Meet 34-year-old Stephen Miller, Trump's longest-serving senior adviser and mastermind of his most inhumane immigration policies

Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesStephen Miller has written some of President Donald Trump’s most famous speeches.
  • Stephen Miller, the 34-year-old senior policy adviser has been the driving force behind President Donald Trump’s immigration reforms since 2016.
  • A rising star on the far right for years, Miller has been making headlines because of his polarising demeanour and statements long before his time in the administration.
  • Recently he’s faced calls for resignation after the Southern Poverty Law Centre published emails from Miller referencing and linking to publications known for supporting white nationalist ideology.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller was on the front lines as President Donald Trump’s administration butted heads with Democratic lawmakers over Trump’s wishes for a $US5-billion wall along the US-Mexico border.

The 34-year-old was also identified as the driving force behind the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy that separated migrant children from their families at the southern border.

He has been a rising star on the far right for years, often making headlines because of his polarising demeanour and statements long before The New York Times reported that he was the origin of the controversial policy.

After Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen’s abrupt resignation, multiple reports said Miller was behind the department’s shake-up in favour of harsher border policies, a sign of his continued influence on Trump’s policies.

When leaked emails showed Miller exchanging links to publications known to support white-nationalist ideology with a Breitbart editor, Miller was called a “bonafide white nationalist” and faced calls from several House committees for his resignation.

One of the few remaining staffers from Trump’s 2016 campaign, Miller has also written some of the president’s biggest speeches, including Trump’s first State of the Union address.

Here’s how Miller became Trump’s right-hand policy man.

Stephen Miller was born in Santa Monica, California, on August 23, 1985, to a Jewish family whose ancestors fled persecution in what is now Belarus. His family was liberal-leaning, but Miller says he became a stalwart conservative at an early age.

Charley Gallay/Getty ImagesThe premiere of ‘Glee’ being shown at Santa Monica High School in 2009. Miller attended SMHS in the early 2000s.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter

In 2002, at age 16, Miller wrote in a letter to the editor that “Osama Bin Laden would feel very welcome at Santa Monica High School” because of the student body’s anti-war attitude after 9/11. Soon enough, Miller began appearing on conservative talk radio in the Los Angeles area.

REUTERS/Joshua RobertsMiller tapes Sunday-show interviews from the White House.

Sources: The LookOut, Univision, Politico Magazine

A video emerged in 2017 of a student-government campaign speech at Santa Monica High in which he argued that students shouldn’t have to pick up their own trash because there are “plenty of janitors who are paid to do it” for them. The audience quickly booed him off the stage. “In a school where the nerds were considered cool, he was still the guy that nobody liked,” a former classmate told The New Yorker.

Screenshot via Univision Noticias/YoutubeStephen Miller at Santa Monica High School.

Sources: The Washington Post, Politico Magazine,The New Yorker

Miller went on to attend Duke University, where he continued to garner controversy as a prominent conservative ideologue. He appeared on CNN and “The O’Reilly Factor” to defend Duke lacrosse players accused of rape, and sparred with the university’s Chicano alliance.

Screenshot via Gotfong/YoutubeMiller on the O’Reilly Factor in 2007.

Sources: The Duke Chronicle, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker

At Duke, Miller interacted with the white nationalist Richard Spencer. While Spencer claimed he had mentored Miller during their time at the university, Miller has denied these claims, saying he merely helped him raise money for an immigration debate.

Associated Press/David J. PhillipRichard Spencer, who leads a movement that mixes racism, white nationalism, and populism, speaking in College Station, Texas, in 2016.

Source: Mother Jones

After graduating with a political-science degree in 2007, Miller worked as a spokesman for the conservative Reps. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and John Shadegg of Arizona.

APMichelle Bachman.

Sources: Politico Magazine, Vanity Fair

According to The New Yorker, Miller pushed Bachman to warn Americans about an undocumented immigrant who crashed her car into a school bus and killed four children near her district. Shortly after, Bachman appeared on television blaming immigrants for “bringing in diseases, bringing in drugs, bringing in violence.”

Source: The New Yorker

In 2009 he began working for Jeff Sessions, the senator who would later become attorney general, as a policy adviser and communications director.

AP Photo/Brynn Anderson, fileJeff Sessions at a rally for Donald Trump in Mobile, Alabama, on December 17, 2016.

Sources: Politico Magazine, Vanity Fair

Sessions became Miller’s mentor and introduced him to think tanks such as NumbersUSA and the Centre for Immigration Studies, which produce detailed reports on the social costs of immigration. Miller became obsessed with sending mass emails about immigration, often with articles from fringe Web sites. “I just started deleting them when I’d see his name,” a senior Republican staffer told The New Yorker. “Everyone did.”

Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty ImagesSenate Budget ranking member Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., arrives with his aide Stephen Miller for a news conference April 5, 2011

Source: The New Yorker

In 2013, the pair led the charge against a bipartisan bill that would have created a path to citizenship for all immigrants living in the US illegally.

Andrew Harnik/APMiller and Sessions during the Trump administration.

Sources: Politico Magazine, Vanity Fair

Alongside Sessions, Miller formulated what he termed “nation-state populism,” and he helped other members of Congress campaign. During this period, he also grew close to the Fox News host Tucker Carlson, frequently working with his publication The Daily Caller.

Fox NewsTucker Carlson on Fox News. Carlson also founded the conservative Daily Caller publication.

Source: Politico Magazine

Miller made it clear to the press that he was available to talk about immigration policy at all times. A former correspondent for the New York Times who spoke to Miller frequently said that in a conversation about H1-B visas, “he was talking so passionately that he actually wept.”

The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Imagestephen Miller talks to reporters about President Donald Trump’s support for creating a ‘merit-based immigration system.’

Source: The New Yorker

Miller joined the Trump campaign in January 2016 as a senior policy adviser.

White HousePresident Donald Trump with staff members aboard Air Force One on November 8.

Sources: Politico Magazine, Washington Post

He quickly cemented his position on the campaign team by writing speeches for Trump, often speaking at rallies himself. He even wrote Trump’s inaugural speech and State of the Union address. He was later appointed to Trump’s economic-policy team.

Brian Snyder/ReutersMiller at a Trump rally in 2016.

Sources: Politico Magazine, Washington Post

“Stephen really knows how to capture his voice,” former White House press secretary Sean Spicer said.

Drew Angerer/Getty ImagesMiller and Sean Spicer, then the incoming White House press secretary, arriving at Trump Tower in New York City on January 10, 2017.

Source: Washington Post

In 2016, Trump delivered a hard-hitting policy speech on immigration that Miller wrote, detailing an end to “catch and release” and “zero tolerance for criminal aliens”— two issues that Miller would quickly become the voice of. Miller told the Washington Post that it was “as though everything that I felt at the deepest levels of my heart were now being expressed by a candidate for our nation’s highest office.”

Associated Press/Evan VucciRepublican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, Wednesday, April 27, 2016.

Sources: The New Yorker, Washington Post

Throughout the campaign, Miller also grew close with the future White House chief strategist Steve Bannon. Miller later invited a host of editors and writers from Breitbart News, which Bannon once headed, for a discussion on immigration at the White House.

Andrew Harnik/APMiller with Steve Bannon, who ultimately left the White House in August.

Sources: Politico, The Washington Post

After sitting on Trump’s transition team, Miller was formally appointed to Trump’s policy team in January 2017.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Source: Politico

Miller became the head of the Domestic Policy Council, a position that allowed him to be close to Trump, but away from legal scrutiny. “The rest of us have to testify before Congress. That’s a check. If you’re going to have your arse hauled before Congress, you’re not going to feel comfortable breaking the law,” a former top Administration official told The New Yorker. “Miller will never have to testify for anything.”

AP Photo/Andrew HarnikStephen Miller during a state dinner in Tokyo, Japan.

Source: The New Yorker

In his early days in the White House, Miller played a part in enacting Trump’s travel ban, which restricted immigration and refugee resettlement, and in cracking down on sanctuary cities. He also lashed out at courts for blocking elements of these policies.

Twitter/Fox NewsMiller defending Trump on CNN.

Sources: Politico, Vanity Fair

According to an account in “Border Wars,” by Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael D. Shear, when administrative officials began to express concern over the travel ban, Miller staunchly told them “This is the new world order. You need to get on board.”

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesWhite House senior advisor Stephen Miller listens as President Donald Trump talks during a law enforcement roundtable on sanctuary cities in the Roosevelt Room.

Source: The New Yorker

He also became vehemently outspoken against DACA, an Obama-era order that protected illegal immigrants who came to the US as children. In an email to a Breitbart editor, he said that expanding the “foreign-born share” of the US workforce was an instance of “immigration” being used “to replace existing demographics.” In 2017, he convinced Trump to cancel DACA.

MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty ImagesImmigration rights activists take part in a rally in front of the US Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on November 12, 2019.

Source: The New Yorker

In August 2017, Miller had a combative exchange with the CNN correspondent Jim Acosta at a press conference on limiting immigration and eliminating the visa lottery program. Their back-and-forth on — among other things — the Statue of Liberty, went viral.

AP Photo/Susan WalshMiller during his clash with CNN’s Jim Acosta.

Source: Business Insider

Miller had another contentious moment on national television when CNN host Jake Tapper interviewed him in January 2018. Tapper challenged him on a variety of issues before ending the interview early, and security had to escort Miller out of the studio.

Twitter/CNNMiller on CNN’s ‘State of the Union’ on January 7.

Source: Business Insider

During the government-shutdown negotiations in January, Miller’s important role in crafting White House policy was widely acknowledged, but his intractability was criticised.

Source: Politico

“Whoever has access to the president last — that’s what sticks,” a White House official told The New Yorker. “Miller always made sure he was that person.” Sen. Lindsey Graham said, “As long as Stephen Miller is in charge of negotiating immigration, we’re going nowhere.”

AP Photo/Jacquelyn MartinRepublican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina speaking with the media on January 22, during the government shutdown.

Source: Politico

In June 2018, The New York Times reported Miller was behind Trump’s controversial immigration policy that separates children from their families at the US-Mexico border.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesSenior White House adviser Stephen Miller walks behind President Donald Trump as he talks to reporters before they depart the White House on June 8, 2018.

Source: The New York Times

The policy, which separated thousands of children from their families in six weeks, drew backlash from both sides of the aisle and Trump administration officials.


Source: Business Insider

Miller told The Times the zero-tolerance policy was a “simple decision” and “the message is that no one is exempt from immigration law.”

Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesSenior Advisor to the President for Policy Stephen Miller talks to reporters about President Donald Trump’s support for creating a ‘merit-based immigration system’ August 2, 2017

Source: The New York Times

But after facing continuous public outcry, Trump put an end to the family separation policy in June 2018. Though the policy was the brainchild of Miller, the Trump administration blamed Nielsen. “I have no idea how Miller managed to escape this one,” an official told the New Yorker. “He knows just how and when to disappear.”

Associated PressFILE – In this Monday, March 18, 2019, file photo, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen speaks at George Washington University’s Jack Morton Auditorium in Washington. In a tweet on Sunday, April 7, 2019, President Donald Trump said he’s accepted Nielsen’s resignation. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Source: The New Yorker

As immigration issues became more complex, a DHS official told The New Yorker that Miller’s behaviour became more and more erratic. “You didn’t know which Stephen you were going to get. He could be very articulate, then he’d be quoting Breitbart in a diatribe. It was all over the place.”

OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty ImagesWhite House senior adviser Stephen Miller listens to President Donald Trump during a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, in Washington, DC.

Source: The New Yorker

Miller became so obsessed with the DHS’s immigration policy that at one point, the head of the department reportedly held meetings in a classified security bunker, where cell phones were prohibited and strict rules of confidentiality were in effect, to keep Miller from attending.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty ImagesWhite House Senior Advisor to the President Stephen Miller walks across the South Lawn before boarding Marine One and leaving the White House April 5, 2018 in Washington, DC. Miller is accompanying U.S. President Donald Trump who is travelling to White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia where he plans to participate in a roundtable discussion on tax reform.

Source: The New Yorker

According to the New Yorker, Miller even grew paranoid that “deep-state” officials were trying to stop Trump’s immigration agendas. Steve Bannon told the New Yorker, “Stephen’s experience has deepened his belief in the deep state, that they’re all going to leak in an attempt to stop his policy efforts.”

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images: White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller listens as he and President Donald Trump meet with ‘immigration crime victims.’

But Miller came back into the spotlight in December 2018, as Trump insisted he would force Congress into funding a border wall, saying he would be “proud” to shut down the government if they didn’t agree to divert $US5 billion by the 21st.

Source: Business Insider

In an appearance on “Face the Nation,” Miller doubled down on Trump’s warning, saying the administration was “absolutely” willing to shut down the government if Congress doesn’t authorise spending for the wall.

Screenshot via CBS

Source: CBS

Sen. Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the administration’s comments “a temper tantrum” and warned Trump was “not going to get the wall in any form.”

Manuel Balce Ceneta/APSenate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Source: NBC News

Amid gridlock between the administration and Senate Democrats, the government entered a partial shutdown on December 22, 2018.

ReutersA closing sign is seen outside the National Gallery of Art in Washington

For the next few weeks, talks about border security among Pelosi, Schumer, Trump, and even Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen proved unproductive as the administration dug its heels in over the wall.

Mark Wilson/Getty ImagesPresident Donald Trump talks about border security with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as Vice President Mike Pence sits nearby in the Oval Office on December 11, 2018.

Source: Business Insider

After accepting a deal from congressional Democrats that ended the shutdown but provided no money for the wall, Trump declared a national emergency to divert military funds for construction along the border.

Evan Vucci/APPresident Donald Trump speaks during an event in the Rose Garden at the White House to declare a national emergency in order to build a wall along the southern border, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019, in Washington.

Source: Business Insider

These hardline moves match Miller’s signature uncompromising policy style. Reports indicated that Nielsen’s April 2019 resignation was the result of Miller’s handiwork to pave the way for harsher policies to curb immigration.

Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

Source: Business Insider

Nielsen’s departure raised flags about what appeared to be Miller’s ever-growing influence over Trump. Miller initiated a further clean-out of the DHS as Ronald Vitiello, the head of ICE, and Francis Cissna, the director of Citizenship and Immigration Services were fired from their jobs.

Source: Business Insider

On November 4, it was reported that Miller was engaged to Katie Waldman, Vice President Mike Pence’s press secretary, just over six weeks after the couple attended Trumps’ second state dinner.

ALASTAIR PIKE/AFP/Getty ImagesWhite House Senior Advisor Stephen Miller and Katie Waldman arrive in the Booksellers area of the White House to attend an Official Visit with a State Dinner honouring Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in Washington, DC, on September 20, 2019.

Source: Vanity Fair, Business Insider

Waldman previously served as deputy press secretary at the Department of Homeland Security, where she defended the administration’s policy of family separations and made several controversial and unproven claims about immigrants. Her and Miller got married on February 16, and Trump attended.

Source: Business Insider

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slammed Miller as a “bonafide white nationalist” after leaked emails showed him exchanging links to white-nationalist websites with a Breitbart editor in November.

JEENAH MOON/ReutersRep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks at an April press conference in Queens, New York.

Source: Business Insider

Congressional lawmakers, including leaders from the House Progressive Caucus, Congressional Black Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, issued a joint statement urging Miller to resign.

Jonathan Ernst/ReutersMembers of the U.S. House of Representatives are sworn in on the House floor January 3, 2017.

Source: Business Insider

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham waved off the calls for Miller’s resignation and took aim at the Southern Poverty Law Centre for publishing the emails.

Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesStephanie Grisham, Press Secretary and Communications Director for the First Lady Melania Trump, talks on the phone before President Donald J. Trump arrives to pardon Peas the turkey during the presentation of the National Thanksgiving turkey in the Rose Garden at the White House on Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2018 in Washington, DC.

Source: Axios

In recent months, Miller has been working closely on immigration issues with Jared Kushner, Trump’s top policy aid and son-in-law.

Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty ImagesJared Kushner.

Source: The New Yorker

During a November White House meeting, Miller discussed a new policy initiative that would force asylum seekers to apply for protection in Central America instead of the US. When it got heated, The New Yorker reported that Miller said: “I didn’t mean to come across as harsh. It’s just that this is all I care about. I don’t have a family. I don’t have anything else. This is my life.”

MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty ImagesSenior Advisor to the president Stephen Miller is seen during a round table discussion with law enforcement officials.

He’s cemented his influence in Trump’s inner circle. “There’s no one left at DHS to say ‘No’ to Miller anymore,” a senior department official told The New Yorker.

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez MonsivaisMiller watching from the back of the Oval Office on February 24, 2017, as Trump signed an executive order.

Source: The New Yorker

This summer, the Supreme Court is expected to rule on whether the Trump Administration can cancel DACA. If this happens, then “Miller will be in ecstasy,” a former senior DHS official told The New Yorker. “He’ll finally have the leverage over the Democratic Congress that he’s been dying to have this entire time.”

JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty ImagesPresident Donald Trump’s senior advisor for policy Stephen Miller.

Source: The New Yorker

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