Op-Ed: The media’s whitewashing of Stephen Miller’s white nationalism

 Stephen Miller stands listening in front of a doorway
Stephen Miller, senior advisor to President Trump, was instrumental in pushing the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

Stephen Miller, the former Trump White House senior advisor and speechwriter from Santa Monica, has gone back to the California conservative playbook for his next act: launching a legal group that co-opts social justice strategies to fight social justice.

Miller is characterizing his group, America First Legal, as a conservative version of the American Civil Liberties Union, in the same way he spins himself, with a smirk, as a “conservative social-justice warrior.”

His goals have nothing to do with social justice, civil liberties or putting America first. Miller aims to wage rabid political warfare against President Biden’s efforts to make America more equitable and livable for marginalized people.


If the media organizations that cover Miller’s activities pretend otherwise, as Fox News, Politico and others are doing, they are complicit in his well-documented plan to make America white. For Miller, the nation’s biggest problems aren’t white supremacy, which he deliberately fueled and which homeland security experts recognize as the top terror threat, or the brutal police killings of brown and Black men, and certainly not pandemics or economic inequality. The biggest problems in his view are “cancel culture,” i.e. holding white men accountable for anything, and multiculturalism.

Miller is stuck in the California of the ’90s, when hysteria about a Third World “invasion” led to measures attacking bilingual education, affirmative action and public assistance for people without legal status, including public education, through the notorious Prop 187.

In the White House, Miller strangled legal pathways into the U.S., dismantling asylum, slashing refugee admissions and choking green card access. President Trump occasionally spun this as fighting criminals and cartels, but Miller was fixated on families. His concern wasn’t national security. It was preserving existing demographics.

Miller’s most cherished and sadistic projects, such as canceling the Obama-era program known as DACA to protect childhood arrivals, or systematically separating migrant families, were thwarted by lawsuits by state attorneys general and the ACLU. Miller wants payback. He claims America First Legal will sue the Biden administration in occasional collaboration with Republican attorneys general for “unlawful actions.” He’s drawing on the lessons of his adolescence.

Ben Shapiro, the right-wing commentator, once told me that to understand Miller “you really have to understand the oppositional nature of conservative politics in Los Angeles. You’re in the minority. … You end up going to war enough times, you start to see everything as a war.”

Miller was groomed by David Horowitz, a Studio City-based Marxist turned far-right zealot who spent the 1990s organizing attorneys to defend people accused of racism and other hate speech. His “School for Political Warfare” taught conservatives to wear the armor of oppressed minorities and to invert the language of civil rights: activists fighting inequality were “oppressors.” People fighting racism were “racists.” It was, quite literally, gaslighting: psychological warfare to derail victims’ sense of reality.


Gaslighting is recognized by psychologists as emotional abuse. It involves deflection, projection, false or exaggerated accusations and doubling down. The term is often used to explain Trump, but Horowitz essentially advocated for it to be a central strategy of the Republican Party.

Democrats “are secular missionaries who want to ‘change society,’” Horowitz wrote in a strategy paper, which he emailed to Miller in 2012. “Their goal is a new order of society — ‘social justice.’” Horowitz argued for the Republican Party to remake itself in that radical image, using the same “moral language,” but focused on fear instead of hope. “Fear is a much stronger and more compelling emotion,” he wrote.

It worked. The media’s post-Trump normalization of Miller reflects the success of the race-baiting speeches Miller crafted for Trump. A growing number of Americans fear an apocalypse brought on by the Third World, as they did in the California of Miller’s youth. The largely white media’s branding of Miller’s agenda as anything other than white nationalism also played a role.

Miller has been manipulating the media since he was a teenager, appearing regularly on talk radio in high school and obtaining a newspaper column in college. His latest elevation shouldn’t be a surprise; he has been boosted up and his views whitewashed all along. The New York Times has politely called Miller a “firebrand.” The Washington Post has parroted his claim of being a “populist.”

Casting Miller as an aberration in American politics is as wrong as normalizing him. That lets his supporters, collaborators and enablers off the hook. Miller is not a pariah and never really was. White supremacists have long held positions of power, and their influence persists — from the news media to entertainment. Their values drive America’s fetish for the white antihero and the demonization of brown and Black men.

We can dismantle white supremacy only by confronting how pervasive and basic it is. As a child, Miller wore a black cowboy hat in beachfront California. Later, as a grown man, he often dressed up as Robert De Niro’s mobster character in the movie “Casino.” He relished the role of villain. Miller’s legal group is the latest manifestation of his taste for trolling and traumatizing people — and bending, not enforcing, the rules.

He knows the “bad hombres” aren’t at the border, but right here, in bespoke suits. And the others — at the Heritage Foundation, the Conservative Partnership Institute, Mar-a-Lago and so on — have his back.

Jean Guerrero is an investigative journalist and author of “Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump and the White Nationalist Agenda.”