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State Representative's Comments Stir Up Controversy After Radical Islam Study

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In a hearing about an interim study on radical Islam, Sharia law and the Muslim Brotherhood, state Rep. John Bennett attacked the religion of Islam as an enemy of Oklahomans. In a hearing about an interim study on radical Islam, Sharia law and the Muslim Brotherhood, state Rep. John Bennett attacked the religion of Islam as an enemy of Oklahomans.
OKLAHOMA CITY -

In a hearing about an interim study on radical Islam, Sharia law and the Muslim Brotherhood, state Rep. John Bennett attacked the religion of Islam as an enemy of Oklahomans.

According to Bennett, the study cost taxpayers roughly $700. 

“The enemy is in the wire. Some of them are in this room today,” Bennett said about several members of Muslim organizations who were in the room on Tuesday.

Bennett, a Republican from Sallisaw, has attacked Islam and Muslims in the past.

In 2014, Bennett called Islam “a cancer” on America and hosted so-called experts. During the three-hour hearing, he and his guests specifically singled out the Council on Islamic American Relations, members of the interfaith community and individual Imams as terrorists.

“Allowing CAIR to operate in the state of Oklahoma is about as ridiculous as allowing a Nazi to fully operate in Israel,” Bennett said to one of his guests, who agreed.

At one point Bennett, a former marine and police officer, broke into the pledge of allegiance during the hearing, but recited the oath incorrectly.

“[O]ne nation, under God, individual, with liberty and justice for all,” Bennett said. The pledge uses the word “indivisible” instead of “individual.”

Bennett’s nine expert panel including national security consultants, pastors and former “confidential informants,” but according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, some were members of either hate or conspiracy-theorizing groups. 

Edmond pastor Paul Blair, shown as a member of the John Birch Society on its website, was considered to be an expert on Islam in the hearing.

Jeff Gaffney, founder of the Center of Security Policy, and John Guanaldo and Chris Gubatz from Understandingthethreat.com were also in attendance. Their organizations are also on hate-group watch lists.

“I felt personally attacked. One of the speakers made direct eye contact with them and called me a ‘suit wearing jihadi,’” CAIR Government Affairs Coordinator Anna Facci said.

Although Facci isn't a Muslim herself -- she said she was a Christian -- she said talk like that in Bennett's meeting leaves Oklahoma Muslims "heartbroken."

“They feel hurt and scared when a legislator is given this platform to go on unchecked by anyone else,” she said.

On Facebook, state Rep. Emily Virgin, D-Norman, apologized to Oklahoma Muslims, saying she was "incredibly sorry" and that "there was no use trying to change [Bennett’s] mind." She went on to say no one deserved to be treated that way.

The meeting was also preceded by an open letter to House Speaker Jeff Hickman from members of multiple churches, synagogues and mosques asking he not let the hearing go forward.

“You can only have one or the other,” Bennett told his audience, giving them the choice between Christianity in America and Islam in America. “Do you want freedom or death? Do you want the Constitution or do you want Sharia law? Well, I choose freedom.”

Oklahoma has previously been under fire for the passage of a constitutional amendment against Sharia law in 2010.

The amendment opposed any interference from international or Sharia law in Oklahoma. A federal judge later ruled the amendment was unconstitutional.

But Bennett made it clear he wouldn't be pulling back on his stance.

"The enemy must be stopped. We're going to be called bigots, and racists, and Islamophobes and a whole host of other things by the media after this is over. We're going to be called that by terrorist organizations like CAIR, that is here today, but you know that is a small price to pay to put our foot to the tail-end of these terrorists and these anti-American groups in the name of freedom," he said.

In a statement, he said he was considering drafting bills surrounding the study’s findings, although it was not clear on what that entailed.

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