Who is Peter King?
Peter King is a former U.S. House representative from New York who has a history of promoting Islamophobic and anti-Muslim narratives.
During his tenure, King utilized his position of power in Congress in a manner that discriminated against and adversely affected the American Muslim community – most infamously his congressional hearings on Muslim ‘radicalization.’
In 2007, King lamented that “we have too many mosques in this country, too many people that are sympathetic to radical Islam.” King has further remarked that Islam is “an enemy living amongst us” and that “No [American] Muslims are cooperating [with law enforcement officials]” in the US.”
In 2011, King held the first of several hearings titled the ‘Threat of Radicalization in the Muslim Community’, where he attempted to validate the conspiratorial narrative that extremists ran the Muslim American community’s leadership. Despite the vast majority of witnesses summoned for the hearings outright denying and refuting the case presented by King, the former representative abstained from retracting any of his claims with regard to the American Muslim community’s susceptibility to radicalism.
For seven years before the first of his Muslim radicalization hearings, King had maintained that “80%, 85% of the mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists,” and that average Muslims “are loyal,” but “don’t come forward, they don’t tell the police what they know” and “they won’t turn in their own.”
In December 2010, he staunchly announced that he will “stand-by” the 85 percent number. After announcing the hearings, King claimed, “Federal and local law enforcement officials throughout the country told me they received little or – in most cases – no cooperation from Muslim leaders and imams.”
In early 2011, Rep. King implied that American Muslims are not “American” when it comes to protecting our nation during times of war: “When a war begins, we’re all Americans. But in this case, this is not the situation. And whether it’s pressure, whether it’s cultural tradition, or whatever, the fact is the Muslim community does not cooperate anywhere near the extent that it should. The irony is that we’re living in two different worlds.”
King was a major supporter of the campaign to prevent the creation of the Park51 community center in New York City, attending the “Ground Zero Mosque” protests. In response to criticism that the backlash to the construction of the community center was Islamophobic, King stated, “Yes, we have to be sensitive to other people’s religions, but those religions also have to be sensitive to the memory of those who died on September 11.”
King has stated that US security agencies need to be “infiltrating” American mosques because “the terror threat [in the United States] … is going to come from the Muslim community.” In 2016, King proposed that then-President Donald Trump should establish a federal surveillance program specifically focused on the activities of American Muslims, based on a similar program created by the New York Police Department, which was found to be in gross violation of civil liberties by the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in 2015.
King was an enthusiastic supporter of the Trump administration’s Muslim travel ban, calling it “overdue.”
Several observers characterized King’s radicalization hearings as akin to modern-day McCarthyism, warning that normalizing such processes in the halls of Congress could encourage anti-Muslim violence.
Rabbi Jack Moline from the Interfaith “Shoulder to Shoulder” coalition rebuked the Congressional hearings, affirming in a press conference: “We call on the United States Congress, elected officials at every level of government and all American citizens, not to perpetuate damaging, false witnesses with our [Muslim] neighbors.”
As Spencer Ackerman of The Daily Beast put it, “The lasting achievement of King’s career was to portray millions of Americans as disloyal and threatening based on their religion…his open demonization of American Muslims blazed a trail”. King’s hearings legitimized the open discrimination of religious practice, setting a precedent that future administrations and lawmakers could reference in order to initiate further infringe on the civil liberties of religious groups and justify surveillance in the name of national security.