Commentary Politics

It’s Time to be Honest About Stephen Miller, Whose Radical Vision of U.S. Immigration Is Spreading

Dennis Carter

Recognizing Stephen Miller’s echoing of white supremacist phrasing is more important than ever now that a Miller protégé was just appointed to a key State Department post overseeing refugee admissions.

It’s not easy to draw a straight line from a policymaker to a hate group when that policymaker is adept at speaking in dog whistles, at using parsed phrases that sound fine to most but serve as a carefully crafted wink of the eye to radicals who speak the language.

Connecting those dots—being able to say that a lawmaker or high-ranking official is espousing the rhetoric of a hate group—is often impossible. One can analyze it all they want, but short attention spans and lack of familiarity with hate group ideology often prove insurmountable in making the connection.

But it’s not hard with Stephen Miller, the 32-year-old senior White House adviser who engineered the Trump administration’s Muslim ban and has used his platform to inject radical white ethno-nationalism into the country’s immigration debate. Recognizing Miller’s echoing of white supremacist talking points and phrasing is more important than ever, now that a White House aide considered a Miller protégé was just appointed to a key State Department post overseeing refugee admissions.

Andrew Veprek’s selection as deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration is the latest sign that Miller’s anti-immigrant influence has metastasized. In an administration that has seen an exodus of the president’s most trusted advisers, Miller remains—and the way he and his policy prescriptions are discussed have to change if the news-consuming public is going to fully grasp Miller’s radical vision for U.S. immigration.

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Veprek, meanwhile, has been a vocal advocate for slashing legal immigration into the United States, Politico reports“My experience is that [Veprek] strongly believes that fewer refugees should [be] admitted into the United States and that international migration is something to be stopped, not managed,” a former U.S. official told the publication. 

Miller in August echoed a familiar white nationalist refrain about the poem on the Statue of Libertythe one about “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”—being added to the structure well after its construction. Miller’s response to a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta about the symbolism of the Statue of Liberty was straight out of the online white supremacist playbook: 

So the notion that speaking English wouldn’t be a part of immigration systems would be actually very ahistorical. Secondly, I don’t want to get off into a whole thing about history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of liberty and light in the world. It’s a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you’re referring that was added later is not actually a part of the original Statue of Liberty. 

Peruse any corner of the white power internet and you’ll find this fact trumpeted time and again, (though the history of Emma Lazurus’ famous poem is, of course, far more nuanced than Miller’s version). The poem was written by a Jew, they shout. The statue has nothing to do with immigration, they charge, and the United States should not be interested in anyone’s “wretched refuse” of humanity seeking relief.

David Duke, the former head of the Ku Klux Klan and avid supporter of President Trump,  harps on the Statue of Liberty’s poem, The New Colossus, in his book, Jewish Supremacism. Inviting the huddled masses to the shores of the United States, Duke writes, is part of a grand conspiracy to unleash “demographic Armageddon” on unsuspecting white folks in the United States. Duke believes Lazarus, in writing her famous poem, longed to make the United States a “refuge for the castoffs of the world,” somehow weakening its institutions and destroying what he calls the nation’s European-American heritage.

People posting on far-right white nationalist message boards take every opportunity to smear Lazarus and decry her poem as an attempt to transform the United States into a dumping station for undeveloped countries (or as the president might say, “shithole” countries). And yes, that media-savvy white supremacist, Richard Spencer, was giddy about Miller’s remarks on Lady Liberty’s poem, reportedly declaring the surreal August presser “a triumph.”

Spencer became friends with Miller when they attended Duke University, where they fundraised and promoted an immigration debate with famed white nationalist Peter Brimelow, Mother Jones reported. Miller, of course, denies having had a relationship with Spencer before the latter became known as the guy who got cold-cocked during a TV interview.

Miller’s influence—and extremism—is seen in Trump administration officials’ flippant use of the term “globalist,” a racist dog whistle term used to smear Jewish people as disloyal to a nation. The president laughingly used the term to describe his outgoing chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, who is Jewish. Miller has long dismissed the idea that the United States should embrace membership of a global community, preferring instead who he calls the “real flesh-and-blood citizens who together create this body politic, this nation, this home, represented by that flag.”

Scroll through a recently leaked white supremacist message board and you’ll find dozens of references to “globalists” who stand in the way of achieving a nationalist utopia through a wide-ranging ethnic cleansing agenda. The term is often couched in racism and violence against political opponents.

Miller has also deployed the term “cosmopolitan,” which seems exceedingly innocent to the untrained ear, but is, in fact, an egregious wink and a nod to white supremacists everywhere. The term is used to label the “other,” the internationalist who undermines the ultra-nationalist project. “‘Cosmopolitans’ tend to cluster in the universities, the arts and in urban centers, where familiarity with diversity makes for a high comfort level with ‘untraditional’ ideas and lives,” Jeff Greenfield wrote for Politico. There “is no evading the unhappy reality that to label someone a ‘cosmopolitan’ carries with it a clear implication that there is something less patriotic, less loyal … someone who is not a ‘real American.’”

The term was weaponized against vulnerable people in both Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany, labeling them as rootless and not part of the legitimate citizenry. White supremacists today use “cosmopolitan” as a slur. Miller’s denouncement of political opponents as “cosmopolitan” is no coincidence.

Miller’s white supremacist rhetoric has hardly gone unnoticed by those who understand his sly usage of the parlance. Seventeen Jewish groups in February released an open letter calling for the Trump White House to fire Miller. “Miller was a frequent warm-up act at Trump’s campaign rallies,” the letter says, “revving up the crowd by invoking the image of immigrants as criminals.” Miller, the Jewish groups wrote, has played a key role in changing the “nation’s entire immigration system from one based on family unification to one based on speaking English and being light-skinned.”

The calls to remove Miller from his White House perch have come from congressional leaders too. The heads of the Hispanic, Asian, Black, and progressive caucuses demanded the president fire Miller and former White House advisers and white supremacists Sebastian Gorka and Steve Bannon after a white supremacist allegedly killed counter-protester Heather Heyer at an August 12 hate rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Miller, the congressional leaders wrote, “has a long history of both denying systemic racism and promoting multicultural segregation.”

Some in the national media have noted that Miller, a one-time ally of the since-dispatched Bannon, has migrated to what’s known as the Ivanka-Jared power axis. This suggests that Miller is part of a reasonable wing of the White House not linked to horrors cooked up by neo-Nazi internet trolls. But we know about Miller’s background and the rotten politics of hate in which he has participated. Pretending Miller has moderated his policy stances based on shifting alliances within a tumultuous administration is nonsensical at best, and dishonest at worst.

Dubbing Miller nothing more than a senior White House adviser doesn’t tell the whole story to the public. Miller’s naked espousing of white power ideology and his links to the hate movement should be mentioned in every story on Miller and his role in the Trump administration. This is not normal, as the cable news talking heads are so wont to say, so media outlets must adjust how they operate to fit this abnormal era. Omitting Miller’s background and well-documented ideology should be considered an egregious error.

It’s high time to write and speak honestly about Miller, who has an outsized role in shaping U.S. policy. No more sugarcoating: He’s a mouthpiece for white supremacist radicals, he has the ear of the president, and his influence is spreading throughout the federal government.

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