WASHINGTON — A year ago, U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick was appointed to the House Intelligence Committee, a prestigious post she had long sought.
There, top-secret briefings unveiled truths about homegrown terrorism she had only suspected. And won't reveal.
"I can't tell you. I'm not being coy," Myrick said in an interview. "There's a threat out there to our security. ... It's worse than I thought."
Myrick, a Charlotte Republican and former mayor of the city, contends that extremists are working their way into U.S. Muslim communities, infiltrating government institutions and influencing American citizens to attack their own country. Her activism earns plaudits from some conservatives - but criticism from Muslim constituents who fear that her tone endangers a community 3 million strong and deeply imbedded in the nation's fabric. Tonight, months after pledging to do so, Myrick will meet with Charlotte's Muslim community.
Since 9/11, Myrick has worried that the dangers of terrorism on U.S. soil were underestimated and has proposed a multi-pronged approach to fighting Islamic radicalization called "Wake Up America."
It suggested cutting off exchange programs and munitions sales with Saudi Arabia, passing legislation that would make calls for death to American citizens a form of treason, and investigating the selection of Arabic translators working for the Pentagon and FBI. In recent months, Myrick has taken on the Muslim law known as Shariah, suggested universities are being influenced by the austere brand of Islam common to Saudi Arabia known as Wahhabism and warned that Muslims have infiltrated political and military circles.
She also has accused the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, of planting spies by trying to get Muslim interns hired in congressional offices.
Accusation of 'McCarthyism'
The allegations damaged already sore relations with the Muslim community, said Larry Shaw of Fayetteville, national chairman for CAIR and a North Carolina state senator.
"It's looking like she's taking on a tinge of McCarthyism," Shaw said. "She's becoming a hatemonger."
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, Congress' only Muslim member, said he hopes tonight's meeting opens a dialogue.
"Some of the things that Rep. Myrick has said are deeply offensive and upsetting," said Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota.
In 2003, she angered Muslims with a comment during a Heritage Foundation forum about danger within the country.
"You know, and this can be misconstrued, but honest to goodness Ed and I for years, for 20 years, have been saying, 'You know, look at who runs all the convenience stores across the country,'" she said, mentioning her husband. "Every little town you go into, you know?"
Last fall, she wrote the foreword to "Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That's Seeking to Islamize America." The book accuses CAIR of supporting international jihad.
Most Muslims consider CAIR, which has been around since 1994, a respected civil rights group. The day of the book's release, Myrick and three colleagues accused CAIR of infiltrating congressional offices by attempting to place Muslim interns.
U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, the top Democrat on Myrick's Intelligence subcommittee, said broad attacks on Muslims hurt American intelligence efforts.
Myrick cites Fort Hood
Myrick has said her fears about infiltration were realized in November, when Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 people at the Fort Hood in Texas. The FBI had been monitoring contact between Hasan and a radical Yemeni-American cleric.
After the shooting, Myrick told Front Page, a conservative Web site:
"We are fighting against radical Islamists who are using political Islam to advance their agenda to create a Caliphate, an Islamic state, and jihadists who use violent means to do the same."
Steven Emerson, author of "Jihad Incorporated: A Guide to Militant Islam in the U.S.," praised Myrick.
"Anyone who says that it's fear-mongering or that it's not serious is living on a different planet," Emerson said.
Some experts, though, disagree.
A study released last month by Duke University and UNC-Chapel Hill researchers found 139 Muslim Americans involved in alleged or confirmed terrorism since 9/11. That compares with a national Muslim American population of more than 3million, said David Schanzer, lead author of the study and director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security.
"You have to look at the credibility of the individuals making those allegations, their motivations," Schanzer said, though he would not criticize Myrick individually.
U.S. Rep. David Price, a Chapel Hill Democrat and chairman of the spending subcommittee that funds the Department of Homeland Security, said that any member of Congress with details about a legitimate threat should take it to the FBI.
"I'm convinced we can do that without profiling, without stigmatizing whole groups," Price said.
Ebrahim Moosa, a Duke University professor of Islamic studies, said many of Myrick's concerns follow similar ignorance about Islam in America and the realistic threats of domestic terrorism.
"These manifestations are linked to more complex sets of issues, which is one thing politicians don't want to hear about," Moosa said. "She needs to make judgments on the facts and not on fictions. Without any evidence, this is just creating anxiety."
First of many meetings?
Myrick said she wants constituents to understand that her fears aren't about religion. "We live in the United States of America, where we have freedom of religion for everybody," she said.
She paused when asked whether she would have changed anything about her tone in the past year.
"I don't know," she said. "There's always times when you can choose your words better."
"We've got to talk about this," she said. "We can't just have two sides to an issue and not want to talk about it. It's too important to our country."