‘Hatemonger’ author Jean Guerrero on Stephen Miller, white nationalism, and performative cruelty

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White House Senior Advisor Stephen Miller watches from a corner of the room as U.S. President Donald Trump holds an executive order signing event on ‘hiring American’ the Cabinet Room of the White House on August 3, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
  • Investigative reporter Jean Guerrero spoke with Business Insider about her new book “Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda.”
  • She describes Miller’s style of policy-making – which includes zero tolerance border enforcement and the deliberate separation of families as “the performance of cruelty.”
  • Guerrero also talks about how Stephen Miller’s Southern California upbringing in the 1990s was fertile ground for his radicalisation into white nationalist ideas that he’s been instrumental in bringing to reality as an influential advisor in the Trump administration.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In the new book “Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda,” investigative reporter Jean Guerrero takes a deep dive into the life and mind of Trump’s highly influential senior advisor, widely credited (and reviled) as the architect of the administration’s immigration agenda.

From the “Muslim ban,” to family separation to zero tolerance for misdemeanours at the border, the “performative cruelty” – as Guerrero calls it – has Stephen Miller’s fingerprints all over it.

Guerrero spoke with Business Insider Columnist Anthony L. Fisher about how Miller was radicalized at a young age (and how he has radicalized other young people), how he couches his disdain for the poor while posturing as a champion for the working class, and how the white nationalist agenda has been laundered through the Trump administration’s policies.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Stephen miller
Stephen Miller in 2016 Brian Snyder/Reuters

Fisher: What inspired you to write about Stephen Miller?

Guerrero: I was covering the family separation crisis [in 2018]. I was interviewing parents whose children had been taken away from them after presenting legally at ports of entry and asking for asylum. People with no criminal record and people who had not crossed illegally. And I was listening to the [Department of Homeland Security] Kirsten Nielsen at the time and Trump and just various people in DC saying that family separation [and] zero tolerance policy was about law and order and about national security and that they were only separating people who broke the law.

I was on the ground and I knew that that wasn’t the case. They were also separating families who had broken no laws. For me that raised the question, if this isn’t about national security, then what is it about?

That’s what led me to turn to Stephen Miller and trying to understand the man who is crafting these policies. And then when I realised Stephen Miller had grown up in Southern California during the same time period that I grew up here during the nineties, when there was a lot of anti-immigrant hostility and unprecedented attacks on bilingual education and affirmative action and social services for children of the undocumented. I felt I could bring a unique perspective as someone who had also grown up in that environment.

And then learning that Stephen Miller is the descendant of [Jewish] refugees. I just really became fascinated with his story and trying to understand – how does someone who’s descended from refugees, a Jewish-American, become the person crafting Trump’s rhetoric and policies, targeting people fleeing violence and persecution, like his great grandparents?

“A case study in indoctrination”

Fisher: What do you make of Miller and other Jewish Trump allies pushing stuff that has such obvious roots in white nationalism and antisemitism?

Guerrero: It’s a case study in radicalisation. One of the principal figures who helped indoctrinate Stephen Miller in this ideology, David Horowitz, is also a Jewish-American man. When I look at the through-line of what white supremacists are saying and what David Horowitz taught Stephen Miller to believe, it’s this idea that the United States currently faces existential threats.

For David Horowitz, [it’s] this idea that liberals pose an existential threat to America because of their allyship with Muslims and other people who, according to Horowitz, want to bring America down. And for Miller, it’s manifested in the idea that immigrants pose a threat as does the entire Democratic Party because of their allyship with immigrants.

Stephen Miller is a case study in indoctrination. It’s what happens when someone is exposed to this idea that they faced an existential threat during a very difficult period in their lives. Stephen Miller starts being exposed to these ideas during a period of difficulty in his own family. His father was tangled up in various legal disputes and bankruptcies and ended up losing a lot of money. And the family has to move to a slightly less-affluent part of town.

Miller at the time was looking for somebody to blame. From my conversations with his classmates and his family members, Miller was trying to find an explanation for the difficulties that he was experiencing as a young man. And he chose immigrants in the same way that the state had sort of scapegoated immigrants for all of the state’s fiscal problems at the time.

Fisher: The neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin said he basically loves everything that Stephen Miller does on immigration. It seems like word of that must have gotten back to Miller. Do you think he’s aware of that and bothered by that in any way?

Guerrero: I’m sure he’s aware of it. I think it bothers him to the extent that people more explicitly start to associate Stephen Miller with white nationalism and white supremacy, which he likes to say is a heinous and libelous accusation. At the end of the day, when you look at what Stephen Miller is doing with the rhetoric that we see out of Trump, and then the policies – he’s been laundering white nationalist policy goals and talking points through the language of heritage and through the language of economics and the language of national security.

I don’t think he’s been doing it accidentally or without awareness of what he’s doing. I mean, he’s been reading white supremacist literature and websites for years, possibly as far back as 2002, when he was still in high school, when his mentor David Horowitz exposed him to American Renaissance, the white supremacist website.

Stephen Miller understands, as do many people who advocate for white nationalist policies, if you sell it as being about race or about skin colour, it’s not very palatable to people in the mainstream. But if you launder these ideas through the language of America’s prosperity and America’s safety, then you can see a lot of support around it.

Laundering white nationalist goals through Trump’s immigration policies

Fisher: In your book, there’s an exchange where Horowitz is telling the white nationalist Jared Taylor in 2002 that the multiculturalists have won and we are all prisoners of identity politics now. What did he mean by that?

Guerrero: That was to paint himself as being colorblind. He pushes back against any accusation that he is a white nationalist or that he’s racist, insisting that he’s colorblind and that the right path for America is a colorblind framework. But when you examine a lot of the things that David Horowitz says, it’s very much steeped in race and skin colour. He talks about how the greatest threat facing America today is – I mean, he’s always sort of changing what the threat is – but he talks about how anti-white racism is the biggest social problem in America today. And that Black people are racist too, because they think white people are racist.

So this idea that he is colorblind is just a way of deliberately, intelligently trying to sell this as something other than being about race or skin colour. I think that’s how he was able to appeal to someone like Stephen Miller, who at a young age expressed hostility in a very laser-focused way towards people of colour, telling his classmates to speak English and going to school board meetings to argue against racial equity and telling his classmates to go back to their countries.

But at the same time he didn’t want to be seen as a racist. David Horowitz gave him a framework in which to validate his hostility towards these people while being able to tell himself that he wasn’t racist. And I think (conservative radio host) Larry Elder, the Black man who insists that systemic racism is no longer a problem except if you’re talking about anti-white racism [was a mentor].

Stephen miller with steve bannon
Bannon (middle L) with Miller (R) Andrew Harnik/AP

Fisher: Another one of his mentors was Steve Bannon, who openly said the institution of the so-called Muslim ban, without any warning, was a provocation to rile up the “snowflakes” and make them “riot.” This was using policy and people’s lives to try to create unrest for political optical purposes. What part did Stephen Miller have in that?

Guerrero: From the time [Miller] entered the White House, he was finding ways to bypass hierarchies and find ways around regular operating procedure. And as strategic as Stephen Miller is, he has that weakness of being involved in writing executive orders that have repeatedly been challenged in the courts and had many problems with them. But it goes back to what Bannon said about wanting to trigger the snowflakes. I don’t think Stephen Miller is that bothered by his executive orders being tangled up in the courts, because it simply provides another way for him to dial up the base because he can point to what he calls “left-wing activist judges: and just, just rally people around demonization and around these wedge issues.

So even when something gets stopped, like family separation, it had its intended effect at least for a time. But when you look at his policies, they disproportionately affect people of colour and people who’ve broken no laws – with the exception in some cases the misdemeanour of illegal entry. People told me again and again that in his policies, the one through-line is cruelty for cruelty’s sake. I see it more as the performance of cruelty.

Kicking the poor

Fisher: He’s also shown a real hostility to the poor and people in professions that he deems beneath his station. He’d go out of his way to be a rude slob to the janitors at his school, and make them wait on him hand and foot. How does that tie into the rest of his philosophy?

Guerrero: It’s rooted in elitism and a sense of superiority and entitlement that I believe is the root of his hate-mongering.

We were initially thinking about calling this book “Fearmonger,” but I was really thinking about how fear is an emotion that’s rooted in a sense of vulnerability, and it makes you want to run or hide or escape, whereas hate is an emotion that is rooted in a sense of superiority and a sense of entitlement. It doesn’t make you want to run, it makes you want to harm.

And that explains everything from Stephen Miller throwing his trash on the floor as a teenager, to the rhetoric that he inserts into Trump’s speeches, to his performatively cruel policies – from systematically separating families at the border to systematically turning away anyone fleeing violence at the US-Mexico border.

One of the interesting things about Stephen Miller, despite his very apparent contempt for the poor which he hasn’t tried to hide, is he’s able to paint the people that he worked for as champions for the poor and really convey this idea that he cares about the marginalised. [That] Trump is a champion for the poor, and Democrats or moderate Republicans who are pushing for immigration reform are actually part of a donor class looking to decimate America through the limitless importation of cheap labour through mass migration.

When in reality, if you look at the reform that they were pushing for, it was a lot more nuanced and would have actually legitimized some of the immigrant workforce, and would have required a more fair wage. support for us. But he’s able to invert these arguments and then deflect in an extremely effective way.

Fisher: Speaking of deflecting arguments, I found this nugget in your book interesting: Trump so enjoys watching Stephen Miller argue that he has set up debates in the Oval Office between Miller and other opponents for his own amusement.

Guerrero: Stephen Miller, from the time he was a teenager had been on talk radio and very experienced with debating people and talking over people. It’s one of the reasons Trump loves Miller, the killer instincts that Trump really appreciates. Miller is the only advisor Trump has who consistently pushes him in the harshest direction. And it’s something that Trump really appreciates.

Whenever he has an advisor who pushes him in a more moderate direction, he ends up getting pummelled by his base as weak. And weakness is one of the criticisms that Trump can’t stand. Miller and Trump really have in common this idea of what it means to be a man and what it means to have power and to flex it.

A cycle of radicalisation

Fisher: I want to talk a little bit about [former Breitbart editor] Katie McHugh. She says Stephen Miller radicalized her into white nationalism. You spoke with her for the book, how does she say this happened?

Guerrero: The radicalisation of Stephen Miller kind of mirrors the radicalisation of Katie McHugh, except in Katie’s case, Stephen was the one doing the radicalisation.

Katie tells me he was constantly sending her articles that highlighted the crimes of people of colour, and that made people of colour seem like they were more innately violent than white people, and that they posed a very serious, essential threat to America. [Miller was] pumping her at all hours of the day that America was in danger of being destroyed or overrun by the third world.

What’s interesting to me is it very much mirrors the rhetoric that Stephen Miller was exposed to as a young man when white people became a minority in California in the nineties. There was a lot of white fear and white resentment and this white backlash against people of colour, but it was really centered around this idea that California was going to turn into a third world state as a result of whites becoming a minority.

Because of the mentors that Stephen Miller had and the white supremacist content that he was being exposed to, he also at a very young age came to believe that the third world was coming to America. Very early on, he was exposed to misleading Black and brown crime statistics through [the white nationalist website] American Renaissance. One of the things that Katie McHugh said was most radicalizing for her was looking at those stats, because American Renaissance really sells itself as a serious intellectual publication. And so for young or impressionable people who don’t know better, they really believe that these statistics are solid.

When you look at the immigration policies that Miller is implementing in the Trump administration, they are all taken from these think tanks that were propped up by a eugenicist named John Tanton who believed in population control for people of colour and believed in race-based pseudoscience about the genetic superiority of whites. For him, helping to create these think tanks was really about making white supremacy palatable to the mainstream. And Stephen Miller turned their policy goals into a reality under the Trump administration. What I was trying to do in the book was connect those dots between what [Miller] was doing and what he’s saying and where those things come from and what they were actually intended for.