometimes say “some of my best friends are gay.”
“I have many Muslim friends,” said Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich.
“They are our neighbors and our friends,” agreed Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va.
Instead, King’s men found a safe alternative for their ire: American Muslim leadership, particularly CAIR. They were calling for regime change, urging Muslims to find friendlier leaders.
“Responsible Muslim American leaders must reject discredited groups such as CAIR,” King demanded, invoking the group’s “unindicted co-conspirator” status.
King’s aides displayed a poster with the words “Don’t talk to the FBI” and kept it up for most of the hearing. “Thankfully, FBI Director Mueller has ordered the FBI to cease all dealings and contact with CAIR, possibly and probably because of this type of placard and poster which was posted by San Francisco CAIR.”
King neglected to mention that the poster was from the 1980 Puerto Rico independence movement, or that CAIR called for the poster to be removed from its affiliate’s website.
Rep. Frank Wolf , R-Va., delivered an extended condemnation of CAIR, warning that it “is hurting the American Muslim community.” One of the witnesses complained that CAIR was coercing Muslims to support imams and mosques. Another witness said CAIR had been “extremely insulting” to American soldiers.
Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., said “we need to know exactly who our enemy is” before asking the witnesses for their views on CAIR. King joked that his hearing had been “attacked by everybody from CAIR to Kim Kardashian.”
As the barrage continued, the Los Angeles sheriff appealed for reason. “CAIR supported the development of the Muslim American Homeland Security Congress,” Baca said. “Furthermore, they support the Muslim outreach program that I’m doing. … I have not experienced anything that suggests that CAIR supports terrorism.”
What’s this? Evidence that contradicts the committee’s accusations? How un-American!
Dana Milbank is a columnist for The Washington Post. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.