OPINION: To stop extremist hate and violence, we have to look within ourselves

PHOTO: White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "so-called alt-right" clash with counter-protesters as they enter Lee Park during a rally on Aug. 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Va. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
White nationalists, neo-Nazis and members of the "so-called alt-right" clash with counter-protesters as they enter Lee Park during a rally on Aug. 12, 2017 in Charlottesville, Va.

Though I may have reached the pinnacle of what many consider power and prominence -- working to elect and re-elect a President, regular meetings in the White House and trips on AirForce One -- I came to understand late in my ambitious life that the greatest power we can have is in the small circles of our own worlds.

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Hate and violence has no place in the world, or our own worlds. It doesn't matter which ideology or dogma you are advocating, if it includes discrimination and extreme words or actions, it is misguided and wrong.

The problem today is that many people claim one tribe and point to the other tribes as the "really bad ones." Yes, we need to push back strongly when groups such as white supremacists and neo-Nazis advocate a hate-based ideology and members intimidate with violence or the threat of violence. Absolutely that must be clearly and unequivocally denounced, with no moral equivalence. President Trump failed this simple test in the aftermath of Charlottesville.

However, I have noticed that the "right" often says that the real problem in America is leftist radicals or radical Islamic terrorists. The "left" often points the finger at radicals on the right or extremist Christians as the underlying issue. Some Muslims say it is the Christians’ fault, Christians say it is Muslims who are instigating fear and violence and on it goes.

Objective data shows that numerous incidents of violence in America have been caused by extremists from all these groups over the last decade. None of the groups that have promoted violence as a solution is innocent.

We can argue about how much is caused by one or the other, but those arguments are not going to fix the problem. Our leaders should allocate resources to combat violence based on facts. Right now we are over-allocating resources towards violence by radical Islam and far under-allocating resources toward white nationalist hate groups. But again, political leaders won't solve this problem with money and manpower alone.

The real solution to this moral crisis is to step up in our own circles and clean our own houses before we point the finger across the street. It is well past time for the "right" to work on ridding its side of extremists who divide, hate and push tactics detrimental to our country. Muslims should be the first line of accountability for mopping up the corruption of their faith by radical extremists. Christians should confront Christians who preach a Gospel of hate, which is far removed from the way of Christ. And the left must push back on radical leftists who threaten others with violence.

There is a minority in each tribe who advocates violence and hate, and it is imperative the leaders in those tribes deal with their "own" first. The violence in Ireland was finally stopped when peaceful Irish people of virtue stood up and said “enough.”

As a Christian, my first job is to point out the hypocrisy and moral corruption of those who carry my own religious banner. As someone in the news media, I should try to clean up that circle as best I can and push for more pursuit of truth and a common set of facts, and towards greater independence from partisan leanings. We in the media must hold those in power accountable, whether wearing a red or blue jersey, and insist that our job is to tell the truth as best we can.

As Americans, we must start with confronting where we have fallen down before we find an international enemy to blame, or worse, to engage in war. We have ideals as citizens of the United States that we haven't met, and we must address those first, as an unequivocal beginning.

Until we move away from the "yes we have problems, but look how bad the other side is" mentality, we will never heal this country. Before we talk about what other clans need to do, let us each use our moral authority to address the problems within our own political and life circles. It is in those smaller circles that we can have the most power to affect real change.

So when somebody on the right tells me we need to focus on the left or on Islam, I am going to ask “What are you doing about right wing extremists?” And I will do the same to those on the left. And the same to Christians. And to Jews. And to Muslims. It is now a moment for us to remove the weeds in our lawn, and by doing that, we can put pressure on others to look at the grass in their yards. To me, it is the only way out of this morass.

Will you join me?

Matthew Dowd is an ABC News analyst and special correspondent. Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect the views of ABC News.

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