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White House summit kicks off efforts to help communities address hate-fueled violence

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The White House is spotlighting the rise in hate-fueled violence at a daylong gathering today. The United We Stand summit aims to kick-start efforts at the local and federal levels to help communities prevent, respond to and recover from these kinds of attacks. NPR's Odette Yousef, who covers domestic extremism, has been monitoring the summit.

Hey, Odette.

ODETTE YOUSEF, BYLINE: Hey, Juana.

SUMMERS: So tell us a little more about this summit. What's been happening there, and what has it been like?

YOUSEF: It's been a lot of testimonials. We heard from victims of hate crimes or their family members - a former neo-Nazi skinhead, federal agency heads and extremism experts, to name a few. Vice President Kamala Harris made remarks near the top, with President Biden closing it out. Harris set the tone, saying that the surge we're seeing in hate crimes and domestic terrorism has brought this country to an inflection point in its democracy. You know, Juana, this has been an interesting thing to watch today. The Biden administration is being careful to frame the issue as one that should unite all democracy-loving Americans, regardless of background or politics. But of course, these efforts by the White House have been poorly received by some on the right, particularly Republicans in Congress who say the administration is demonizing conservatives.

SUMMERS: And, Odette, as you've been listening, have you heard anything that suggests a new way of perhaps thinking about domestic terrorism?

YOUSEF: Yes, a couple of things. So for a long time, Juana, the U.S. approach to domestic terrorism was framed solely as a national security issue. It was a law enforcement matter, with a focus on foreign terrorists or attacks that the Department of Homeland Security seemed to think would come from within American's Muslim community. And that, of course, led to very problematic civil rights issues. Today, for the first time, we saw an administration preparing to take a much wider view. So instead of just talking about victims of mass violence or domestic terrorism, we also heard from people who were individually targeted in local hate crimes.

Bill Braniff of the University of Maryland told participants why that's important.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILL BRANIFF: But if policymakers focus only on one - only on the 70 or so terrorist attacks that occur in a given year and not the 7,000-plus hate crimes, they'll make national security and public safety decisions based on less than 1% of the ideologically motivated crime that occurs in this country. This fails the victims of hate crime in their communities. It minimizes the national security implications of hate. If we're honest, it's not just policymakers. There's roughly one print news story for every 10 hate crimes reported to the FBI. We barely acknowledge them in our national discourse.

YOUSEF: And, Juana, we also heard an interest in things like public civic education and media literacy to help Americans know when they're being targeted by extremist propaganda or misinformation that can lead to violence.

SUMMERS: And, Odette, so far, have there been any kind of concrete promises coming out of this event?

YOUSEF: Yeah. So for that digital literacy piece, there will be close to $70 million to help states develop programs. The Department of Education is allocating a billion dollars over 10 years to states to help support students who face hate. And the Department of Homeland Security is awarding $20 million for prevention efforts. And some of that will go to historically Black colleges and universities, which, you may know, have been recently targeted by bomb threats. But at the end of the day, the idea is that this summit is a kickoff to work that will largely be done at the community level.

SUMMERS: That's NPR domestic extremism correspondent Odette Yousef.

Thank you.

YOUSEF: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Odette Yousef
Odette Yousef is a National Security correspondent focusing on extremism.