A year ago, U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick got herself appointed to the House Intelligence Committee, a prestigious post she had long sought.
There, top-secret briefings from intelligence officials - held deep within the U.S. Capitol - 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, has worried since 9-11 that the dangers of terrorism on U.S. soil were underestimated. She studied, read books and warned then-President George W. Bush that Americans were uninformed. Frustrated by the lack of response, she proposed a multipronged approach on fighting Islamic radicalization.
She called the agenda: "Wake Up America."
It suggested cutting off exchange programs and munition 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.
Her main contention is that Islamic extremists are working their way into U.S. Muslim communities, infiltrating government institutions and influencing American citizens to attack their own country.
"I want people to be aware of the fact that it does exist and it is a threat to our national security," said Myrick, now the top Republican on one of the Intelligence subcommittees. "It could be an American citizen that could be radicalized by one way or another."
Her activism earns plaudits from some conservatives - but criticism from her Muslim constituents who fear that Myrick's tone endangers a community that is 3 million strong and deeply embedded in the nation's fabric. Tonight at 7, Myrick plans to meet many of them in person. Months after pledging to do so, she will hold a town hall in Charlotte with the Muslim community.
In recent months, Myrick has taken on the Muslim regulations known as Sharia, suggested some universities are being wrongly influenced by a brand of Islam common to Saudi Arabia known as Wahabism, warned that Muslims have "infiltrated" political and military circles, and pledged to educate colleagues in Congress about groups attempting to "enact policy that benefits radical Islamists."
She also has accused the Washington-based Council of American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights group, of secretly planting spies on Capitol Hill by trying to get Muslim interns hired in congressional offices.
Disputing Myrick's views
The allegations damaged already sore relations with the Muslim community and were offensive to young people who want to serve their country, said Larry Shaw, national chairman for CAIR and an N.C. state senator from Fayetteville.
"It's looking like she's taking on a tinge of McCarthyism, and this is dangerous," Shaw said. "She's becoming a hatemonger. And that's sad. This is an intelligent woman, and I think she's a good woman."
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and Congress' only Muslim member, said he hopes Muslims feel comfortable speaking candidly.
"It's important to express their firmly held views candidly and free of passion," he said.
Ellison has himself contacted Myrick after some of her remarks, and said he hopes tonight's meeting opens a new dialogue.
"Some of the things that Rep. Myrick has said are deeply offensive and upsetting," Ellison said. "Maybe this is the beginning of something good."
Myrick took on the issue of homegrown terrorism as she does many others - head-on, with little fear or nuance.
She is among the most conservative of the 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, hailing from a right-leaning and heavily urban district. As a former Charlotte mayor, she swept into office during the 1994 Republican Revolution and made a name for herself as an outspoken leader of her freshman class. She later served as chairwoman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, a key voting bloc in the House GOP.
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 (husband) Ed and I for years, for 20 years, have been saying, 'You know, look at who runs all the convenience stores across the country.' Every little town you go into, you know?"
Last fall, she wrote the foreword to a new book, "Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That's Seeking to Islamize America." The book accuses CAIR of conspiring to support international jihad against the United States.
Most Muslims consider CAIR, which has been around since 1994, a respected civil rights group with chapters around the country. The day of the book's release, she and three colleagues took a podium on Capitol Hill and accused CAIR of infiltrating congressional offices by attempting to place Muslim interns.
Immediately after the news conference, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, the top Democrat on Myrick's Intelligence subcommittee, sent out a letter advising members not to denigrate their own committee staff, some of whom are of the Muslim faith.
"These reckless attempts to blacklist an entire ethno-religious group run counter to the American ideals of tolerance, liberty and fairness," the letter read in part.
"Branding all Muslims as terrorists is just flat-out wrong," Eshoo said this week. "And when anyone does that, they push the community into the shadows and essentially would deter parents or relatives from reporting the kinds of things that need to be reported."
Eshoo said broad attacks on Muslims hurt American intelligence efforts. She praised tonight's town hall meeting and said she hopes it will help Myrick establish a relationship with the Muslim community.
Gunfire at Fort Hood
Myrick has said her fears about infiltration were realized in November, when Maj. Nidal Hasan killed 13 people at the Army's Fort Hood, Texas. Hasan, a psychiatrist, had trained colleagues about how to handle Muslims in the military. 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 must identify our enemy. 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.," praises Myrick's work, saying Muslim radicalism could pose more of a threat than the Ku Klux Klan of past eras.
"Anyone who says that it's fear-mongering or that it's not serious is living on a different planet," Emerson said. "I don't think you'll find a more courageous congressman than Sue Myrick."
Some experts, though, disagree with Myrick.
A study released last month by Duke University and UNC Chapel Hill researchers found 139 Muslim-Americans involved in alleged or confirmed terrorism incidents since 9-11. That compares with a national Muslim-American population of more than 3 million, 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.
He pointed out that there was an increase in incidents last year, but said it's too early to tell whether that signals a trend.
"We have a problem," Schanzer said. "It's important to keep it in perspective in its size and dangerousness, which I think are generally overblown."
Myrick has drawn attention for a new doctrine published on her Web site last fall called "Wake Up America 2.0."
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.
On the issue of Wahabi influence in higher education, Myrick's aides pointed to the funding of Middle Eastern studies at Georgetown and Harvard universities by Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal.
Alwaleed, a billionaire, is a major shareholder of Citigroup and of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., owner of Fox News.
"That's laughable," said Ebrahim Moosa, a Duke University professor of Islamic studies, who co-wrote the recent study. "Wahabism is like the Baptists; it's kind of a denomination of sorts that started out in Saudi Arabia."
He said many of Myrick's concerns about Sharia and about CAIR 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."
'We've got to talk'
Jibril Hough, spokesman for the Islamic Center of Charlotte, encouraged Myrick last fall to hold the town hall. He said he hopes tonight's meeting is the first of many between Myrick and the Muslim community.
Myrick said she wants constituents to understand that her fears aren't about religion.
"No, no, no," Myrick said. "We live in the United States of America, where we have freedom of religion for everybody."
She paused when asked whether she would have changed anything about her tone in the past year, given many Muslims' criticism.
"I don't know," she said. "There's always times when you can choose your words better. I'd fairly admit that."
But she said she wants local Muslims to know she supports them.
"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."