Donald Trump’s senior policy advisor Stephen Miller, an immigration ultra-hardliner behind this White House’s nastiest efforts to villify and torment immigrants and refugees, pushed racist talking points and linked to white supremacist websites in leaked emails published on Tuesday by the Southern Poverty Law Centre.
The emails are between Miller and Katie McHugh, a former editor for far-right website Breitbart who was involved in the white nationalist movement, but was later fired from the publication over Islamophobic tweets. McHugh has since publicly renounced racism and the modern far-right hate movement.
According to the SPLC, Breitbart editors introduced McHugh (then still at Breitbart) to Miller in the lead-up to the 2016 elections “with an understanding he would influence the direction of her reporting”; the emails largely concern Miller’s attempts to steer the course of McHugh’s writing as well as pitch story ideas. The tone of the discussions clearly shows Miller considered McHugh a fellow traveller in the far-right movement, freely letting loose with thoughts that many would associate with pointy hoods.
McHugh told the SPLC that in July 2015, Miller called her on the phone and suggested she read an article on “AmRen”—referring to American Renaissance, the openly white supremacist publication operated by racist activist Jared Taylor. The article in question, written by Taylor and titled “New DOJ Statistics on Race and Violent Crime,” praised the U.S. Department of Justice for releasing crime statistics broken down to separately denote those attributed to Hispanics rather than “rather than lumping them in with whites.” McHugh’s recounting of the conversation was backed by emails showing that after McHugh sent Miller a National Review article citing the crime stats, Miller requested that she contact him via phone to discuss “immigrant crime.”
In subsequent emails months later, Miller returned to the subject:
Miller, Sept. 1, 2015, 2:38 p.m. ET: “Hey Katie, Hope all is well. Was curious to see if you were still planning a story with the DOJ crime victims’ data.”
McHugh, Sept. 1, 2015, 2:56 p.m. ET: “Hi Stephen, yes, I’d like to. Can we touch base tomorrow morning/early afternoon after I write a couple of assignments?”
Miller, Sept. 1, 2015, 3:10 p.m. ET: “Absolutely”
Another email chain in September 2015 focused on The Camp of the Saints, a wildly racist French novel idolised by white supremacists set in a world where hordes of immigrants and refugees overrun the West. Miller kicked off the thread on September 1, addressing U.S. immigration policy as tantamount to “being invaded and talked into tolerating it,” adding that immigration is “treated as organic. No mention of voluntary policy which can be shut off.”
On September 5, Miller followed up with a link to a tweet from Republican pundit David Frum asserting that half of all violent crime in Germany is “committed by ‘foreign youths,’” as well as linked McHugh to a Vox.com article suggesting that SAT scores are being driven down by increased representation of “poor and nonwhite students.” McHugh said that Breitbart was considering a “series” of articles on the latter topic, to which Miller responded:
On the education angle? Makes sense. Also, you see the Pope saying west must, in effect, get rid of borders. Someone should point out the parallels to Camp of the Saints.
Per the SPLC, fellow Breitbart reporter Julia Hahn indeed penned an article related to the book that month; she is now a Trump aide.
In another email from October 23, 2015, McHugh discussed the aftermath of Hurricane Patricia with Miller, asking whether it could drive “mass migration” into the U.S. from affected parts of Central America and Mexico and if any refugees could receive temporary protected status (TPS) allowing them to remain in the states for a period of time. Miller responded, “100 per cent. And they will all get TPS. And all the ones here will get TPS too. That needs to be the weekend’s BIG story. TPS is everything.” He then followed up by sending McHugh a link to VDARE, a virulently anti-immigrant hate site operated by self-described “racial realist” Peter Brimelow, who is often described by others as a white supremacist.
Miller and McHugh also discussed efforts to remove Confederate symbols throughout the nation following the June 2015 massacre of nine black churchgoers in Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina by white supremacist Dylan Roof. On June 23, Miller wrote an email with the subject line “defies modern comprehension,” referring to retailers removing the Confederate flag from their stores, and cited statistics about the number of Southern men who died during the American Civil War.
McHugh says she took a phone call on the matter with Miller, after which he replied via email with suggestions to run counter-coverage attacking Amazon for selling “commie flags,” calling it a “potentially profound” examination of the “stunning corporate hypocrisy that defines our modern culture.”
McHugh wrote the piece. In response, Miller ranted about how taking down monuments to the Confederacy was disrespectful to the U.S. military and the supposed hypocrisy of people of Latin American descent who display Spanish flags or Christian crosses, as well as demanded “the left” apologise for communism:
Miller, June 23, 2015, 10:34 p.m. ET: “what do the [Confederate monument] vandals say to the people fighting and dying overseas in uniform right now who are carrying on a seventh or eighth generation of military service in their families, stretching back to our founding?”
Miller, June 24, 2015, 2:07 p.m. ET: “1. Should people of Spanish descent, especially those living in immigrant communities, be banned from displaying the Spanish flag given Spanish conduct in Latin America? 2. Should [Univision anchor] Jorge Ramos apologise for Spanish conduct in Latin America, and redress it by ensuring more people of indigenous backgrounds have hosting duties on his network? 3. Should the cross be removed from immigrant communities, in light of the history of Spanish conquest?”
Miller, June 25, 2015, 10:38 a.m. ET: “When will the left be made to apologise for the blood on their hands supporting every commie regime since stalin?”
Finally, in another thread in October 2015, Miller responded to news of a mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, by fixating on the “mixed race” background of gunman Chris Harper-Mercer. Miller suggested that some kind of conspiracy was at play, presumably with the intent of covering up that the shooter was not white:
Miller, Oct. 2, 2015, 12:06 a.m. ET: “[Harper-Mercer] is described as ‘mixed race’ and born in England. Any chance of piecing that profile together more, or will it all be covered up?”
The next day, news outlets reported that Harper-Mercer had white supremacist leanings. There is, of course, no evidence that the media “covered up” his identity.
Other emails show Miller claimed to have met with anti-Islam extremist Pamela Geller, cited InfoWars stories on a far-right pastor’s calls for an end to Muslim immigration, and repeatedly praised late president Calvin Coolidge for imposing the eugenicist Immigration Act of 1924. One major fan of that law was Adolf Hitler, who wrote in Mein Kampf that Germany should impose similar laws. Miller also regularly wrote using terms that would immediately raise red flags among anyone familiar with white supremacist ideology, the SPLC reported, including by mockingly referring to diversity as the U.S.’s “national religion.”
“What Stephen Miller sent to me in those emails has become policy at the Trump administration,” McHugh told the SPLC.
Similarly to how Miller railed about TPS status being granted to refugees fleeing devastation after Hurricane Patricia, the White House denied TPS to mostly black Bahamian refugees whose homes were destroyed by Hurricane Dorian this year.
Miller has also been widely cited as the architect of the Trump administration’s reviled migrant family separation policy, which could best be described as a campaign of intentional cruelty justified as deterrence, as well as its efforts to ban migration from Muslim-majority countries.
As the SPLC noted, in 2005, American Renaissance republished an article of Miller’s that had first appeared in right-wing site FrontPage Magazine titled “Santa Monica High’s Multicultural Fistfights.” In that article, Miller wrote that U.S. schools were “excusing black and Hispanic misbehavior by holding those students to a lower standard.” Miller did not respond to the SPLC when asked about how and why American Renaissance republished the piece.
Miller remains one of the chaotic U.S. administration’s longest-tenured staffers and continues to wield enormous influence over its immigration policies. The White House has largely responded to the emails in the SPLC piece by going on an incoherent attack run, implying that the organisation might have just made the whole thing up and outright stating behind the cover of anonymity that the suggestion Miller (who is Jewish) harbours far-right ties is somehow inherently anti-Semitic.
“We have not seen the report,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham told Axios in a statement. “The SPLC, however, is an utterly-discredited, long-debunked far-left smear organisation that has recently been forced—to its great humiliation—to issue a major retraction for other wholly-fabricated accusations. They libel, slander, and defame conservatives for a living. They are beneath public discussion.”
Another White House staffer, who refused to be quoted by name, told Axios reporter Zach Basu “This is clearly a form of anti-Semitism to levy these attacks against a Jewish staffer.” (According to CNN, hours later, Grisham was still professing ignorance as to the contents of the SPLC report.)
While Miller’s role in some of the White House’s most egregious abuses was already well known, and he has earned a reputation as at the very least sympathetic to white supremacist ideology, the leaked emails could see him join the long list of disgraced figures exiting the Trump administration. However, the president has loudly expressed similarly disgusting views and may be reluctant to part with one of his most pugnaciously loyal aides. According to the SPLC, this is just the first drop from over 900 emails obtained by the organisation.
“Americans should be terrified by the casual way that Stephen Miller, who has enormous influence in the White House, shares racist content and speaks the language of white nationalists in emails to people he apparently considered fellow travellers,” SPLC reporter Michael Hayden said in a press release.
“[McHugh] is well aware of the risks she took in giving us the material and confirming information,” Hayden added. “I think that’s incredibly brave.”
Disclosure: The author of this piece’s partner works for the Southern Poverty Law Centre, but was not directly involved in the reporting on the Miller piece.