Here are 21 facts that explain who Trump 'puppet master' Stephen Miller really is
This story first ran in 2017.
Even among the right-wing ideologues doing the actual presidenting in this administration, Stephen Miller stands out for the copious amounts of Kool-Aid he mainlines. Speaking to the New York Times, a Trump team colleague described Miller as “fiercely loyal” to the president, “a true believer in every sense of the word.” Though he joined the campaign in its early days, penning many of the apocalyptic speeches that won fear-drunk Republican hearts and minds, Miller recently got a lot more visibility after a string of television appearances in defense of the Muslim ban. At each stop, Miller showed a flair for the dramatic: he lied, he dodged, he put on his best tyrant’s voice and proclaimed the executive branch above the law. It seemed contrived and forced, like a politically precocious, weasley teenager’s idea of how to command a crowd. According to those who know Miller’s history, that’s not so far off the mark.
Dating back to junior high school, Miller has been the unwavering right-winger now before us. Though the internet, and some of his family members, were quick to compare him to Joseph Goebbels, this reporter saw a resemblance to Roy Cohn—a Trump mentor—down to the sartorial details. Miller wears retro skinny suits, only recently ditched a chain-smoking habit and has the kind of cockiness that reads as unexamined, unsympathetic self-hatred. His barked orders and put-on baritone are all part of the package, and can strike an observer as funny. At least until you remember this guy is trying to turn the country into an all-white gated community.
The Trump administration is the natural place for Miller to end up. He’s been writing racist, anti-immigrant rants for half his life and he’s only 31. He’s worked for some of the most deplorable U.S. politicians out there, only to become the voice for the worst of all. By all accounts, he is as terrible—and dangerous—as he seems, which is why he’s no laughing matter. And in that way, he is exactly like his boss. As one of his high school classmates told the Daily Beast, “People laughed at [Miller] because he was a buffoon, he was a performer, he thrived on spectacle. I’m very conscious now, looking back, that he was treated the same way that Trump was—he wasn’t taken seriously.”
Here are 21 facts that explain who Stephen Miller is.
1. The National Rifle Association was his first right-wing love.
Miller grew up in Santa Monica, a coastal city long regarded as a progressive bastion in L.A. County. A Los Angeles Times profile states Miller, along with two siblings, was raised in a “Jewish family of longtime Franklin Roosevelt Democrats.” Somewhere around eighth grade, Miller’s politics took a hard right after reading Guns, Crime, and Freedom, penned by National Rifle Association head Wayne LaPierre.
2. He dumped a childhood friend because he was Latino.
According to Jason Islas, in the summer between middle and junior high, Miller told him, “I can't be your friend anymore because you are Latino.” According to Islas, the two never spoke again, though he hasn’t lost much sleep over the demise of their friendship. “[It] didn't bother me, because the fact that Miller rejected me because I am Latino showed me he was pretty much worthless,” he told Univision.
3. He was the ' best-known and least-liked conservative activist' in his liberal high school.
Miller was in the racial and political minority at Santa Monica High, where 30 percent of students were Latino, 12 percent black and 5 percent Asian. Oscar de la Torre, a counselor at the school who remains active in the community, describes Miller as being “on a crusade against liberalism and liberals.”
Student body president Justin Brownstone says Miller “enjoyed saying things that were perceived as racist. The more he offended, the happier he was.”
“He had a lot of grudges,” de la Torre told Fusion. “He didn't go out of his way to go to dances or to have girlfriends. I don't remember ever seeing him smile.”
4. He started as a right-wing mouthpiece in high school.
Julia Ioffe writes that Miller reached out to conservative talk radio host Larry Elder while at Santa Monica High, mostly to complain about pervasive liberalism in his school. He also started writing articles for the Santa Monica Lookout. Miller leveraged his role as local conservative media maven to win unilateral wars against what he imagined were lefty enemies in his school.
“Thus began a cycle that would repeat itself over and over in high school and college,” Ioffe writes, “Miller would clash with school administrators over a perceived leftist conspiracy...then escalate the conflict by taking it to a conservative talk show, infuriating the administrators but yielding a compromise in Miller’s favor.”
In a column written just after graduation, Miller noted that just “since his Junior year in High School, he [had] been a guest on local and national radio over thirty times.”
5. He spent months fighting to reinstate the Pledge of Allegiance in his high school.
In a letter to local media outlet the Lookout decrying “political correctness out of control,” 16-year-old Miller complained that “our school refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance in classrooms for years,” proof that “they only adhere to the liberal guidelines.” For months, Miller pestered school administrators to “bring back the pledge” even dragging the superintendent into the fight. The pledge was ultimately reinstated, though Miller moaned in his letter that “it is still only said twice a week, while policy dictates it should be said every day.”
6. Some things Miller’s classmates have said about his attitudes on race.
Charles Gould, whom the Daily News describes as Miller’s schoolmate from first to 12th grade, wrote, “[Miller] was an unabashed racist. No, I’m not being over sensitive and no, I’m not using the 'r' word where it doesn’t apply. In private conversations he was constantly making disparaging remarks about the African-American, Latino and Asian students at our school.”
Classmate Natalie Flores, who wrote a Huffington Post piece about growing up with Miller, told Univision that Miller seemed to have “an intense hatred toward people of color, especially toward Latinos.” She added, “I think his big problem was the Latinos. He thought they lived off welfare.”
“[It] was not just that he targeted minority students, and played a victim on a regular basis, but was an asshole,” Ari Rosmarin, the editor of the student newspaper who now works at the ACLU, told the Daily Beast. “Most people knew him because he made it his business to have everyone hear his vile rhetoric on a regular basis.”
7. His high school writings demonstrate his budding right-wing views.
In that same letter, Miller writes, “When I entered Santa Monica High School...I noticed a number of students lacked basic English skills. There are usually very few, if any, Hispanic students in my honors classes, despite the large number of Hispanic students that attend our school. Even so, pursuant to district policy, all announcements are written in both Spanish and English. By providing a crutch now, we are preventing Spanish speakers from standing on their own...”
He goes on to gripe about condoms in his school (“Legally speaking, sex between minors is statutory rape”), the presence of a student LGBT group (“[W]e have a club on campus that will gladly help foster their homosexuality”), reverence for Native Americans (“excusing their scalping of frontiersmen as part of their culture”) and the lack of praise for the U.S. military (“Osama Bin Laden would feel very welcome at Santa Monica High School.”)
In another article he wrote, “We have all heard about how peaceful and benign the Islamic religion is. But, no matter how many times you say that, it cannot change the fact that millions of radical Muslims would celebrate your death for the simple reason that you are Christian, Jewish or American.”
Here’s what he used for his senior yearbook quote, citing Teddy Roosevelt: “There can be no fifty-fifty Americanism in this country. There is room here for only 100 percent Americanism, only for those who are Americans and nothing else.”
Stephen Miller is nationalist from way back! Check out his yearbook quote! WHEW! https://t.co/hEdTtAkcoy— TrumpSoldier (@TrumpSoldier) 1487009015.0
8. He actively tried to undermine student groups focused on Latino and black issues.
Oscar de la Torre, his former high school counselor, says Miller frequently claimed that because he—a white male—didn’t experience racism or sexism, students of color were making it up. “He didn’t believe the oppression existed,” de la Torre told the Times. “This guy is 17 years old, and it’s like listening to someone who’s 70 years old—in the 1930s.”
During a summit to address African American and Latino issues, Miller showed up with the message that the room was delusional and he knew better. “He wanted to sabotage us,” de la Torre told the Times. “He confronted everyone, denying that racism existed. He said that was a thing of the past.” (In a column about the meeting, Miller would later indicate the real problem wasn't racism but “leftist victim mentality.”)
9. He was once booed off the stage for making a racist joke about the school janitors.
While running for student council, Miller made a speech complaining about having to pick up his garbage when there were janitors for that. The incident, which survives in the video below, was funny because the janitors were black and brown people who got paid almost nothing to pick up garbage. Get it? Haha, right?
“It was a racist remark because we all knew that our janitors were people of color,” Flores told Fusion.
“He was booed unanimously by the student body off the stage. People were disgusted,” Rosmarin, of the ACLU, told the Daily Beast. “That kind of incident with the janitorial staff—everyone, no matter what your background is, understands why that is an awful thing to say.”
(A bit of aughts trivia: the winner of that election was Mark Hunter, the guy behind the Cobrasnake party photo empire.)
10. He attended Duke University, where people remember him, though not fondly.
Here is how Miller was recently described by John Burness, the former senior vice president of public affairs and government relations at Duke: “He’s the most sanctimonious student I think I ever encountered. He seemed to be absolutely sure of his own views and the correctness of them, and seemed to assume that if you were in disagreement with him, there was something malevolent or stupid about your thinking. Incredibly intolerant.”
A college classmate told the New York Times that at a freshman orientation event, he introduced himself by announcing, “My name is Stephen Miller, I am from Los Angeles, and I like guns.”
11. In college, he greatly expanded his portfolio of right-wing hate pieces .
In a column lamenting “multiculturalism” at Duke and other colleges, Miller listed all the cool things that make America great:
“We are the nation of cinema and radio, crooning and jazz, convertibles and diners, the Old West and New York City. Our culture includes Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jackie Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, Douglas Macarthur, Milton Friedman, Edgar Allen Poe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Edison and again, for emphasis, Elvis Presley.”
Neat-o! He only forgot to include Pat Boone and racism.
In another article, Miller accused Maya Angelou of “racial paranoia” and said her “legendary wisdom” amounted to “tired, multicultural clichÃ©s.” Another piece finds Miller finally breaking the right wing’s longstanding silence on the liberal media, asking why there aren’t any movies “about the evils of the Islamic holy war, the merits of capitalism…[o]r, dare I say it, a movie with a positive take on the Bush administration?”
For good measure, Miller also gives voice to the Angry Adult Virgin Lobby, noting that “shows like Queer As Folk, The ‘L’ Word, Will & Grace and Sex and the City, all do their part to promote alternative lifestyles and erode traditional values.”
12. He helped found and lead a campus group called the Terrorism Awareness Project.
CNN reports Miller served as “national campus coordinator, president, and co-founder” of the group, launched by the David Horowitz Freedom Center. (Horowitz is a vocally anti-black, anti-Muslim xenophobe and Zionist.) The project claimed its mission was to end “the efforts of the radical left and its Islamist allies to destroy American values and disarm this country as it attempts to defend itself in a time of terror." Miller promoted events like "Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week”—which didn’t catch on, for some reason—and videos with gross titles like The Islamic Mein Kampf. He also tried to get other college newspapers to run ads, like this one, which was reportedly designed by Richard Spencer. When colleges turned them down, Miller took his case to the only show that would have him, “Fox & Friends.” You can watch that appearance; note that Miller was still using his real voice, not his now-famous King of the D&D Virgins voice.
13. He palled around with white supremacist and recently punched neo-Nazi Richard Spencer.
When Miller was an undergrad and Spencer was working on a Ph.D. he was too racist to finish (no really, he dropped out to found a racist “think tank”), the two became buddies as members of the Duke Conservative Union. Together, they worked on an event featuring Peter Brimelow, founder of the virulently xenophobic VDARE and a notable hate-scene fixture with his very own SPLC page. Spencer told the Daily Beast he was a “mentor” to Miller, saying he “spent a lot of time with him at Duke...I hope I expanded his thinking.”
Spencer, who has lauded Miller as “very bold and strong,” said ahead of the election, “It's funny no one's picked up on the Stephen Miller connection. I knew him very well when I was at Duke. But I am kind of glad no one's talked about this because I don't want to harm Trump."
For the record, Miller has said the two were merely members of the same club and that they fell out of touch after graduation.
14. Another white nationalist is also a big fan, as is David Duke.
In a piece titled “Stephen Miller is David Duke’s Favorite Jew,” Forward picks up recent tweets from the former Klansman applauding Miller. “I can’t help it, I like this guy,” Duke states in one message.
Jared Taylor, whose anti-black output was a favorite of racist murderer Dylann Roof, reportedly also namechecked Miller. The Washington Post points to a post by Taylor which notes that Trump’s lack of white racial consciousness is helped by “men close to him — Steve Bannon, Jeff Sessions, Stephen Miller — who may have a clearer understanding of race, and their influence could grow.”
15. He worked for noted racist Jeff Sessions.
After a stint working for Michelle Bachmann, Miller took a communications job with Senator Jeff Sessions in 2009. Sessions' office—where Miller could help the racist, xenophobic sausage get made—helped elevate his visibility among conservatives, though initially, he was known mostly for his emails (see #16).
Politico notes the up-and-comer played a pivotal role in crushing the Gang of Eight’s 2013 bipartisan immigration bill. The outlet points out that “when the bill passed the Senate...Miller literally wrote the 23-page handbook that House members were given on how to fight the deal.” As you may already know, after being deemed too racist for the federal bench in the 1980s, Sessions was judged perfectly racist for the Trump administration and confirmed attorney general.
16. As you might imagine, he is a super annoying emailer.
A recent New York Times article describes Miller as “a man whose emails were, until recently, considered spam by many of his Republican peers.” The Times goes on to say:
As a top aide to Mr. Sessions, the conservative Alabama senator, Mr. Miller dispatched dozens and dozens of bombastic emails to congressional staff members and reporters in early 2013 when the Senate was considering a big bipartisan immigration overhaul. Mr. Miller slammed the evils of “foreign labor” and pushed around nasty news articles on proponents of compromise, like Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. One exhausted Senate staff member, forwarding a Miller-gram to a reporter at the time, wrote: “His latest. And it’s only 11:45 a.m.”
17. On the campaign trail, he warmed up the crowds for Trump.
Miller’s job was to toss small bits of red meat for the audience to gnaw on while they waited for Trump to hit the stage and throw them the rest of the bloody carcass. In the video below, shot at a rally in Wisconsin, he rails against “foreign workers,” telling the audience they’re “competing against you, and your children, and your grandchildren, and your brothers, and sisters and neighbors for jobs. Low-wage foreign workers being brought in to take your place at less pay.”
He talks about “uncontrolled migration from the Middle East,” and “illegal immigrants being arrested...for the most heinous crimes imaginable,” and hails Trump as the candidate “who will protect our cities, who will protect our communities, who will save our families.”
18. He wrote Trump’s RNC and 'America First' inauguration speeches.
Miller is reportedly responsible for penning Trump’s ominous RNC speech, in which he declared, “Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”
While there was the option of going lighter for the inauguration—some presidents do not use the minutes after being sworn in to share a vision of the country as a dystopian hellscape—Miller stuck with fearmongering:
"Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”
19. He’s considered the brain behind the travel ban.
Though he denies it, Miller is believed to have written a significant portion of the travel ban, with some help from Steve Bannon and congressional aides sworn to contractual secrecy. Multiple sources have reported that the Steves have refused to consult with other agencies that might have necessary insights or legal expertise, leading to disastrous rollouts. In order to counter the negative press around the Muslim ban (we’re calling it what Trump calls it, because that’s what it is), Miller was sent on a Sunday morning press tour last weekend.
20. Infamous quotes from Miller’s tour of the Sunday morning shows last weekend.
“Our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”
“The president’s powers...represent the apex of executive authority.”
“We will have unquestioned military strength beyond anything anybody can imagine.”
“That’s the story we should be talking about and I’m prepared to go on any show anywhere anytime and repeat it and say the president of the United States is correct 100 percent.”
21. His family is mostly not proud of him.
Buzzfeed News rounded up posts from Miller’s extended family, who seem not particularly keen on his new role. His mother’s brother, David Glosser, posted on the wall of a local media outlet, “With all familial affection I wish Stephen career success and personal happiness; however I cannot endorse his political preferences. I am not a Trump supporter.”
Glosser's letter, which is fairly long, goes on from there:
Mr. Trump is trying to sell you something...He sells fear of immigrants, contempt of our daughters, sisters, and wives, and sows discord and anger. He knows the dictator’s disgraceful sales tricks of challenging the integrity of democratic elections, he finds an unpopular outside group to blame our troubles on, cooks up false electoral fraud theories if he doesn’t get his way, threatens and bullies his opponents, and tells us that he is the only one that can lead the nation ahead. He’s trying to sell you something, and it’s not a good product. For the first time in my memory a major American political party’s presidential candidate has proposed that laws and regulations be established solely on the basis of a person’s religion and ethnic background. The legitimization of this as a basis of serious political discussion is a terrible step into darkness. Remember, what goes around comes around. If today it’s “them,” then tomorrow it may be you.
Finally, my nephew and I must both reflect long and hard on one awful truth. If in the early 20th century the USA had built a wall against poor desperate ignorant immigrants of a different religion, like the Glossers, all of us would have gone up the crematoria chimneys with the other six million kinsmen whom we can never know.”
Another family member, commenting on the post, wrote, “At least he [Miller] doesn’t share our last name.”
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