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White House hosts bipartisan summit to tackle hate-fueled violence

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The White House hosts a summit today gathering people concerned about extremist violence in the United States. The administration frames this as a danger to democracy. NPR domestic extremism correspondent Odette Yousef is covering it. Good morning.

ODETTE YOUSEF, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What's the meeting supposed to be like?

YOUSEF: So, you know, several civil rights and anti-hate groups were pushing for this gathering, Steve, after there was a racist mass shooting in Buffalo that left 10 people dead. And so what this will be is a daylong convening of people across sectors - you know, civil rights and immigration groups to people from the tech and business sectors, faith and community leaders, law enforcement officials and local elected officials. And the summit is going to focus on what the White House is calling hate-fueled violence.

Officials from the White House are saying it won't be about political violence, and that's interesting because, you know, it means they're not going to be looking at things like January 6, for example. But what I think is the most interesting thing is that the White House says the summit will be bipartisan, even though, frankly, we're not seeing much bipartisan cooperation at the federal level when it comes to efforts to combat this violence.

INSKEEP: Well, that is interesting. Of course, the president just the other day attacked, quote, "MAGA Republicans" for attacking democracy. Now they're linking this hate-fueled violence, as they describe it, to dangers to democracy, although they have found some Republican allies in other contexts. What approach is the Republican Party taking to this summit?

YOUSEF: So, you know, I've been trying to get a hold on, you know, what Republicans will be at the summit. There will be some local Republican mayors. Senior administration officials say some members of Congress will be there, but it's unclear if any of them will be Republican. At least one former official from the George W. Bush White House I know will attend. His name is John Bridgeland. He told me he worried that the timing of this gathering was bad with the midterms coming up, but now he sees urgency in this issue.

JOHN BRIDGELAND: It's a divisive time. That's just the reality. And yet from the perspective of communities across the country living their daily lives and seeing the dramatic increases in hate-fueled violence across the board, this is something the nation should be awakened to do something about.

YOUSEF: But as you mentioned, Steve, you know, Biden recently gave that speech at Independence Hall, and that really did stir up the hornet's nest. You know, online we saw some extremists calling to start a civil war, and then even more mainstream voices in media on the right were saying Biden was demonizing conservatives.

INSKEEP: OK, so we'll see how many Republicans or self-described conservatives turn up for this particular event. What do the advocates who asked for the event hope to get out of it?

YOUSEF: Well, they are thrilled, first of all, to see the White House leadership on this issue, but at the same time, there's some frustration, you know, with a number of stakeholders. You know, first, all this tiptoeing around naming who's responsible for the growth in nativist rhetoric in this country, they're just over it. Here's Frank Sharry from the immigration advocacy group America's Voice.

FRANK SHARRY: I've worked on this issue for over four decades, and I have to say that I am stunned by the radicalization of the GOP when it comes to immigration and refugees.

YOUSEF: And by radicalization, he's talking specifically about the use of replacement theory language, this false narrative that immigrants are being systematically brought to the U.S. to replace native-born Americans.

INSKEEP: Odette, thanks so much.

YOUSEF: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Odette Yousef
Odette Yousef is a National Security correspondent focusing on extremism.