Rep. Peter King launches his hearings into the radicalization of American Muslims Thursday, and the full witness list remains secret. But already the key players are staking out turf in a made-for-cable-TV debate about whether Americans should be concerned about homegrown Islamist radicals. King has been criticized both for a McCarthyite campaign against a religious minority and for being going soft by not allowing testimony from some of Islam's harshest critics, like Walid Phares, a Fox News analyst who Muslim groups say has ties to Lebanese Christian militias. (King has said Phares will testify at a later hearing, just not the opener).
The White House is trying to get out in front of the hearings, with President Obama's deputy national security adviser, Denis McDonough, visiting a Virginia mosque Sunday to promise that "we will not stigmatize or demonize entire communities because of the actions of a few," The New York Times' Sheryl Gay Stolberg reports. So, as the talking heads gear up, here's a guide to the players in this punditry drama:
King insists that it's just common sense to investigate terror groups' attempts to recruit stateside.
What he'll say: "The threat is coming from the Muslim community... the radicalization attempts are directed at the Muslim community. Why should I investigate other communities?"
One of two Muslim members of Congress, Ellison represents a Minneapolis district with many immigrants from North Africa. By supporting protesters in Cairo as well as the union workers rallying in Wisconsin, Ellison has "been styling himself as an old-fashioned 'power-to-the-people' activist," the Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Kevin Diaz reports.
What he'll say: Ellison says it's a good idea to investigate radicalization in the country, "but to say we’re going to investigate a — a religious minority and a particular one, I think, is the wrong course of action to take."
The former doctor to Congress now heads the the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and supported the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
What he'll say: Islam harbors "an insidious supremacism." Muslims must not sink into a "culture of separatism." Islamic leaders should renounce a role for their religion in government.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff will testify for Democrats.
What he'll say: Baca disagrees with King that Muslims don't cooperate with law enforcement. "We have as much cooperation as we are capable of acquiring through public trust relationships. ... If [King] has evidence of non-cooperation, he should bring it forward."
McDonough, deputy national security adviser, appears to have been tasked with being the White House's Official Critic of the hearings.
What he'll say: "In the United States of America, we don’t practice guilt by association," McDonough told a mostly Muslim audience in Virginia. "And let’s remember that just as violence and extremism are not unique to any one faith, the responsibility to oppose ignorance and violence rests with us all." But the administration is avoiding saying that the hearings shouldn't happen. "We welcome any involvement in the issue. ... It's an important issue," McDonough says.
Thompson, the ranking Democrat on the committee holding the hearings, unsuccessfully pushed to expand the inquiry into include neo-Nazis and right-wing militias.
What he'll say: "Terrorists of all ideologies seek to do Americans harm."
King says he'll call the family members of Muslims who joined violent radical groups. Some of these witnesses could come from Minneapolis, from where 20 young men have disappeared after being recruited by Al Shabab in Somalia.