Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Global leaders gather in Pittsburgh this week to discuss the rise in extremist hate, find solutions

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh will host global leaders this week at a summit that seeks to find a bipartisan response to the rise in extremist hate, nearly three years after a gunman killed 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue.

The first annual Eradicate Hate Summit will feature speeches from former President George W. Bush; Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas; Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt; and Alice Wairimu Nderitu, the United Nations special advisor on the prevention of genocide.

“I want this city to be remembered for how it responded to hate — not how it was victimized by hate,” Laura Ellsworth, Jones Day partner and summit co-chair, told WESA’s The Confluence. “Hate is a multi-faceted, multi-discipline problem, and it is one whose solution resides in every single one of us.”

The three-day summit will include conversations about how to stop the spread of extremism and prevent hate crimes. Panels will discuss the unique roles of technology, social media, cryptocurrency, gender and the pandemic in the rise of extremist hate.

Sessions will also focus on how to ensure justice for victims of hate and create new policies that prevent extremism from spreading.

The summit features a range of experts from anti-terrorism to law; religious and academic leaders; and intelligence and technology experts. Members of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, including members of the Tree of Life Synagogue, will also speak.

But some Pittsburgh community groups are not impressed with the summit’s guest list of speakers. Bend the Arc Jewish Action: Pittsburgh — a progressive Jewish social justice group — and the Latino advocacy group Casa San Jose released a joint statement Friday condemning the inclusion of Bush, Mayorkas and former Homeland Security Secretary and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.

“It is gratifying that President Bush, Secretary Mayorkas and Mr. Ridge wish to lend their stature to the cause of eradicating hate… However, the legacy of their work stands in stark contrast to lofty goals of the summit itself,” the statement reads.

The groups criticized Bush’s response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and related the administration's deportation policies to anti-immigrant sentiment.

“The Bush administration and DHS exploited anti-Islamic fervor to justify an aggressive expansion of domestic surveillance, harassment, and entrapment of Americans who practice Islam, have Arab or Middle Eastern heritage, or fit a stereotype of these cultures,” the groups said.

Bend the Arc and Casa San Jose acknowledged the participation of Bush, Mayorkas and Ridge raises the summit’s profile and could increase the attention given to other speakers, but they said they feel the legacy of the Bush administration must be noted.

“We need to acknowledge that elevating the voices of Bush, Ridge, and Mayorkas in a conference against hate instead whitewashes their roles in racially-based human rights abuses,” the statement reads, calling for organizers to call out the role of government in extremism.

Seamus Hughes, summit speaker and deputy director of the extremism program at George Washington University, spoke with WESA's The Confluence before those community groups voiced their opposition. But he said disagreement is to be expected during the discussions, and the point is to find common ground on which to move forward.

“The goal is really: What’s the solution? Where are the common grounds? We’re not going to solve all of the world’s problems in a [three-day] conference, but we’re going to try,” he said.

Seamus acknowledged that the goal of the summit is a big one, but he argues the work must begin somewhere.

“It’s understandable that people want to take a step back after a mass casualty event,” he said. “But very few want to take the next step to try to prevent the next one.”

According to Ellsworth, the summit will be an annual event with an aim to produce new laws and policies to prevent the spread of hate and ensure justice for those who are victimized by it.

“Nothing is insurmountable,” she said of the summit’s lofty goals. “[If] we save one family, two families, three families, it will all have been worth it.”

The summit begins at 8 a.m. Monday at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. The public can register to attend here. Some sessions will be livestreamed.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.