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Earnest: 'Virulent Strain of Extremist Ideology Has Tried to Insert Itself in Muslim Community'

Responding to criticism that this week's summit on violent extremism isn't focused on radical Islam -- while most of the participating group are linked to the Muslim community -- White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the administration is "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. That's true in the United States. That's true in other places around the world. And that is -- will be the subject of extensive discussion at the -- at the summit," Earnest told reporters at today's briefing.

"At the same time, we also recognize that there are other forms of extremism that have prompted others to carry out acts of violence even on American soil. You know, we've talked on a couple of previous occasions about, you know, the, you know, the violent extremist who carried out an attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, or, you know, the -- the radical ideology that prompted someone to go and open fire outside a Jewish community center in Kansas."

Earnest said the conference has a broad focus because "extremism has taken a variety of forms in this country in a way that has had violent results."

"And, you know, we want to be focused on making sure that we're countering all of that, but that does not diminish in any way the concern that we have that some extremists have made some inroads into some Muslim communities in attempting to inspire -- inspire them to carry out acts of violence or to join their fight," he said.

"And we have worked very hard and very diligently with the Muslim community here in this country, with local law enforcement, and with political leaders to counter that ideology and to counter that messaging. And that is -- that is something about which we remain vigilant. And today's summit, or this week's summit provides a good venue for talking about some of the successes of that strategy and to identify some additional steps that we can take to further safeguard the American people."

Asked if there were targeted extremist groups represented at the summit other than representative of the Muslim community, Earnest referred reporters' questions to the National Security Council.

Asked later if there were any extremist groups that had legitimate grievances, Earnest talked about "ensuring that countries that are carrying out counterterrorism operations within their borders do so with proper respect for universal human rights," singling out Nigeria as an example.

"Boko Haram does not have legitimate grievances," a reporter fired back.

"No, they don't," Earnest replied. "But what we want to do is we want to make sure that -- that Boko Haram doesn't have a fertile recruiting ground in Nigeria that only is enhanced if you have a Nigerian government that runs roughshod over the basic human rights and values of their citizens."

The press secretary also responded to the weekend statement about the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians by ISIS, which didn't mention the victims' faith.

"I can't account for that specific line in the statement, but we've been clear there that we condemn this murder," he said. "...On a variety of occasions, I think I've been pretty clear here that we condemn the outrageous killing of these Egyptian citizens because of their Christian faith."

But, he was reminded, Obama singled out the faith of the victims after three Muslim students were killed by a neighbor in North Carolina. “No one in the United States of America should ever be targeted because of who they are, what they look like, or how they worship," the president said in a statement last Friday.

"I think it is important for the president, in this case as he has in many others, to articulate a pretty clear principle, and I think it's the kind of principle that the vast majority of Americans should be able to support, which is that people should not, regardless of their faith, be targeted because of what their last name is, what they look like, or how they worship," Earnest said.

"...We have also acknowledged that this is an issue that's under investigation in North Carolina, but I think as a principle it's -- this is the kind of thing that we should all be able to agree with."