WASHINGTON – Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim elected to Congress, choked up while offering a stirring defense of Muslim Americans Thursday during a controversial Republican-led hearing about radicalization within the community.

"Targeting of the Muslim-American community for the actions of a few is unjust," Ellison said, adding, "Stoking fears about an entire group for a political agenda is not new in American history."

"Throughout human history, individuals from all communities and faiths have used religion and political ideology to justify violence. Let's just think about the KKK, America's oldest terrorist organization; the Oklahoma City bombing; the shooting at the Holocaust Museum by James Von Braun; and bombings at Planned Parenthood clinics. Did Congress focus on the ethnic group or religion of these agents of violence as a matter of public policy? The answer is no."

Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) warned against allowing the hearing to "recall the evils of McCarthyism," declaring that Islam is "a religion that values diversity and understanding."

House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Peter King (R-NY), who called the hearing, argued that Islamic extremism constitutes a disproportionate terror threat to the United States. He said it would be a "craven surrender to political correctness" to cancel the hearing, as he was urged to do.

"The Department of Homeland Security and this committee were formed in response to the al Qaeda attacks of 9/11," King said. "There is no equivalency of threat between al Qaeda and neo-Nazis, environmental extremists or other isolated madmen. Only al Qaeda and its Islamist affiliates in this country are part of an international threat to our nation."

A Gallup poll found Wednesday that 52 percent of Americans consider the hearing "appropriate," while 38 percent deemed it "not appropriate" to focus just on US Muslims.

The progressive veterans group VoteVets said King was "doing our troops no favors" by singling out Muslims, fretting that a wrong signal "aids the underlying message of our enemies."

"A key part of the work of our troops abroad is winning the hearts and minds of the people in any country we operate, and as of right now, most of them are Muslims," said Ashwin Madia, VoteVets Interim Chairman and Iraq war veteran. "When they hear that the American government considers Islam a threat, and is investigating American Muslims, it only bolsters the message of al Qaeda and other terrorist groups that we are in a war with Islam."

"Muslim Americans have been part of the American scene since the nation's founding," Ellison said. "Muslims serve our nation as doctors, lawyers, teachers, business owners, cab drivers, and even members of Congress... They are our neighbors; in short, they are us."

The Minnesota Democrat broke into tears at the end of his testimony while telling the story of Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a Muslim-American paramedic who lost his life on 9/11 trying to save victims.

Apart from Ellison, Dingell, King, and the committee members, the hearings featured Reps. Frank Wolf (R-VA) and four witnesses who testified about their professional experiences with the Muslim American community.

Watch Ellison choke up at the end of his testimony, via JackieSpeierCA12:

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