In August 2018, Darren Beattie, a White House speechwriter and policy aide, was fired after CNN revealed that he’d spoken at a 2016 conference alongside several white nationalists, including contributors to the website VDARE. Later that month, Ian M. Smith, a policy analyst working on immigration at the Department of Homeland Security, resigned after The Atlantic obtained leaked emails linking him to white nationalists.
We’re about to find out how far the already impossibly low standards to which we hold the Trump administration have fallen since then. Last week, the Southern Poverty Law Center published evidence of the white nationalism of Stephen Miller, President Donald Trump’s senior immigration adviser. The SPLC obtained more than 900 emails from 2015 and 2016 that Miller, who was then an aide to Sen. Jeff Sessions, sent to editors at the far-right website Breitbart to shape its coverage of race and immigration. The group got the emails from Katie McHugh, a former Breitbart editor who, after being fired for anti-Muslim tweets, moved even further right before renouncing racism. The emails show that Miller was steeped in white nationalism before he joined the White House, where he’s had the opportunity to put his racist views into practice.
McHugh told the SPLC that her bosses introduced her to Miller so that he could help guide the site’s reporting. Miller forwarded her articles from sites like VDARE — named for Virginia Dare, the first English child born in North America — and Alex Jones’ Infowars. Miller sent McHugh information about “immigrant crime” and offered her talking points on defending Confederate iconography in the wake of white nationalist Dylann Roof’s massacre of black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina.
In one email, Miller recommended that Breitbart draw parallels between Pope Francis’ 2015 speech before Congress, in which he called on America to welcome immigrants, and the wildly racist 1973 novel “The Camp of the Saints,” in which weak-minded leftists allow soulless brown hordes to conquer the white world. Breitbart published just such a piece a few weeks later, quoting the novel’s disparagement of the decadent West’s aversion to genocide: “With France the Enlightened glad to grovel on her knees, no government now will dare sign its name to the genocidal deed.”
The question now is whether any of this can be made to matter. Miller’s aversion to nonwhite immigrants, after all, is hardly a secret — it’s why he has his job in the first place. He’s been pushing white nationalist policies for three years, championing the Muslim ban and the sadistic policy of family separation and encouraging Trump to slash refugee admissions. In an email to McHugh, Miller argued against Mexican hurricane victims receiving temporary protected status, a provision protecting people displaced by natural disasters and wars from deportation. (“TPS is everything,” he wrote.) Now he’s a leading figure in an administration that has tried to yank temporary protected status from more than 300,000 people. Meanwhile, he reportedly worked on a plan with Gordon Sondland, Trump’s hackish ambassador to the European Union, to encourage more immigration from Europe. The Washington Post reported that some of his own co-workers believe he holds racist views, though he insisted otherwise.
So it’s not a shock to learn about the roots of Miller’s ideology. There’s a difference, however, between knowing something and proving it. “The evidence is incontrovertible,” Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League, told me of Miller’s white nationalist associations. “It’s no longer speculation. It’s now been substantiated.” He said bluntly: “Stephen Miller must resign.”
Earlier this year, when Rep. Ilhan Omar called Miller a white nationalist, powerful figures on the right slammed her as an anti-Semite because Miller is Jewish. A White House official tried to reprise this defense last week, but no one is buying it.
Though the revelations about Miller aren’t surprising, it’s important that they not be swept away by the torrent of other news, lest we admit that even the degraded standards of 2018 no longer apply. “This is a smoking gun,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has been leading the call for Miller’s resignation in Congress, adding, “We didn’t know this, because if we did, we would have demanded his resignation much earlier, and in a much more forceful way.”
Trump is, of course, unlikely to jettison his xenophobic homunculus. “Stephen is not going anywhere,” a senior White House official told The Daily Beast last week. “The president has his back.” But the pressure on Trump, and, perhaps more important, on his supporters in Congress, is only going to build.
Many elected Republicans justify their fealty to Trump by denying the white nationalist character of his administration. When the president does things that make that impossible — say, by praising racist marchers in Charlottesville or telling congresswomen of color to go back to their countries — it can force members of his party to either condemn him or condone racism.
On Monday, a coalition of civil rights organizations including the ADL, the NAACP and United We Dream sent a letter to the White House demanding Miller’s removal, writing, “Supporters of white supremacists and neo-Nazis should not be allowed to serve at any level of government.” Ocasio-Cortez sees a possibility for protests. “It’s really just a matter of sticking to it and not allowing this to fall out of the media cycle,” she said. “This is something that I personally am committed to. This is a really big deal.” I hope she’s right. If she’s not, it will show us how much hate we’ve learned to tolerate.
Michelle Goldberg is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.