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.
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 men wearing distinctive turbans have also been the target of 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.