WASHINGTON - Rep. Pete King rejected a call by a key Democrat Monday to expand a hearing on the radicalization of U.S. Muslims to include other homegrown threats after the Arizona rampage this weekend.
But King (R-Seaford), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said he would consider holding a separate hearing on the shootings if authorities link them to an organized group or "any systematic effort in the United States."
The debate over the scope of the controversial hearing set for February occurred as lawmakers attempted to come to grips with the shootings in Tucson that killed six and wounded 14 others, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), and whether harsh political rhetoric had influenced the gunman.
The committee's top Democrat, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, Monday called on King to broaden the hearing to include all forms of domestic terrorism, including the alleged actions of Jared Loughner.
"The chairman of the committee now talks about the Muslim threat, but there is the threat of homegrown terrorists who could be members of some hate group, Klan associated, Aryan Nation associated, or just something they dream up," Thompson said.
Thompson warned against a hearing that would "demonize" Muslims and said the committee should examine if heated rhetoric from tea party and other groups played a role in Tucson.
But King defended the Muslim extremism hearing, which he announced last month to much criticism that it would isolate and stigmatize Muslims by focusing on them to the exclusion of others. He said the Tucson rampage is off-topic.
"The issue of Muslim radicalization is totally different. It's an internal threat, a foreign terrorist group recruiting people to take up arms against the United States," King said.
"We've always had throughout our history deranged people taking up arms," he said.
The Arizona shooter and his motive aren't known, King said. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she'd give him a report on it. "We may, after a report comes in, have a separate hearing on it," he said.
In 1995, King broke with his party and called for a hearing on militia groups after investigators tied them to the deadly bombing of Oklahoma City's Murrah Federal Building.
King was the first House Republican to denounce the militia groups, calling them "wackos" and "dangerous."
King said he sees some similarities between then and now, but said he has not seen a definitive connection between today's rhetoric and the deadly rampage in Tucson.