President Obama's top advisers held a series of meetings Monday with Muslim and Sikh religious leaders to discuss the fallout their communities are facing in the wake of the deadly San Bernardino shootings.
Senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, Domestic Policy Council director Cecilia Munoz, and Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes took part in the White House sit-downs — a dozen days after a radicalized Muslim couple fatally shot 14 people and wounded 21 more in California.
The Chicago-born Syed Farood and his wife Tashfeen Malik, a Pakistani national raised in Saudi Arabia, were killed in a gun battle with the police after the Dec. 2 massacre.
Representing the Muslim community were a dozen influential leaders including Maya Berry of the Arab-American Institute and Imam Khalid Latif, a New York Police Department chaplain.
A person inside the meetings told NBC News that participants thanked the Obama Administration for sticking up for Muslims, asked for advice how to deal with anti-Muslim hate crimes, and recounted heartbreaking tales of school girls being bullied for wearing head scarves.
The meetings were called after a spike in anti-Islamic incidents — and in response to calls by leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump for a ban on all Muslims entering the U.S. and statements seen as anti-Islamic by other GOP candidates such as Ben Carson and Jeb Bush.
“The kind of offensive, hateful, divisive rhetoric that we've seen from a handful of Republican candidates for president is damaging and dangerous,” said White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Monday, while not mentioning Trump or the others by name.
Earnest also made clear the belief these meetings are important to “advancing our national security interests.”
Sikhs are not Muslims, but Sikh men wear distinctive turbans and have also been the target of bias attacks.
Obama did not attend any of the meetings.
Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric has helped him solidify his lead atop the crowded GOP field, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows. He is the first choice of 27 percent of Republican primary voters (up four points since the last poll).
While nearly six-in-10 Americans oppose Trump's proposal to stop Muslims from coming to the United States, Republicans are evenly split, according to the same poll.