Sen. Ron Johnson, chair of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said Sunday that the United States is "certainly vulnerable" to the Islamic State, or ISIS, terror group, whose tens of thousands of sympathizers see it as a "winning organization." The U.S. must defeat it, he stressed.
"The best strategy the U.S. can employ to defeat this is actually defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria so that the reality is conveyed that this is not a winning organization, it is a losing organization," Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday.
Johnson cited the recent shooting at a cartoon contest in Garland, Texas, as an example of ISIS-inspired attacks that mislead its sympathizers to think the terror group is winning.
The Texas cartoon contest where the shooting occurred featured images of the Muslim prophet Muhammad. It was hosted by political blogger Pamela Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, in response to the controversial Islamic "Stand with the prophet" conference held at the same location in January featuring New York-based Imam Siraj Wahhaj, who was an alleged "co-conspirator" in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings.
It's not easy to deal with sympathizers, Johnson acknowledged. "The problem is, what do you do with the not-guilty-yet? We do have laws, we have a Constitution, and it's extremely difficult for law enforcement officials when you might have tens of thousands of sympathizers — how do you track them all?"
There are between 46,000 and 90,000 Twitter accounts that support ISIS, also known as ISIL, he noted.
"Now, Twitter is starting to shut those things down," he said. "But just consider maybe 90,000 people drawn to this barbaric ideology. So we have got a very large haystack. We're looking for a needle in it."
ISIS is an offshoot of al-Qaeda and seeks to establish a caliphate in the Levant region and beyond. Since last June, when ISIS declared its "caliphate," the terror group has killed more than 2,000 people, about two-thirds of them civilians.
Brett McGurk, who is the U.S. envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, was also interviewed. He noted that 22,000 foreigners have joined ISIS in Iraq and Syria, where the Sunni terror group control large swathes of territories.
"Long-term we are going to degrade and defeat this organization, but we have been clear from day one it's going to take a long time," he said.
U.S. military bases heightened security measures across the country Friday amid reports that ISIS is trying to recruit "hundreds, maybe thousands" in the country and that some of its trained terrorists are ready to carry out attacks.
FBI Director James Comey told reporters Thursday that ISIS is attempting to recruit "hundreds, maybe thousands" of potential terrorists across the country.
Some believe that ISIS is a greater threat to the U.S. than what al-Qaeda was at the time of the 9/11 terror attack.
"We're in much more serious circumstances today than we were after 9/11," Tom Ridge, former secretary of Homeland Security, told CNN.
"Remember, back then we thought about al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and a few other places? Well, we've seen al-Qaeda metastasize. It is now a global scourge. And you have the ascendancy of ISIL. The combination of those two groups — their appeal to the lone wolfs and we see them acting in Belgium and in France and in Canada and the United States, so the threat factors and the nature of the threats are far more complicated and far more serious today than on Sept. 12, 2001."