Skip to content Skip to footer

White Nationalist Media Is Shaping US Immigration Policy

White House Adviser Stephen Miller has been pushing white nationalist books and racist immigration stories since 2015.

Senior Advisor Stephen Miller looks on as President Trump speaks to the media in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. on July 26, 2019.

Janine Jackson: That White House senior policy advisor and speechwriter Stephen Miller believes in white nationalism is evident: By their policy, ye shall know them. But we now have, as it were, the receipts.

The Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch reviewed hundreds of emails between Miller, when he was an aide to then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, and Katie McHugh, then an editor at the far-right media outlet Breitbart.

McHugh, who has since renounced the right, gave Hatewatch access to messages from 2015 and 2016, in which Miller pushes white nationalist books and racist immigration stories, while saying things like, “Speaking of refugees, did you see the expanded list I emailed of foreign-born terrorists on Friday afternoon?”

The point, of course, is not simply that Miller himself is hateful or, frankly, scientifically illiterate, but that these ideas are now shaping the country’s policy, especially on immigration. We’re joined now by Michael Edison Hayden, senior investigative reporter at Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch. Welcome to CounterSpin, Michael Edison Hayden.

Michael Edison Hayden: Thank you. I’m happy to be here.

In these emails where he’s pushing stories and angles and sources to Breitbart, Stephen Miller’s kind of a one-note Johnny; there’s definitely a coherence to the ideas that he’s pushing and that he’s promoting supporting documents for.

As we established in the first story in this investigation, over 80% of Miller’s emails relate to the subjects of race and immigration. There are almost no emails that are referencing, like, a movie that might be playing, or Did you see this? or Did you see that on TV last night?; Miller is focused like a laser on the subjects of race and immigration. McHugh told me in conversation that when she met Miller in person, he was also talking about race and immigration at that time.

So this is a person who is driven and consumed by this subject. The way he views the subject goes in only one direction, and that is nonwhite people and their associations with what he perceives to be criminality and danger, and all these things. And just that. And when it came to the subject of whites committing crimes, like the Dylann Roof massacre, Miller was only interested in flipping the news away from that.

It seems especially relevant for immigration policy that these emails present Stephen Miller as a fan of Calvin Coolidge. He whines — I’m saying “whines” — he says at one point, “Coolidge shut down immigration. No one said he was violating the Statue of Liberty’s purpose.” What should we know about Coolidge and that policy?

Your audience is probably a lot sharper about these things than the more mainstream audience who I’ve been trying to convey this to, when discussing this investigation — is how serious the Coolidge thing is. People who are just like, “Oh, he’s a president or whatever” —


— don’t really understand what the Immigration Act of 1924 really was about. It was about establishing racial quota laws in the United States. And it was based on eugenics, period: discredited race science that’s the equivalent of believing you can turn lead into gold. That’s a different matter, and it’s also beyond the fact it’s supremely dehumanizing. Miller talks about the heritage of Calvin Coolidge, the four decades of heritage of Calvin Coolidge. And what he’s talking about are the years between 1924 and 1965. And in 1965, we passed Hart-Celler, which put an end to racial quota laws in the United States.

His idea of “Make America Great Again” is returning the country to a time in which there were racial quota laws in the United States that were, you know, in 1924, praised by Adolf Hitler. This is far more egregious than just a “president from the past.”

Given that the apparent plan is to blow this all off as antisemitism, it seems meaningful that Hart-Celler undid that immigration policy from the ’20s — that policy also discriminated against Jews; it was also antisemitic, yeah?

Yeah, of course. And the charge, to me, is Miller saying that he doesn’t have any defense for this; he knows these are his own emails. And the idea that he would make that accusation of a civil rights organization…. Going back to when I started at SPLC in December 2018, we’ve exposed the identities of prominent antisemites and neo-Nazis, including this guy named Spectre, who is a notorious internet troll who was harassing Jews constantly online, and Slavros, the guy who founded the neo-Nazi forum Iron March —


— is another person who we reported on.

And he’s been linked to so many acts of terrorism, recently, and terror plots against Jews. You know, Miller, to me, he reaches to that because he doesn’t have any other explanation for what he did and what he says. He should know better than anyone the degree to which these policies of hate are connected to the rising antisemitism that we see in the United States right now.

I want to take one maybe side note, to say: It’s one thing to amplify any statistic that you can find linking nonwhite people and crime, while claiming that this is a pushback against the “coverup” of those links by “the left” or by the media. You know, we sort of get that: You don’t like people of color, you don’t want them around. But then there’s contending that the Sandy Hook school shooting never happened, you know? Legitimizing that sort of thing. And that takes you out into the stratosphere. But Miller sees, or saw, Infowars as a legitimate source.

Yeah. All we know is that Miller read the website. That is all we can really say about it.

And promoted it, and said, “Hey, take a story from this website.”

Yeah, exactly. He promoted it as a news source. Absolutely. His daily reading materials, based upon the stuff that we see in those websites, are a ton of racist forums that I haven’t even been able to get all into a story yet, but also the like big white supremacist websites like American Renaissance and VDARE. These are websites that believe white genocide conspiracy theory.

Peter Brimelow, who was the founder of VDARE, had a connection to Miller in 2007, according to sources that we spoke to, when Miller invited him to speak at Duke.

So I don’t know if it takes you a different direction than Infowars, but we do know that the type of material that that Miller was taking in as a leader, and spitting back out to Breitbart, is all in the conspiratorial realm, at different levels of conspiracy and different levels of racism, but all those sites have a little bit of both, at least.

The Breitbart spokesperson denies that Stephen Miller shaped their content in any way, says, “Yeah, he pitched stories like anybody else.” Katie McHugh, meanwhile, says she was virtually Miller’s stenographer.

But frankly, I’m much less interested in whether Miller tainted the editorial process at Breitbart — because I’m not sure you can mess up a junkyard. I’m more interested in his effect on actual immigration policy.

So this is supporting evidence, isn’t it, that what millions have been calling “white nationalist policy” really has its roots in that. Adam Serwer wrote in the Atlantic, “Prejudice itself can exist without taking an ideological shape, but ideology can forge it into the sharpest and most deadly of weapons.”

And, you know, you’re not writing a book review. It’s not a “gotcha — we found these emails.” It’s about connecting the philosophy, if you will, to the ideas that we’re seeing play out before us.

I think that’s absolutely right. And I thought Adam’s piece was really sharp. The way I would say it — and I think this is a difficult pill for a lot of people to swallow, and it started to hit me, emotionally, I think, only after I had published — is the fact that if you are taking in, as your reading material all the time, and trading around the bad information from these websites that is based around the idea that brown people are inherently inferior to white people, right? If that’s what you’re trafficking in, day in and day out, isn’t it that much easier for someone like that to allow for the kind of cruelty that we’re seeing at our southern border right now? Even the most aware people, I think, sometimes have a hard time realizing where their tax dollars might be going.

We do look to journalism to help us “process,” in some ways, and I was bummed, I would say, to see a Washington Post tweet that said, “The GOP attacked Ilhan Omar for calling Stephen Miller a ‘white nationalist.’ She says his leaked emails prove her right.” So now I’m in a “he said/she said” between the GOP and Omar…?


But it’s a set of ideas we’re talking about. We’re not talking about whether Miller has a card in his wallet that says “White Nationalist.”

And I know that you were a little bit taken aback, I’ve read, about the way that media had been portraying Miller as kind of a “policy wonk bad boy,” I believe was the expression I read.

But I really want media to not make this ad hominem — although, you know, there’s a “hominem” involved — but it’s about ideas. And I’m afraid that if we don’t recognize that, then Miller could even leave — and folks are calling for him to step down — but then we’d have Kathy Nuebel Kovarik, you know, or we’d have the Center for Immigration Studies. We’d still have these entities out there pushing the same ideas, right?

Right. Well, what I would say is, because you’ve said a lot of interesting things —

I said too many things! I guess what I want to ask is really, what do you make about the media reaction, and what would you hope media would do with this information?

Sure. What I would say is, this is a media story, almost above anything else, because it’s about propaganda. And it’s about how Miller created the appetite in the public for the exact type of policies he wanted to enact under President Trump. And he was a true believer in Trump from the beginning; he thought he would win; you can feel him getting palpably excited in the emails after Trump announces. I think he knew that this was a chance for him to become part of something where he could do the types of things that he wanted to do, as far as immigration is concerned.

What role did he play in shaping media coverage of himself and the Trump administration? That is the real question. There was that Atlantic profile on Stephen Miller that I felt was extremely, extremely bad. This was the type of thing where I hope history looks back at this as an example of among the worst types of coverage that happened during the Trump era, where the author repeatedly refers to Miller as a “troll.”

And this guy is not trolling, right? This guy, he is dead serious in these emails. I mean, this is not a joke for him. He views a few hundred people getting refuge from a hurricane, for a short period of time, as a grave threat to the United States. This is not a troll, and the people whose lives would change as a result of his feelings of prejudice, would, I think, agree that this is not a troll. This is real life.

Not coincidentally, a lot of people in the media who’ve reported on Miller may themselves not have immigrants in their family, or may not have as much at stake. I think it’s very important to put people in the newsroom who understand what is at stake, particularly on the subject of immigration.

I’m going to end it right there. We’ve been speaking with Michael Edison Hayden of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hatewatch. You can find all of this stuff on their site, which is Michael Edison Hayden, thank you very much for joining us this week on CounterSpin.

Thank you so much for having me.

Urgent message, before you scroll away

You may not know that Truthout’s journalism is funded overwhelmingly by individual supporters. Readers just like you ensure that unique stories like the one above make it to print – all from an uncompromised, independent perspective.

At this very moment, we’re conducting a fundraiser with a goal to raise $16,000 before midnight tonight. So, if you’ve found value in what you read today, please consider a tax-deductible donation in any size to ensure this work continues. We thank you kindly for your support.