Rep. Peter King's controversial hearing today examining the threat of radical Islam will feature two men whose family members became caught up in violent extremism, with tragic consequences.
A glimpse of the hearing emerged Wednesday as critics implored the New York Republican to scrap the session or broaden its focus. But King, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, defended his approach even as he faced threats as well as questions about his own past as a supporter of the anti-British Irish Republican Army
On Wednesday, a group of more than 50 Democrats, including the two Muslims serving in the House, wrote to King, asking him to cancel the hearing or examine religions in addition to Islam.
"Singling out one religious group and blaming the actions of individuals on an entire community is not only unfair, it is unwise -- and it will not make our country any safer," the lawmakers said.
The National Jewish Democratic Council warned the hearing would be detrimental to religious tolerance in America.
But King vowed to press on, blitzing cable television airwaves and taking to the Internet to defend the hearing, titled "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response."
"There have been numerous protests and newspaper articles demonizing these hearings," he wrote in an e-mail. "But I wanted to let you know that I will not back down to the hysteria created by my opponents and will continue with the hearings."
King's plans for the session include witnesses who will give a range of opinions, both about the role of Muslim-Americans in the United States and the dangers posed by a homegrown Islamic terrorism.
will tell the committee about his son, Carlos Bledsoe, who converted to Islam and later fired on a military recruiting station in Little Rock, Ark., in 2009, killing one soldier.
"Carlos was captured by people best described as hunters. He was manipulated and lied to," Bledsoe says in his prepared remarks
, which were obtained in advance by the AP. He will also testify that people he calls Islamic radicals "programmed and trained my son Carlos to kill."
A second witness, Abdirizak Bihi, will testify about his teenage nephew, who left his family in Minneapolis to train with Al Shababb, an al-Qaeda-inspired militant group in Somalia. Bihi's brother-in-law told the family's story to the Senate Homeland Security Committee in 2009. Osman Ahmed said the nephew had been "mentally and physically kidnapped" by radicalized Islamist and convinced to go to Somalia to fight alongside insurgent forces. He has not been seen since.
In addition to the private citizens, three congressmen will testify.
Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) is a veteran lawmaker whose Dearborn, Mich., district is home to one of the largest Arab-American populations in the United States. Last week, Dingell asked King to change the focus of Thursday's hearing. "Muslim Americans are an integral part of our larger society and should be treated as such, not viewed with suspicion," he wrote.
In contrast, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) is one of the members of Congress who shares King's fears of the infiltration into the United States of radical Islam, according to a senior congressional staffer who specializes in homeland security issues.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) is expected to offer a strong defense of the Muslim-American community. Ellison is one of two Muslims serving in Congress and represents the Minnesota district with the largest Somali-American population in the country. He's accused King of being "McCarthyistic."
"I do think that Congressman King is a man who wants to see our country safer. I think he's going about it the wrong way," Ellison told CBS News.
"To say we're talking about radicalization of the Muslim community widely is the very essence of scapegoating."
The last two witnesses, Dr. M. Zuhdi Jasser and Los Angeles Sheriff Leroy Baca, will give opposing views of the radicalization threat. M. Zuhdi Jasser, president and founder of American Islamic Forum for Democracy, is a frequent guest on Fox News Channel and has appeared on Glenn Beck's program. "He's a favorite of folks on the right," a congressional staffer said.
Baca, who commands the largest sheriff's department in the country, was invited by Democrats on the panel. A committee staffer told Politics Daily that Baca has initiated a Muslim community affairs unit within the L.A. County Sheriff's Department and has testified to the committee on matters in the past, "including how helpful the Muslim community has been."
King is planning to continue the committee's focus on the issue of radical Islam, but has not yet scheduled the committee's next session.