Peter King - What makes him tick?
March 9th, 2011
07:34 AM ET
7 years ago

Peter King - What makes him tick?

Washington (CNN) - Walk into Rep. Peter King's Capitol Hill office, and you are overwhelmed with how much the September 11, 2001, attacks consume the New York Republican. There are photos on the walls of funerals he attended, images of a smoky Brooklyn bridge, and baseball caps with sayings including "USS New York, Never Forget."

King says he doesn't have a monopoly on grief - but it is what drives him.

"If you ask me what I think of about going to work every day, its 9/11 and preventing another 9/11. There were too many people I knew," he told CNN in an interview in his office.

That's why he says he is determined to use his powerful post as House Homeland Security committee chairman to hold a highly controversial hearing on what he has dubbed radicalization of Muslims in the United States.

"I have no choice, I have to hold these hearings, these hearings are absolutely essential," says King. "There are elements in that community that are being radicalized, and I believe that the leadership, the leaders of that community, do not face up to that reality. Too many cases are not cooperative, not willing to speak out and condemn this type of radicalization that is going on," he insists.

The fact that he is singling out the Muslim American community has ignited protests and anger against him, and accusations of bigotry. He has even been compared to Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who used a congressional gavel he wielded in the 1950s to go on a Communist witch hunt. King says there is "no basis" for that. "I tell people wait and watch and listen to the hearing and they will see it will be a thoughtful, meaningful very fair hearing," he says.

King once had a close bond with leaders in the Muslim American community. In the 1990s, he broke with fellow Republicans and backed President Bill Clinton's military efforts in the Balkans to defend Muslims there.

"That was not popular in my district, but I did it because it was the right thing to do. I thought the Muslim populations in those countries were being victimized," says King.

Though the Muslim community in his mostly blue-collar Long Island district is small, King had close relationships with Muslim leaders - he even attended a ribbon-cutting at a local mosque.

But King says after 9/11 a switch flipped

"I saw the Muslim-American community not responding the way that they should have, covering up for al Qaeda, when they tried to blame it on Jews or the FBI - I couldn't believe what I was hearing, these people I had known them for years, I had their relatives interning in my office, I had gone to weddings and dinners of leaders in the Muslim-American community, and the same people that I had known, I hear them saying its not al Qaeda, it's the FBI, I couldn't believe it," recalls King.

One of those leaders was Ghazi Khankan with the Islamic Center of Long Island. "I said we should also investigate the possibility of Israel being involved. That changed his opinion 100%," says Khankan.

King says he was furious that no Muslim leaders denounced those post-9/11 comments. But even worse, he insists, was what he started hearing from law enforcement - that the Muslim-American community was not cooperating with efforts to rein in radicalization and prevent terror threats.

"That would be psychobabble, to say that because of what was said after 9/11, I'm holding these hearings. That's when I first began to look more carefully," he says. "Since then, it's dealing with police at all levels, in New York and around the country...privately, I am told time and again that they're not getting the cooperation they need." he says.

King, the son of an New York police academy instructor, and a self-described close friend of the New York cops and firefighters, insists he gets the real story from his buddies about what they call lack of cooperation in the Muslim community in rooting out radicalism.

But other law enforcement officials say they get valuable assistance from Muslim-Americans. And academic studies like one conducted by Duke University and the University of North Carolina show fellow American-Muslims turned in 48 of the 120 Muslims suspected of plotting terror attacks on the U.S. since 9/11.

King insists that doesn't jibe with what he hears on the ground.

"I can tell you that in New York, we're in the epicenter, were in the eye of the storm, there has been no virtually no real cooperation coming from the Muslim-American community. The police commissioner's office in (Suffolk County) has said that they have not gotten one tip from the Muslim-American community," he says.

Still, King invited no law enforcement officials to be witnesses at his hearing - neither the FBI director, nor the attorney general, nor any of the New York officials who he says tell him they're concerned. The only one attending is Los Angeles Sherriff Leroy Baca, because he was invited by Democrats on the panel.

King's witnesses are Muslim-Americans who mostly support his point of view, and the first elected Muslim in Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota. He says the White House gave him its blessing for the hearing, and that no one in law enforcement asked him not to go ahead with it.

Standing in the empty committee room where his hearing will take place, King makes clear he thinks inviting law enforcement officials would be a waste of time.

"They work for civilian leaders and the civilians say the cooperation is fine, so what I'm doing is having people from the Muslim community come and say how they are told by their leaders not to cooperate with law enforcement, we're getting it from the ground up, how they are told not to cooperate with police and the FBI," he says.

Some call King's efforts against American Muslim terrorism hypocritical. In the 1980s King, an Irish-American was an active supporter of Gerry Adams and the Irish organization that the State Department then deemed terrorists: the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which was responsible for hundreds of civilian deaths in terror attacks.

King defends his efforts. "I knew what has happening in Northern Ireland, and with the IRA, the IRA was a legitimate force, they'd been there for 40 years, 60 years, anyway you want to look at it," says King. King insists he only got involved so heavily with IRA leader Gerry Adams because he knew he would be willing to broker peace with the British government.

"I was one of those helped bring (peace) about. This isn't me saying it, its Tony Blair and Bill Clinton saying that, among others," says King, who later points to a photo of former British Prime Minister Blair on his wall, with an inscription praising King for his role in the Northern Ireland Peace Accord.

The New York Times editorialized Tuesday that King is a man "obsessed" with Muslim radicalism.

Is he obsessed? "I'm very focused," he replies, "I lost many people from my (congressional) district on 9/11, and within a 30- mile radius of my home, probably about a thousand people murdered on 9/11."

Another answer to that question may be in what King writes about. He is a part-time novelist, and in 2004 published a book called "Vale of Tears," about an Irish-American Congressman from New York who traces a terrorist attack to Muslim radicals in his own district. "You write about what you know," shrugs King.

If the negative publicity and protests about his hearing are getting to King, he's hiding it well.

"Hey, I would love to be loved, you know, I'm not a masochist, but the other hand, I have a job to do. And I would not want to wake up the day after an attack and say, 'I should've done something differently,'" he says.

"My goal, if I could have an ultimate goal, is to have new leaders emerge from within the Muslim community, who are not defensive, who day-in, day-out, are willing to denounce radicalizations, denounce the attempts by al Qaeda to go into their communities."

- CNN's Rachel Streitfeld contributed to this report

Filed under: Peter King
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. annie s

    Maybe Mr. King needs to learn to move on. Demonizing all Muslins because of 9/11 only breeds more hate and fear – which is the Republican way, but which goes against everything our country stands for.

    March 9, 2011 08:12 am at 8:12 am |
  2. T'sah from Virginia

    Peter King – What makes him tick?
    USS New York, Never Forget
    A vicious act on 9/11
    Many lost souls went to heaven

    King doesn’t realize we remember too
    And it was NOT only Muslims who thought they knew
    Who should be blamed for this massacre?
    That started a “blame-war” in America!!!

    King needs to realize that the next terrorist attack just might come from his own backyard!! He should also remember there are many dates in the past several years of white supremacist, neo-Nazis, Repub campaign volunteers, gunmen, sovereign citizens, militiamen, anti-government extremist, too many attempts (above the norm and average) on President Obama’s life and last but not least, Jared Lee Loughner!! All of this is out there so why center on a certain group – Muslims of America!!!

    March 9, 2011 08:42 am at 8:42 am |
  3. PalmReader

    What makes ANY Republican tick anymore? Seems to me most GOPers have been displaying nothing but IN YOUR FACE ugliness for a good many years now. Rep. King is just one of hundreds of public leaders intent on making sure Americans live in fear: Fear of the future. Fear of their neighbors. Fear of the world. What's surprising is that so many people are willing to allow this fear to continue to rule their daily lives to the extent it does.

    March 9, 2011 09:34 am at 9:34 am |
  4. sara

    Nothing makes him Tick.....King was once an IRA political terrorist group. Maybe he should be investigated by the American people. In the end the People will Win in America.

    March 9, 2011 10:23 am at 10:23 am |
  5. Wire Palladin, S. F.

    What makes Peter King tick? It is alliance to white anti government groups in Ireland.

    March 9, 2011 10:27 am at 10:27 am |
  6. New Age Independant

    Thank-you Mr King. Far too many people do not want to remember that fated day. They do not understand, nor care.

    March 9, 2011 10:32 am at 10:32 am |
  7. Oy Vey Az

    The answer is ... Patriotism.

    March 9, 2011 10:34 am at 10:34 am |
  8. rs

    He is a Republican, therefore he is motivated to keep his office through hate and fear.

    March 9, 2011 10:36 am at 10:36 am |