With the House Committee on Homeland Security about to hold hearings on improving efforts to counter violent extremism, Parents for Peace co-founder Melvin Bledsoe sent a letter to the Committee Chairman, Michael McCaul, and the Ranking Member, Bennie Thompson. Below is an excerpt:
My son Carlos Bledsoe is in jail for the rest of his life. He was radicalized by extremists while attending Tennessee State University and set on a hateful path that led him to a radical academy in Yemen and then to committing a deadly act of terrorist violence in Little Rock, Arkansas.
For the rest of my life, I have to live with the truth that I failed to protect him from extremism and failed to intervene before it was too late. I raised my son to be a good person and to respect others, but radical extremists took advantage of him at a vulnerable moment in his life – when he was away from home at college – and taught him to hate.
At the time, I did not understand exactly what was happening with my son. I wanted to be supportive of his new beliefs and of his desire to visit a foreign country. If I knew then what I know today, I would have acted very differently and I would have sought help. But it is too late.
Back in 2008 and 2009 when my son was being radicalized, I did not have any counselors, civic groups, or government institutions to turn to for assistance with our family’s predicament. It would have made a world of difference to have partners who could provide support while fully respecting our privacy and civil liberties. I could have helped my son and maybe even have saved the life of the fellow American he murdered in Little Rock.
Melvin urges members of Congress to unite behind partisan solutions to this challenge to national security and to individual families:
I am not an expert on countering violent extremism. I am just a father who failed once and now wants to help other families so they never have to go through what ours did. I know what resources are lacking in our communities – and how extremist groups exploit these gaps to radicalize our children. I also know that the work of countering violent extremism has never been more important than it is today, with every week bringing news of young people joining radical groups or getting arrested for supporting terrorism.
I am glad to hear that Congress is considering ways to make a positive impact, and I hope that you can build bi-partisan support in your efforts to address this long term challenge.