Former Trump White House senior adviser Stephen Miller played a significant role in mainstreaming white supremacy over the past five years, promoting virulently racist literature, organizing anti-immigrant round tables, crafting Trump’s most xenophobic speeches, and strangling legal pathways into the United States for nonwhite people.
He is continuing his white nationalist campaign through frequent guest appearances on Fox News, hawking the dangerous delusion of anti-white racism. And through his nonprofit, “America First Legal,” he is attacking the Biden administration’s small steps toward building a humane immigration system and a more equitable society, including efforts to diversify schools. President Joe Biden has been reluctant to scale back many of Trump’s white nationalist immigration policies as Republicans attack him in hysteria-inducing language Miller helped normalize, casting Biden as an “open borders” president responsible for an imagined “Third World invasion.”
What Biden’s team must understand is that the radicalized Republican Party is going to use immigration to attack him regardless of what he does. “Bottom line: the less Biden talks about the border, the more the GOP must,” Miller tweeted on April 29. The only way to neutralize this weaponization of immigration and to illuminate the threat of nativists’ war on brown and Black people is not through inaction on the Southwest border or a more intense crackdown (the Obama administration revealed the futility of that strategy), but rather to radically reframe the national conversation about immigration by inverting Miller’s playbook, which I document in my biography Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump and the White Nationalist Agenda.
Opponents of white supremacy, xenophobia, and racism must wrest control of the immigration debate from hatemongers, or else the immigration reform bill in Congress is doomed to fail, Democrats will lose the midterms elections, and white extremism will continue to spread, further endangering people’s lives and democracy. What follows is a handbook for how Biden’s team, lawmakers, journalists, and other public figures can co-opt Miller’s strategies to fight the spread of hate.
- Use vivid, visceral anecdotes about immigrants’ contributions to the United States in speeches, press releases, news articles, interviews, and more. One of Miller’s favorite techniques was to insert graphic descriptions of alleged migrant crimes into Trump’s speeches and documents. In Trump’s 2015 immigration plan, he described an “illegal” immigrant “breaking into a 64-year-old woman’s home, crushing her skull and eye sockets with a hammer, raping her, and murdering her.” The incident reappeared in a Trump speech. He repeatedly exploited the tragic death of Kate Steinle, and pressured the Department of Homeland Security to inundate the public with press releases about immigrant crimes, manufacturing the false impression that brown and Black foreigners commit more crimes than the native born. The demonization can be countered by highlighting much more common examples of immigrants contributing to the United States., while being careful not to caricature immigrants as superhumanly heroic or hardworking, which is dehumanizing in a different way. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas should issue press releases about acts of immigrant heroism as reminders of the full humanity and positive impact of immigrants, particularly nonwhite ones without legal status. Julia Ainsley’s 2020 NBC story, “Immigrant workers on Covid frontlines risk deportation to help save lives,” or the 2017 Univision story by Fernando Peinado and Anna Spelman, “The undocumented heroes never mentioned by Donald Trump,” are good examples.
- Hold press conferences, roundtables, and other reality-TV-style events that celebrate and inform about the above immigrant contributions to US national security, health, and the economy, while sharing accurate statistics. In the White House, Miller repeatedly helped organize anti-immigrant round tables, press briefings, and other streamed events in collaboration with law enforcement and lawmakers that cast immigrants as welfare-guzzling, diseased, and violent “animals,” including through the use of falsified statistics. It’s an old playbook that has been used time and again in the United States, notably with the vilification of Chinese immigrants in the 19th century: Spread falsehoods about unwanted foreigners bringing crime and illness, simultaneously stealing jobs, and draining public resources. Public figures should organize compelling events that inform about the true value of immigrants to public safety, health, and prosperity in partnership with law enforcement officers, lawmakers, and high-profile medical institutions and more. They should be entertaining, enlightening, and streamed to wide and diverse audiences.
- Promote literature, websites, and think tanks that center immigrants and refugees and depict them as they really are. Our storytelling industries, from publishing to media and entertainment, are still disproportionately white and male, resulting in a society with a seemingly bottomless capacity to empathize with white antiheroes, while dehumanizing complex brown and Black people. In 2016, Stephen Miller urged allies at Breitbart to promote the white supremacist dystopian book The Camp of the Saints by Jean Raspail. Breitbart blogger Julia Hahn published an ode to the book, which tells of the destruction of the white world by brown refugee “monsters.” Demand for the book has since skyrocketed. Miller also recommended that Breitbart source material from American Renaissance and VDare, white nationalist websites. He pulled policies from anti-immigrant think tanks funded by racist heiress Cordelia Scaife May in collaboration with white supremacist John Tanton, such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which was designated as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Public figures should counter white supremacist propaganda by promoting literature and other content that conveys the truth about immigrants, such as Karla Cornejo Villavicencio’s The Undocumented Americans and Reyna Grande’s The Distance Between Us. Remezcla has a list of the best books by Latin American authors that center the immigrant experience. The Center for American Progress and Migration Policy Institute are nonpartisan, and their websites can serve as resources for facts to counter anti-immigrant propaganda.
- Call anti-immigrant rhetoric what it is: a tactic of largely white elites to distract from the real problems they created for working people of all colors. At a 2016 Trump rally, Miller spoke of elites looking “down from their glass window condominiums at all of you,” before returning to his glass-window condominium. Anti-immigrant propagandists like Miller are elitists who politicize immigration to distract from their elitism and from policies and treaties that protect and expand their privileges. Trump bashed NAFTA as a “disaster” for American manufacturing workers, claiming that Mexico had been “spoiled” by the treaty, which had in fact displaced millions of Mexican farmworkers and devastated the southern country’s rural sector. During his administration, Trump used the anger he’d whipped up against the treaty to update it and change its name, not eliminate it, let alone address its biggest problems. Our nation’s storytellers, from Hollywood to Washington, must resist and expose attempts to use immigration to splinter working-class communities while enriching largely white male elites, often from both political parties.
- Forge alliances with other people in positions of power to accomplish the above goals and, crucially, to inspire hope. Miller’s mentor David Horowitz advocated stoking fear rather than hope. “Fear is a much stronger and more compelling emotion,” he wrote in a strategy paper that referenced the political utility of hate and other negative feelings, and encouraged Republicans to demonize their opponents. Miller forged strategic alliances with the right-wing site Breitbart and provocateurs such as Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, who recently endorsed a white supremacist conspiracy theory on air, to spread anti-immigrant and anti-liberal hate. From the time Miller was a teenager calling into The Larry Elder Show railing against multiculturalism, he was cultivating relationships with powerful people to peddle hate. The opponents of hate must believe in hope, and leverage it in collaboration with one another. Part of leveraging that hope is embracing the reality that most extremists aren’t innately evil or cruel. While they pose a very real threat to national security, their reasons for being radicalized often aren’t simple. Some are vulnerable, isolated individuals dealing with trauma and other mental health issues. Sociopaths and swindlers manipulate them, giving them a false sense of purpose and meaning in the form of a scapegoat. Not all are irredeemable, demonstrated by the case of former Breitbart editor Katie McHugh, who was radicalized by Miller before realizing she had joined a dangerous movement. Some can be coaxed out slowly, with empathy, because we are stronger with people who have seen the light on our team.