'Hatemonger' Tracks How Right-Wing Media Shaped Trump Policy Architect Stephen Miller

'Hatemonger' Tracks How Right-Wing Media Shaped Trump Policy Architect Stephen Miller

7:59am Aug 16, 2020
Stephen Miller, White House senior adviser for policy, listens during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on July 15.
Stephen Miller, White House senior adviser for policy, listens during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on July 15.
Bloomberg via Getty Images
  • Stephen Miller, White House senior adviser for policy, listens during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on July 15.

    Stephen Miller, White House senior adviser for policy, listens during a meeting in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C., on July 15.

    Bloomberg via Getty Images

  • Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda, by Jean Guerrero

    Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda, by Jean Guerrero

    William Morrow

Stephen Miller is the architect of Donald Trump's extreme policies on immigration.

And leaked emails have shown him pushing white-power ideology cloaked in pseudo-science.

So how did an affluent kid from the California suburbs — who liked mobster movies and wore gold chains — get on the path that led him to where he is now?

Jean Guerrero's new book Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda follows Miller through a conservative media landscape where key figures — including right-wing radio talk-show host Larry Elder; David Horowitz, who founded the David Horowitz Freedom Center; and former Breitbart chief Steve Bannon — propelled the rise of a man who now influences who gets to be an American.

Guerrero, who is a reporter for NPR member station KPBS, says she decided to write the book because she "wanted to understand what was motivating the man who is crafting these policies whose consequences I had been covering from the busiest border crossing in the country." And Stephen Miller was a big part of that.

Stephen Miller grew up in Southern California during the 90s — at the same time Guerrero was growing up just a couple hours south of where he lived.

"I just became all the more fascinated with trying to understand how a descendant of Jewish refugees who grew up in Southern California — how does that person become the person crafting Trump's harshest rhetoric and policies, targeting people fleeing violence and persecution, people like his own great-grandparents?" Guerrero tells NPR.

Guerrero has found that while Miller and Trump seem to work well together, they are different: "Stephen Miller is a true ideologue. He's a fanatic. He believes this stuff, whereas Trump is a lot more motivated by self-interest. But you do see that these two men coming together ... they've been able to mutually benefit each other in a very unique way. In part, because Stephen Miller gets Donald Trump."

Guerrero says she repeatedly asked for the White House to participate in her research and reporting for the book, but that they ultimately did not.

Interview Highlights

On how Larry Elder influenced Stephen Miller

Larry Elder is this black radio talk show host who was — he calls himself the "Sage from South Central." And at the time, and through today, he was pushing this idea that systemic racism against black people and people of color, in general, is kind of a figment of our imaginations. And that, you know, the problems of the black communities and people of color are due to a lack of self-determination rather than systemic issues. And Stephen Miller, from a very young age, read Larry Elder's book, The 10 Things You Can't Say in America, and just loved it. And, like many other white people listening to Larry Elder, they felt that his ideas validated a lot of their racist beliefs and allowed them, provided them, with a framework for having these beliefs and not perceiving themselves to be racist — because of the fact that Larry is a black man. Larry tells me that the first time that Steve Miller called into his show ranting against multiculturalism and against his school's alleged lack of patriotism, Larry was just very impressed with how articulate Stephen was. ...

He was really skilled at regurgitating the talking points of other talk show hosts that he'd been listening to, like Rush Limbaugh. And so he just decided he was going to invite him on. He was very impressed with the way that Stephen Miller dressed. He was just overall really taken with this young teenager and how passionate he was. And he decided to give him a platform and let him on the show pretty much whenever he wanted.

On how Miller attracted attention in his high school

He was talking about how students shouldn't have to pick up their trash because that's what the custodians are there to do. He says that's what we pay the janitors to do. And a lot of the students watching this speech that he gave thought of it as pretty classist and racist because of the fact that there's only a handful of custodians [at the school] and they were all people of color. But, you know, his friends tell me that from a very young age, Stephen Miller would always say really outrageous things, just trying to get a rise out of people — which he did when, during that speech, one of the student government leaders was afraid that a riot was about to start, a race riot. And she felt that he had intended to create this chaos of people screaming at each other and getting really riled up.

How being on the Larry Elder show gained him the attention of David Horowitz

David Horowitz, he is a former Marxist turned right-wing radical who kind of dedicated much of his life to fostering young conservatives like Stephen Miller — and teaching them the weapons of the civil rights movement from which he came, and teaching them how to use the language of the civil rights movement to attack it. So, painting white men as victims of discrimination based on their skin color, calling liberals and people of color racists and oppressors. And David Horowitz finds Stephen Miller during kind of a difficult time in [Stephen's] life. His family had had to move from a very affluent part of town to a less affluent part. So he was feeling kind of displaced. And this is when David Horowitz comes into his life, you know, starts inviting him over to his house and introducing him to the idea that Stephen Miller had to save the United States from certain destruction in the form of the Democratic Party and its alliances with Muslims and other people of color who David Horowitz believes are out to destroy civilization.

[It's] apparent from private correspondence that David Horowitz shared with me for the book, where you could see for years, David Horowitz shaping Stephen Miller's career throughout college, getting him his first job on Capitol Hill, shaping [Donald] Trump's rhetoric and policies through Miller. And he introduces him from a very young age to this idea that everything that we hold dear as Americans — you know, equality and freedom — that all of these things are thanks to white men and that there's this unfair war on whiteness. ... Stephen Miller was really taken with this idea. And you see Stephen Miller becoming radicalized. I truly see him as a case study involved in indoctrination through David Horowitz and the influence that he had on Stephen Miller.

On his time at Duke and his response to accusations of rape against lacrosse players

He was repeatedly drawn to racial controversies, primarily, you know, arguing against multiculturalism as some kind of existential threat to America and claiming that ideas of racism are simply racial paranoia and that there isn't really any racism. And just singling out his black classmates — at one point [he] became very obsessed with the Duke lacrosse scandal, where a black woman accused several Duke lacrosse players of having raped her. And those accusations were ultimately found to be false.

But during the investigation, when people were trying to get to the bottom of what had happened, Stephen Miller rushed to the defense of the white players, saying that they were being targeted simply because of their white skin color. ... You see him getting invited to talk on national television shows and you see kind of Stephen Miller really doubling down and tripling down, especially after the charges ended up dropped. It's like for him, it served as evidence that he'd been right all along. And so he starts to realize that this extremism that David Horowitz introduced him to is actually a potential path to power. He had always been seen as kind of a pariah, kind of a fringe figure. His views were offensive to people, but people just kind of rolled their eyes and thought, well, this guy can't do any harm, I mean, he's just so out there. But you see him actually being very effective with the media.

On his connection to Steve Bannon

Steve Bannon, he remembers when he met Stephen Miller, he remembered listening to his voice on the Larry Elder show in Los Angeles. You know, like so many other key figures who played a key role in shaping Trumpism, he had heard Stephen Miller. So he decides to help Stephen Miller get a platform for his ideas through the right-wing blog Breitbart, which Bannon was the head of at the time. And so, initially Stephen Miller had had some trouble on Capitol Hill getting his ideas through to journalists. Like, at first, he had been trying to derail the nomination to the Supreme Court of Sonia Sotomayor — the first woman of Latin American heritage to be nominated — by saying that her Latin American heritage would interfere with her ability to be an unbiased judge. And people just kind of, again, rolled their eyes at him, didn't listen to him. But Steve Bannon comes in and tells Stephen Miller that he can help shape coverage at Breitbart....

Stephen Miller, I mean, he was given free reign over the writers of Breitbart. He was encouraged to shape their coverage, essentially. And so you see Stephen Miller sending the writers links to white nationalist and white supremacist literature, including websites like American Renaissance, which David Horowitz tells me he thinks that he introduced Stephen Miller to. It's a website that pumps out misleading Black- and brown-crime statistics to paint Black and brown people as innately more violent than white people. And so you see Breitbart doing stories on this white nationalist and white supremacist literature that Stephen Miller was sending over to them.

It shows you just how Stephen Miller was able to bring the very combative rhetoric of right-wing talk radio and right-wing television to the White House.

On the Miller-Trump relationship

From a very young age, Stephen Miller was expressing his desire, his fascination with violence, you know, talking about wanting to rip rapists apart bit-by-bit with his own hands, talking about wanting to watch Osama bin Laden's body riddled with bullets, just very gory fantasies that you see Trump expressing as well. You know, when the Central Park five — black and Latino young men — were falsely accused of beating and raping a woman in Central Park, he immediately came out with an ad talking about how he wants to hate these muggers and murderers and wants them to be executed.

And so Stephen Miller and Donald Trump really share this morbid fascination with violence. And that's why you see Stephen Miller contributing these very vivid descriptions of demonizing violence into Trump's rhetoric, you know, talking about migrants slaughtering little girls and just stuff that is supposed to make you feel afraid, and hatred towards migrants. And the other thing about their relationship is Stephen Miller consistently pushes Trump in the most aggressive direction when it comes to immigration policy and when it comes to his rhetoric. And Trump has learned to appreciate that, because whenever he has listened to a more moderate adviser, he ends up getting ridiculed by his base as — by his very hard-core base — as weak. And Trump hates that. He wants to be seen as a killer. You see him talking about this throughout his life, the importance of being a killer. And this is something that really resonates with Stephen Miller. Stephen Miller shares Trump's instincts for violence and has his hands on the pulse of Trump's most violent voting base because of the fact that, he's been reading white supremacist and neo-Nazi literature for such a long time.

Stephen Miller and Donald Trump come from very similar families. You know, Stephen Miller's dad is a real estate investor who is tangled up in numerous legal disputes and bankruptcies related to his company during Stephen Miller's childhood. And he was described to me as being very combative. And court documents describe him as a masterpiece of evasion and manipulation and, you know, language that's often used to describe Trump. So my sources tell me that part of the reason that Stephen Miller and Donald Trump get along so well is Stephen Miller grew up with a man who was very similar to Trump. And he knows how to how to get along with Trump. And he sees him almost like another father figure. ...

Trump truly believes that Stephen Miller is a key player for him. And you see him leaning on him more and more in this time of crisis, during the pandemic. He believes that he can no longer tout a strong economy and he's got this public health crisis on his hands. And so he's leaning more and more on the demonization strategies of Stephen Miller that have proved previously so effective for him.

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