Reporting Bob Roberts
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LOMBARD, Ill. (CBS) — U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) told a largely Muslim-American audience in west suburban Lombard Friday night that he is standing by controversial remarks most of them interpreted as anti-Muslim.
“Folks, I’m not at all going to back down from what I said because there’s nothing to apologize for,” he said. “In my heart, there is a threat.”
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Walsh issued the comments earlier this month at a town hall meeting in Schaumburg. The Tea Party-backed Congressman called radical Isalam a “real threat” and “a threat that is much more at home now than it was after 9/11.”
Walsh said repeatedly at the Friday night event that he asked Moon Khan, DuPage County GOP committeeman, to set up the meeting in the backyard of Khan’s home.
Khan asked Walsh to listen to prepared comments from four of those present, but the combative Walsh tore up the script after the first speaker, told them repeatedly to stop, said he wouldn’t listen to speeches and said that he wanted to engage instead in dialogue and short comments.
He would say he was misunderstood and in substantial agreement with the Muslim-Americans, whom Khan said “all love America,” and then would repeat some of the comments that got him into trouble in the first place — sometimes interrupting people in mid-sentence three or four times to make the comment.
Walsh said the rights of the “99.99 percent” of Muslim-Americans who don’t subscribe to violence should be protected, but offered no specifics.
Walsh sits on the U.S. House Homeland Security committee, and several people said that no matter what the context, some who heard his comments would take them as a license to act on hate. One man drew a parallel to comments that triggered genocide in Rwanda.
“How do you suggest to look for those radical Muslims and not ostracize the 10 million American Muslims who are in this country without ostracizing all of us? Because your comments have done that,” one man said.
Others said they or their children felt endangered when going to mosques for prayers.
At the meeting’s end, Walsh said he would remain to answer questions, but quickly slipped into a waiting sport-utility vehicle.
“One thing I’m sure of is that there are people in this country – there is a radical strain of Islam in this country – it’s not just over there – trying to kill Americans every week. It is a real threat, and it is a threat that is much more at home now than it was after 9/11,” Walsh replied.
Walsh went on to claim that radical Islam had found its way into the Chicago suburbs, including some that he represents.
“It’s here. It’s in Elk Grove. It’s in Addison. It’s in Elgin. It’s here,” he said.
Walsh went on to say that even though he believes in limited government, but, “This is one thing I want my government to do is protecting us against this threat, because let’s be honest, folks, it is a threat.”
He also repeated an old warning that was frequently heard in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but not so often today – that another 9/11 is “not a matter of if. It’s a matter of when.”
Walsh went so far as to blame the federal government for the Fort Hood Massacre nearly three years ago. He said the government was trying to be politically correct and not offend Muslims, so much so that an American Muslim in the Army allegedly killed 13 people.