Yesterday, Carlos Lozada reviewed Jean Guerrero’s new book, Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda for the Washington Post, How Stephen Miller Went From Teen Troll To Trump Whisperer. He begins with an incorrect assertion: “The list of supposed Trump puppeteers is long.” But there really have only been Steve Bannon, John Kelly, Jared/Ivanka and Miller. Bannon and Kelly are long gone. I always get the idea that Jared/Ivanka try to tamp down the self-destructive racism that is never far from Trump’s surface, while Miller does far more than stoke it. Guerrero’s confirms what I’ve known from the beginning on the Regime– Miller personifies the bigotry, racism and fascism that have turned Trump into the most despised president in American history.
Lozada explains that Guerrero sees Miller as a character who wields influence over a policy arena that Señor Trumpanzee “considers vital to his legacy. He is the ‘architect’ of Trump’s restrictive immigration policies, and his ‘mind meld’ with the president has produced executive orders and rhetoric heavy on exclusion, cruelty and ‘prejudicial white patriotism.'”
Guerrero spends much of her book plumbing Miller’s early years for the origins of his animus against immigrants, with intriguing but inconclusive results. She makes far clearer how right-wing and nationalistic media personalities provided Miller the platform and tactics to hone his political vision– and theirs– and continued shaping his views during his time as a Senate aide and as a Trump adviser. Yes, Miller is a force over Trump, articulating and sharpening his message on immigration, but that makes his own influences all the more relevant.
Sometimes, if you look closely, you’ll see that a puppeteer has strings tugging at him, too.
Guerrero dwells on Miller’s years in Santa Monica, California, where he grew up crossing the Mexican border for family vacations, eating meals cooked by Latin American housekeepers and attending school with Mexican American children. His confrontations started early. “As a boy, Miller waged an ideological war on his dark-skinned classmates,” Guerrero writes.
In the summer after middle school, he informed a classmate that they could no longer be friends because of the boy’s Latino heritage. At his liberal high school, Miller admonished Mexican American students to “speak only English.” He worried that a Chicano student group wanted to reclaim California. “Racism does not exist,” he told school district committee on equality. “It’s in your imagination.” He fought against bilingual education, Spanish-language school announcements and Cinco de Mayo celebrations. In his most infamous early moment, he argued at an assembly that students should not have to pick up after themselves “when we have plenty of janitors who are paid to do it for us.”
Miller was, in essence, a troll, triggering the libs long before anyone called it that. “He was born with an ability to bring out anger from people,” a former counselor at the high school tells Guerrero, “and he rejoiced in that, it made him powerful.” When his classmates saw him on the national stage years later– speaking at Trump rallies or influencing the anti-Muslim travel ban, family separation policies and restrictions on asylum seekers– they felt a throb of recognition. One former student tells Guerrero that he could “hear Miller’s voice in AP government when Trump talks about ‘America First’ and ‘Make America Great Again.’”
Guerrero drops tantalizing suggestions about Miller’s motivations. For instance, he complained to a childhood friend that one of his Latina housekeepers was “kind of emotionally abusive,” and he fretted about being dropped off at school in a housekeeper’s “junky” car, which made him “look poor.” Guerrero even speculates that a legal dispute between Miller’s father and uncle involving the family real estate company somehow fostered Miller’s “contrarian stance toward the world” (even if the author admits she has no idea how aware a youthful Miller was of the turmoil). Guerrero is more persuasive when she notes that Miller’s childhood was a time of right-wing, anti-immigrant ferment in California.
When Miller was in elementary school, Proposition 187 passed, prohibiting undocumented immigrants from accessing non-emergency state services, including public school. (It was later declared unconstitutional.) A teenage Miller, a fan of Rush Limbaugh’s 1992 book, The Way Things Ought to Be, started making radio appearances on the conservative Larry Elder Show, complaining about his high school. There he caught the attention of right-wing activist David Horowitz, an ex-Marxist seeking to subvert the old lefty counterculture by teaching its tools to young right-wingers: how to attract media attention, stage controversial events and shame administrators who refused to “increase the scope of intellectual diversity” with conservative perspectives.
“In the 1970s, students started a political revolution on campus,” Miller wrote in an essay on Horowitz’s website, while still in high school. “Now is the time for a counter-revolution– one characterized by a devotion to this nation and its ideals.” He would become a Horowitz protege, and years later, Guerrero writes, the provocateur “would play a significant role in Trump’s campaign, with Miller as his vehicle.”
As an undergraduate at Duke University, Miller invited Horowitz to speak on campus, and he organized an immigration debate featuring Peter Brimelow, author of Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster. The event was a “life-changing” experience for Miller, Guerrero writes, making him think more broadly about immigration, creating a framework for his initial instincts. In the 1995 book, Brimelow argued that the Statue of Liberty is not a symbol of immigration because the Emma Lazarus poem was only added to the pedestal years later; Miller would make the same argument in the White House press room in 2017.
After Miller graduated from Duke, Horowitz helped him get a job as press aide for Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and later Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), whose restrictive views on immigration dovetailed with Miller’s. On Capitol Hill, Miller gained a reputation as “vindictive” and a “street fighter,” but he also immersed himself in the details of immigration policy, absorbing statistics from prominent restrictionist think tanks. It was through Sessions that Miller met Bannon, and the three discussed the possibilities of a populist nationalist movement built on White voters– the opposite of the lesson the GOP establishment had drawn from Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential defeat.
Horowitz lurked behind the scenes, encouraging Sessions and Miller to counter the Democrats’ emotional social-justice appeals with “an equally emotional campaign that puts the aggressors on the defensive; that attacks them in the same moral language.” Fear, he argued, beats hope. Then Trump appeared, spouting crude versions of Miller’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. Fear was in the air, and soon, thanks to Bannon’s intercession, Miller was in the Trump campaign.
Miller’s backstory has been well reported (Guerrero often cites McKay Coppins’s 2018 Atlantic profile), as has his role in developing Trump’s immigration policies (the 2019 book Border Wars by Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael Shear details his efforts to exert total control over immigration policy by intimidating career Homeland Security officials). Guerrero’s contribution centers on how Miller’s early patrons retained their sway over him. In May 2016, Miller emailed Horowitz, asking, “What are some ways the government and the oligarchs who rely on the government have ‘rigged’ the system against poor young blacks and hispanics?” Horowitz replied with multiple links, explaining that “the inner cities are war zones… BLM [Black Lives Matter] makes criminals into martyrs.” The ideas soon appeared in a Trump campaign speech: “You can go to war zones in countries that we are fighting and it is safer than living in some of our inner cities that are run by the Democrats,” the candidate declared.
Later, Miller asked for help again: “The boss is doing a speech on radical Islam. What would you say about Sharia Law?” Horowitz responded that Islamic law is incompatible with the Constitution, adding that “referring to it as ‘Radical Islam’– though inaccurate– is a good and necessary idea.” When Trump gave a speech attacking Hillary Clinton for not criticizing “radical Islamic terrorism,” Horowitz noticed. “Great fucking ground-breaking speech,” he emailed Miller. “I spent the last twenty years waiting for this.”
At times, even his mentors worried that Miller and Trump were overdoing things. Horowitz suggested that accusing Barack Obama of founding the Islamic State was a distraction to the campaign. And Elder, who encouraged his old radio guest to emphasize the national security risks of immigration– “we lack the ability to vet Muslim immigrants,” he wrote Miller during the campaign– argued that Trump’s attack on the loyalties of an American judge of Mexican descent went too far. (Both Horowitz and Elder shared these email exchanges with Guerrero.)
In the White House, Miller has gravitated toward his own preferred messages, usually revolving around brutal, fearmongering imagery of dangerous, criminal immigrants. That “gut-punching emotion,” Guerrero writes, “spiraling up from the underbelly of conservative media and a shared obsession with violent fantasies,” is a signature element of Trump and Miller’s worldview.
The mutual reinforcement between Trump World and conservative media is a constant refrain in coverage of this presidency. In Hatemonger, Guerrero makes such connections plain. And so does Miller. After Horowitz congratulated him on Trump’s “ground-breaking” campaign speech, Miller responded: “Thanks! Keep sending ideas.”
Also yesterday, Vanity Fair ran exceprts from Guerrero’s book– He Always Had An Axe To Grind: Howe Stephen Miller Molded The GOP To His Anti-Immigration Agenda. Chillingly, Miller seems to have been right in his belief that “through the force of his own will, he can just change reality.” He emulated his favorite movie Mafia figures and has always fancied himself a gangster; no wonder he and Trump have bonded so strongly. But before there was a Trump, there was another racist pig Miller worked for, Jeff Sessions, the KKK senator from Alabama.
Former Senate aides spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing retaliation. Two describe him as “vindictive.” One says he was like “an aggressive, nasty street fighter.” “He wants to project that he will do whatever he needs to do– and that anyone who crosses him will regret it.” Miller showed little interest in working with Democrats or moderate Republicans. “He was a lone wolf.” He told another aide: “You’re not a real Republican.” (Miller did not respond to repeated requests to be interviewed for the book from which this excerpt is adapted.)
Sotomayor was Obama’s first nominee to the court, and the first of Latin American heritage. Miller went to work trying to derail her nomination. Years earlier, Sotomayor had said, “I would hope that a wise Latina with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”
Sessions grilled her about the comment. “Aren’t you saying you expect your heritage and background to influence your decision-making?” he asked. “You have evidenced a philosophy of the law that suggests that a judge’s background and experiences can and should…impact their decision, which I think goes against the American ideal and oath that a judge takes to be fair to every party.”
Reporter John Stanton was covering Capitol Hill for Roll Call. He recalls getting calls from Miller, pitching him stories about why he thought Sotomayor was not qualified, calling her a “lesbian” or claiming “her position as a Latina woman created conflicts of interest because she would rule with a racial bias.” Stanton thought it was crazy. He says Miller’s comments about Sotomayor were nastier than those he made about men he disparaged. “He always had an axe to grind, particularly against Latina women but Latinos in general,” Stanton says.
Through lengthy press releases and emails, Miller also focused on attacking legislation that sought to assist the marginalized, such as federal spending on food stamps for the poor in 2012. Perhaps he remembered the words in one of his favorite books, The Way Things Ought to Be. “The poor in this country are the biggest piglets at the mother pig and her nipples,” Rush Limbaugh wrote. “The poor feed off of the largesse of this government and they give nothing back. Nothing. They’re the ones who get all the benefits in this country. They’re the ones that are always pandered to.”
Battling programs for the poor, Miller cast Sessions as a champion of the poor. Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler wrote a piece fact-checking a Sessions chart on welfare spending in 2013. The chart claimed the government spends the equivalent of $168 in cash every day for each household in poverty. Kessler concluded that it was “misleading.” He gave Sessions three Pinocchios. Miller contacted Kessler and insisted that he publish a four-paragraph response: “Who watches The Post’s watchman? Your piece is disappointingly anti-intellectual… Unlike your post, our analysis is honest, accurate and, most importantly, a constructive step towards helping those in need.”
Miller knew how to twist arms and wear people down, pressing buttons when they wouldn’t budge. Miller told Stanton, “You have to write a story that favors me because you did a story that helps out those guys.” And he was willing to play dirty if he didn’t get his way, according to Stanton, calling Stanton’s boss to complain about him. “[Miller] has this idea that through the force of his own will, he can just change reality. I hate to say it, but sometimes he has.”
Miller gave his peers headaches as he pushed negative stories about their hard-earned initiatives. One former aide says Miller pitched negative stories to Breitbart about her boss, a senior Republican senator who sought a compromise on immigration. Breitbart accidentally forwarded to her a memo critical of her boss that Miller had leaked. “It was pretty dirty,” she says. “I recall saying this to him once: ‘If illegal immigration is such a big problem, why don’t we do something to solve it?‘” She wondered if he wanted the problem to persist to have it as a wedge issue with which to divide Americans. While she gave presentations at conference meetings, “he’d sit there in the back lurking– and I just knew he was gonna take whatever I said and go send it to Breitbart.”
A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, the Gang of Eight, was fighting to create a comprehensive immigration bill. The coalition included Republican senators Marco Rubio, John McCain, Jeff Flake, and Lindsey Graham, as well as Democratic senators Michael Bennet, Dick Durbin, Robert Menendez, and Chuck Schumer. After the loss of Mitt Romney in 2012, the Republican Party had concluded that it needed to become more inclusive and address the concerns of non-white Americans.
Miller launched a smear campaign against the historic compromise, with Breitbart as his battle tank. He twisted the details to make it sound like a death sentence to America, a mass amnesty that would “decimate” the country and cost trillions in welfare. Miller spread the myth that people who support legalization for migrants belonged to “the donor class.” The Gang of Eight were depicted as corporate agents looking for cheap labor. The narrative ignored and obscured a fundamental fact about legalization: that it legitimizes the workforce, which would require a fairer wage. Sessions said of the bill: “The longer it lays in the sun, the more it smells, as they say about the mackerel.”
Miller became chummy with Ann Coulter as she was working on the draft of her book ¡Adios, America!: The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country Into a Third World Hellhole. They bounced ideas off each other. With Coulter’s help and other combative right-wing personalities, Miller fueled nationwide contempt for migrants and the leaders who sought to compromise on them.
An influx of unaccompanied minors from Central America began to arrive at the border, fleeing gang violence and extreme poverty after decades of U.S. intervention in their countries. On June 5, 2014, Breitbart published photos of Border Patrol facilities overcrowded with the children, feeding the new climate of hostility that Miller had helped create. “This invasion is happening because Obama and his administration sent these ‘foreign invaders’ an open invitation and now Obama expects American citizens to take care of them,” wrote one commenter on the Breitbart website. “They are locusts consuming every thing in their path,” wrote another. “Shove them back over the border, where they belong.”
Miller’s lobbying paid off. The Gang of Eight bill died in the House that summer. The Republican Party, which had been seeking to change course and appeal to more diverse Americans, was forced to adopt Miller’s position.