U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson sees uncomfortable parallels between the case of his grandfather and the animus and distrust that many Muslim Americans face for the terrorist actions of a few, the Los Angeles Times reports. His grandfather, a college president, was called before the House Un-American Activities Committee. “Basically in the late ’40s and early ’50s, if you were a black intellectual with a PhD, you were also suspected of being a communist,” Johnson said. “We always risk a fundamental misunderstanding of who is an individual of suspicion and who should be subject to government surveillance.”
The issue is resonant because Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, has made suspicion of Muslims a centerpiece of his campaign. Trump has called for banning all foreign Muslims from entering the U.S. and has said that many American Muslims and mosques knowingly protect terrorists. Johnson travels every few months to meet Muslim leaders around the country, usually in private. He asks them to help authorities identify potential threats in their communities, and he often describes his grandfather’s torment to show he understands how innocent people can be harmed when fear, fueled by politics, sweeps the nation. “This is not an effort to enable us to spy in mosques,” Johnson said. “The U.S. government cannot and should not be everywhere, and so it is incumbent on community leaders, neighbors and others to help us in these efforts.” It’s a carefully calibrated appeal, and it doesn’t always work.