LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Senior White House adviser Stephen Miller is an immigration hard-liner. That much is clear. He's engineered everything from the Trump administration's family separation policy to the travel ban on people from some Muslim-majority countries. But now Democrats are calling for his resignation after the Southern Poverty Law Center obtained leaked emails in which they say Miller encouraged far-right website Breitbart to promote white supremacist ideas. In one message, after a statement released by Pope Francis in 2015 that was sympathetic to refugees, Miller references a book of fiction, writing, quote, "someone should point out the parallels to "Camp Of The Saints.""
CHELSEA STIEBER: This novel is a dystopian, apocalyptic French novel about a flotilla of migrants from India who overtake a southern town in France.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Chelsea Stieber is a scholar of French literature at the Catholic University of America, and she teaches "Camp Of The Saints."
STIEBER: The key themes are actually white supremacy and the end of white civilization as the West knows it - infestation, invasion, hordes of nameless, faceless migrants who come to indeed invade the West and bring about its end.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That sort of language that we see mirrored in some of the comments today.
STIEBER: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, my interest in this novel was precisely because, really, with the inaugural address, I noticed a language that I was intimately familiar with because I study it, because I've worked on far-right French nationalism and its literature and language for a long time. And I was sort of blown away. The alarm bells started going off. I was recognizing a language that was not normal political discourse that I was used to hearing, but a discourse that I absolutely knew.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And you teach this text to your students. What are their reactions? I'm interested.
STIEBER: Their reactions are sort of to be overwhelmed. I mean, I write about how the book itself is - I mean, from a pedagogic point of view - very effective because it performs the effect of infestation with its language and with its figures of style, repetition, metaphor. And so students feel quite invaded by the language, and it is an emotional and visceral reaction.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that's its power, I suppose.
STIEBER: Absolutely. I mean, again, to study it is so important to understand how it could quite literally infest a mind, a person, to believe things. And with my students, the thing that I do that I think is so important and that I would guess encourage anyone who wants to read this book to do is to ground ourselves first in humanity and humanism. And we agree that we believe in the equality of humanity, the dignity of humanity.
And when you start from that point of view and you read this book and you realize that a central conceit in the novel is that you cannot respect the humanity of all beings, that you must create a hierarchy and that the white West is the most human and thus must reject this subhuman group, it becomes easier to see how incredibly disturbing and wrong it is.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Kathleen Belew is also familiar with the book and others like it, novels that morph from fiction to reality for white power activists.
KATHLEEN BELEW: They fill imaginative holes that people can use in organizing, and they provide kind of a map of ideology and operations that spur future activity.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Belew teaches history at the University of Chicago and wrote a book about the roots of white power movements in the U.S. called "Bring The War Home." "Camp Of The Saints," she says, mirrors the central belief of white nationalist thinking.
BELEW: Which is that most political issues of the day are, at bottom, about the reproduction of the white race and the birth of white children. This is why you see people focusing on the birth rate, right? We see the birth rate appearing in manifestos of violent actors.
But to people in this movement, white reproduction is not just about sort of a peaceful demographic transformation, but it's about this feeling of being overrun by immigrants, about being threatened with forced integration and about the idea that the white race is under attack. And I think that sense of emergency that is depicted and works like "Camp Of The Saints" and "The Turner Diaries" explains how white nationalism becomes such a captivating and kind of world-consuming way of thinking about politics.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this book has been referenced by Steve Bannon, former adviser to President Trump, Republican Iowa Representative Steve King. What does that mean to you?
BELEW: You know, when we're thinking about the historically ingrained problem of racial inequality and anti-immigrant xenophobia in American society, there are a number of laws and policies and systems in our country that perpetuate harm to people of color crossing the border and racial inequality. And I think reasonable people can agree that we have a society that is structured, intentionally or otherwise, by those systems.
Then we have something operating at a personal level that's just racial animus. Some people have prejudice against people of other racial or ethnic backgrounds. But this is something else. This is a organized ideology. It has a coherent worldview that is not only deeply racist and xenophobic and anti-immigrant, but also, at times, un-American and dedicated towards war on the state. I think this represents a real difference in intent than a policy that's simply enacted with an after-effect of harm. This is about deliberate construction of a white nationalist public policy coming from the halls of power into our laws and into our nation.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So Stephen Miller obviously is one of the main architects of President Trump's hard-line immigration policies. These emails show that he referenced the book. What do you think that says?
BELEW: I think this is clear evidence that this is a person who is immersed in and is trafficking in white nationalist ideology. The "Camp Of The Saints" is one example of this. The other things that appeared in the email chain include articles posted on websites that propagate white nationalist and anti-immigrant content and some of which have been identified as hate groups.
I think that, to me, the important thing here is that this really shows that we can't consider the Trump immigration policy as sort of belonging to the unintentional harm category of white supremacist society. To me, it shows that this is a deliberate and intentional attempt to propagate that kind of a system.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Kathleen Belew is an assistant professor of history at the University of Chicago.
Thank you very much.
BELEW: Thank you.
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