WH defends its choice of words in push against 'violent extremism'

WH defends its choice of words in push against 'violent extremism'
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The White House pushed back Wednesday against accusations that its summit on violent extremism fails to adequately demonstrate the role of Islamic extremism.

"We’re very mindful of the fact that a particularly virulent strain of extremist ideology has tried to insert itself in the Muslim community, there’s no question about that," press secretary Josh Earnest said during Wednesday's press briefing.

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"Extremism has taken a variety of forms in this country in a way that has had violent results, we want to be focused on making sure that we are countering all of that. But that does not diminish in any way the concerns that we have that some extremist have made some inroads into the Muslim communities in attempting to inspire them to carry out acts of violence of join their fight.”

The White House's Summit on Countering Violent Extremism, which runs from Wednesday through Friday, includes a number of community leaders, law enforcement officials and politicians discussing the topic against the backdrop of increasing violence by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Earnest said that he's confident that the summit will produce tangible results, specifically in helping communities share best practices on how to best deal with extremism.

"There are already, in local communities across this country, coordinated efforts to counter extremist messaging that’s aimed at vulnerable youth," he said, specifically mentioning plans in Boston, Minneapolis and Los Angeles.

“To the extent that they can talk about some of the success that they’ve had and to the extent that local leaders in other communities can apply those lessons in their communities, I think those are real tangible results."

There's been some criticism that the administration is searching for societal change instead of a more robust military strategy. A recent statement by State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf that "we cannot kill our way out of this war" and that America needs to address "root causes that lead people to join those groups" only spurred those assertions.

Earnest said that the administration is committed to its military strategy, and pointed to its recent airstrikes. But he stressed that it’s not the only strategy.

"The summit that we’ve convened over the course of this week is not the summit to discuss our comprehensive strategy to eradicate extremists," he said.

"We do have a strategy for that and one component of that strategy is ensuring that we are countering violent extremism, that we want to mitigate the ability of extremists to capitalize on social media to try to recruit others to that cause.”

Earnest also addressed the flak that he and Obama have taken for not specifically mentioning the religion of the 21 Egyptian Christians who were beheaded over the weekend.

Asked whether the religion of the victims is relevant, he answered: "It sure is.”

"The ISIL extremists that carried out this attack indicated that the reason they were killing them wasn’t just because they were Egyptian, but because they were Christian,” he said, using an alternate acronym for ISIS.

"There’s a responsibility of people of all faiths to stand up and reach out when individuals try to use faith and distort space to try to justify an act of violence."

Earnest also sparred with a reporter over why he didn't mention the Egyptians' religion in the first White House statement on the killings, while Obama's statement on the recent murder of three North Carolina students, who were Muslim, mentions theirs. Earnest said that the North Carolina murders are still under investigation, but that the president felt it was important to "articulate a very clear principle" that people should not be targeted because of their religion.