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Donald Trump's “brain” Stephen Miller is also obsessed with Muslims and Mexicans

It would be no exaggeration to call the president's senior policy adviser an extremist.

Remember how the White House adviser and arch-schemer Karl Rove was dubbed “Bush’s brain”? Stephen Miller fills that role for Donald Trump.

The balding, skinny-tie-wearing Miller, aged just 31, serves as White House senior adviser on policy and has played an outsized role in the Trump administration so far. He was the author of Trump’s dystopian inaugural address, with its dark invocation of “American carnage”, and also wrote the president’s first speech to Congress, with its hyperbolic references to “lawless chaos” and “radical Islamic terrorism”. He was the co-architect, with Steve Bannon, of Executive Order 13679, better known as the “Muslim ban”, and went on cable news to denounce the federal judges who ruled against it, claiming: “The powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

One former colleague has described Miller as “a true believer in every sense of the word” with “a better understanding of the president’s vision than almost anyone”. Miller, in fact, was one of Trump's early adopters: in 2014, he emailed friends saying: “Trump gets it. I wish he’d run for president.” In January 2016, he quit his job with conservative Senator – now Attorney General – Jeff Sessions and joined the insurgent Trump campaign, soon becoming a a warm-up act for the property tycoon at his frenzied campaign rallies.

Within the White House, where he was once seen only as a Bannon acolyte, the shrewd and ambitious Miller has today positioned himself also as a close ally of Jared and Ivanka.

In recent weeks, he has become the public face of the administration’s hard-line immigration policy, taking to the White House press room podium – after the resignation of the mendacious Sean Spicer as communications director and the sacking of his foul-mouthed replacement, Anthony Scaramucci, ten days later – and loudly clashing with the CNN reporter Jim Acosta over the new plan to give preference to immigrants who speak English.

In the teeming cast of White House grotesques, the dead-eyed Miller – “He looks like the hitchhiker other hitchhikers stay away from,” joked the late-night talk show host Seth Meyers – stands out as a paradoxical figure. Though he is Jewish and was born and raised in liberal Los Angeles County, Miller has the most extensive ties to the white nationalist movement of any White House adviser, Steve Bannon included.

It would not be an exaggeration to call Miller an extremist – and one whose extremism goes back to his teenage years. “He believes multiculturalism is a weakness, that when we celebrate our differences we are ignoring our ‘American culture’,” his former high school classmate Nick Silverman recalled on Facebook in February. “He didn’t like someone from El Salvador celebrating their homeland, or someone from Vietnam bringing in food from their country of origin. He wanted everyone to celebrate one culture. One country.”

Other former classmates told the US Spanish-language news network Univision that Miller “used to make fun of the children of Latino and Asian immigrants who did not speak English well”. One student, Jason Islas, claims that Miller told him they could not be friends because of the former’s “Latino heritage”.

In a high school newspaper column written three months after 9/11 and entitled “A Time to Kill”, Miller also mocked the idea of Islam as “peaceful” or “benign” and demanded a violent response to “millions of radical Muslims”. Later, he worked with David Horowitz – dubbed an “anti-Muslim extremist” by the Southern Poverty Law Center – to organise “Islamofascism Awareness Week” on college campuses.

To recap: for more than a decade, Miller’s biggest obsessions have been race and culture; Mexicans and Muslims. Who does that remind you of? The truth is that his boss – who has retweeted neo-Nazis and received the official endorsement of the Ku Klux Klan – has recruited a motley crew of far-right nativists to serve in his White House. Bannon, the chief strategist, has bragged about how he turned Breitbart News into “the platform for the alt-right”. Sebastian Gorka, who serves as a “deputy assistant” to the president, is alleged to have once been a member of a far-right Hungarian group.

Miller is a former university pal of the white supremacist Richard Spencer, who has called for “peaceful ethnic cleansing”. Spencer referred to himself as a “mentor” to Miller, telling the Daily Beast that he “spent a lot of time with him at Duke [University]… I hope I expanded his thinking.”

Miller was quick to deny any relationship with Spencer. “I completely repudiate his views,” the Trump adviser told Mother Jones last October. But does he really? In his recent clash over immigration with CNN’s Acosta – which has led to reports that he may be promoted to White House communications director – Miller denounced the reporter for his “cosmopolitan bias”. As commentators and historians have since observed, that deeply loaded phrase has both racist and anti-Semitic connotations.

Let’s be clear: the Trump administration’s plans to cut legal immigration in half and prioritise the speaking of English by new applicants have nothing to do with economics or national security and everything to do with Making America White Again. As the academic Carol Anderson observed in the New York Times, the “guiding principle” of his administration “is to turn the politics of white resentment into the policies of white rage”. (The administration’s support for this immigration bill is also a classic example of Trumpian hypocrisy – the president’s grandfather Friedrich Trump arrived in the US from Germany in 1885, unable to speak English, while according to the 1910 census, Miller’s great-grandmother could speak only Yiddish.)

It cannot be pointed out often enough that this is not in any way, shape or form a normal Republican or even conservative administration. Forget the serial dishonesty and astonishing dysfunction. This is a White House that indulges and panders to far-right bigots and nativists in both coded and not-so-coded language; a government of white nationalists, by white nationalists, for white nationalists. The rise and rise of the odious Stephen Miller, from high school provocateur to senior White House adviser – and maybe now even communications director – is worrying proof of that.

Mehdi Hasan is an NS contributing editor. He is based in Washington, DC

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 10 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, France’s new Napoleon

Emma Moore as Ruth Ellis
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Rasping old cassettes bring new depth to a familiar true crime tale in BBC Four’s The Ruth Ellis Files

Plus, a BBC Two documentary about Brixton reggae producer Steve “Blacker Dread” Burnett-Martin.

I thought I knew the Ruth Ellis story inside out: when I was writing my book about women’s lives in the 1950s, her name came up so often – almost daily, it fell like a shadow over my desk – I finally had to give in and take a detour, reading everything about her that I could find, for all that she wasn’t part of my plan (if you’re interested too, and want a primer, I recommend A Fine Day for a Hanging by Carol Ann Lee). But perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps I didn’t really know anything at all, for I never once felt even half so haunted in the British Library as I did the other night in the moments after I finished watching Gillian Pachter’s three-part documentary series, The Ruth Ellis Files: A Very British Crime Story (13-15 March, 9pm).

It wasn’t that Pachter, an American filmmaker who specialises in true crime, had vast quantities of new information; the thrust of her investigation had to do with the part played by Ellis’s other lover, Desmond Cussen, in the murder of David Blakely, the crime for which she alone was hanged on the morning of 13 July, 1955, at Holloway Prison, north London. Pachter suggested, like others before her, that Cussen provided Ellis with the gun with which she shot her violent boyfriend, and that he should therefore have been tried as an accessory.

Nor were her long-winded films, so deeply in love with their own processes, without their irritations, from the tonally jarring film clips she insisted on using to illustrate situations for which she had no images, to her bizarre and utterly pointless desire to recreate the pathetic last bedsit of Ellis’s son, Andre Hornby, who committed suicide in 1982, aged 37. Faced with certain expert “witnesses”, among them a couple of retired coppers who couldn’t have been loving their moment in the sun more if they’d been slicked with Ambre Solaire, Pachter was never anything less than wide-eyed and credulous.

What she did have, though, were some rasping old cassettes, the complicated provenance of which would take far too long to describe here. And so it was that we heard the voices of Cussen and Ellis discussing Blakely; of Hornby gently interrogating Christmas Humphreys, the counsel for the prosecution at his mother’s trial, whom he tracked down in the months before his suicide; and even of Blakely, loudly toasting the company at a party. She made maximum use of these tapes, playing them repeatedly, and it wasn’t hard to see why; if the words sometimes meant relatively little (“he’s just a little drip… a cheapskate… a skunk…” Ellis said of Blakely, perhaps only telling Cussen what he wanted to hear), the voices nevertheless spoke volumes, whole worlds conjured up in their strangulated vowels, their urgent hesitations.

Here was Ellis, a working-class woman, speaking in a painful, put-on RP. Here was Hornby, his life utterly destroyed by his mother killing the man who was then the closest thing he had to a father, trying desperately hard not to sound mad (“she lived on the borderlines of insanity,” he said of Ellis, possibly unaware that it takes one to know one). And here was Blakely, so obliviously chipper, his voice all dry gin and privilege. Ellis’s story has always reeked of Raymond Chandler: the racing driver lover, his floppy-haired beauty destroyed by bullets; that blonde hair, which she determinedly bleached again in prison ahead of her trial. Hearing them, though, all that fell away. What messes and muddles people get into. What calamities hit them, head on, like meteorites.

After a ten-year absence, Molly Dineen has returned with a documentary about Steve “Blacker Dread” Burnett-Martin (12 March, 9pm), a Brixton reggae producer. Three years in the making, it included some remarkable events in the life of this local celebrity, among them his conviction for money laundering; Dread’s dreads, uncut since he was 14, now reach to his feet and deserve a film of their own. But though I admired its intimacy, the warm and effective way Dineen mined his universe, in the end there was something self-indulgent about it, too. Like Blacker’s barber, her editor was, alas, seemingly surplus to requirements. 

The Ruth Ellis Files (BBC Four)
Being Blacker (BBC Two)

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 13 March 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Putin’s spy game