'Hatemonger' Tracks How Right-Wing Media Shaped Trump Policy Architect Stephen Miller Jean Guerrero tells NPR she became fascinated, when reporting from the border, with how a descendant of Jewish refugees ended up as the person crafting Donald Trump's "harshest rhetoric and policies."

'Hatemonger' Tracks How Right-Wing Media Shaped Trump Policy Architect Stephen Miller

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/902822086/902977110" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Stephen Miller is the architect of Donald Trump's extreme policies on immigration, legal and otherwise, and leaked emails have shown him pushing white power ideology cloaked in pseudoscience. So how did an affluent kid from the California suburbs who liked mobster movies and wore gold chains get on the path that led him to where he is now? In her book "Hatemonger," Jean Guerrero follows Miller through the conservative media landscape where key figures propelled the rise of the man who is defining who gets to be an American. Jean Guerrero joins me now.

Welcome to the program.

JEAN GUERRERO: Great to be here, Lulu. Thanks.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Let's start with Stephen Miller in high school. He starts listening to right-wing talk radio, and he ends up getting on "The Larry Elder Show." Tell me about who Elder was then.

GUERRERO: Yeah, Larry Elder is this Black radio talk show host who calls himself the sage from South Central. At the time - and through today - he was pushing this idea that systemic racism against Black people and, you know, people of color in general is kind of a figment of our imaginations. And Stephen Miller, from a very young age, read Larry Elder's book "The Ten Things You Can't Say In America" and just loved it. Like many other white people listening to Larry Elder, they felt that his ideas validated a lot of their racist beliefs and provided them with a framework for having these beliefs and not perceiving themselves to be racist because of the fact that Larry is a Black man.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And you interviewed Elder, who said that he ended up putting Miller on his show while he was in high school some 69 times. I mean, he was a high school kid. What was so impressive about him, according to Elder?

GUERRERO: The first time that Stephen Miller called into his show, Larry was just very impressed with how articulate Stephen was. He says Stephen didn't umm (ph) or like the way you hear a lot of teenagers talking. He was really skilled at regurgitating the talking points of other talk show hosts that he'd been listening to, like Rush Limbaugh. He was just overall really taken with this young teenager and how passionate he was, and he decided to give him a platform and let him on the show pretty much whenever he wanted.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Miller captures the attention of another right-wing media figure who becomes very important to him - David Horowitz. Can you explain who he is?

GUERRERO: He is a former Marxist-turned-right-wing-radical who kind of dedicated much of his life to fostering young conservatives like Stephen Miller and teaching them, you know, the weapons of the civil rights movement from which he came and teaching them how to use the language of the civil rights movement to attack it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, you write, Elder gave him a platform, but Horowitz gave him the weapons.

GUERRERO: Exactly. And this is apparent from private correspondence that David Horowitz shared with me for the book where you could see for years, you know, David Horowitz shaping Stephen Miller's career throughout college, getting him his first jobs on Capitol Hill, shaping Trump's rhetoric and policies through Miller. And he introduces him from a very young age to this idea that everything that we hold dear as Americans - equality and freedom - are thanks to white men and that there's this unfair war on whiteness.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Miller graduates - voted most outspoken, unsurprisingly. And you write, he received more publicity than any other kid. He understood how to take these ideas and kind of disseminate them. And he ends up going to Duke University, where he starts to write for the school paper. He had a column called "Miller Time." What did he write about? What causes was he involved in?

GUERRERO: He was repeatedly drawn to racial controversies and at one point became very obsessed with the Duke lacrosse scandal where a Black woman accused several Duke lacrosse players of having raped her. And those accusations were ultimately found to be false. But during the investigation, when people were trying to get to the bottom of what had happened, Stephen Miller rushed to the defense of the white players, saying that they were being targeted simply because of their white skin color.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And this is when he reaches a mass audience. He starts to be able to get on "Fox News" and "Fox & Friends."

GUERRERO: Exactly. He starts to realize that this extremism that David Horowitz introduced him to is actually a potential path to power. He had always been seen as kind of a pariah, kind of a fringe figure. His views were offensive to people, but people just kind of rolled their eyes and thought, well, this guy can't do any harm. I mean, he's just so out there. But you see him actually being very effective with the media, you know, finding ways to get a platform by using arguments for diversity - you know, the very thing he was attacking - to get a platform and to have his voice highlighted.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: At Duke, we should say he was friends with white nationalist Richard Spencer, who you also interviewed for this book. He left Duke. He becomes press secretary for Michele Bachmann through David Horowitz. And later, he moves on to Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions. And this is when he becomes really close with Steve Bannon who, at that time, ran Breitbart and who also comes from California.

GUERRERO: Steve Bannon - when he met Stephen Miller, he remembered listening to his voice on "The Larry Elder Show" in Los Angeles. So he decides to, you know, help Stephen Miller get a platform for his ideas through the right-wing blog Breitbart, which Bannon was the head of at the time.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. We should say that his chapter with Breitbart ended up with these leaked emails that we saw recently, showing him sending white nationalist talking points and story ideas to writers there. As we know, of course, Miller ends up working with Trump, someone who has also gained power through media exposure. What connects them? - because Miller's use of the media has been for ideological purposes, while Trump's has really been about his own brand.

GUERRERO: Stephen Miller gets Donald Trump. He gets him emotionally. He gets him psychologically. He gets him spiritually. Stephen Miller and Donald Trump really share this morbid fascination with violence, and that's why you see Stephen Miller contributing these very vivid descriptions of demonizing violence into Trump's rhetoric - you know, talking about migrants slaughtering little girls and stuff that is supposed to make you feel afraid and hatred towards migrants.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You believe that this is a relationship that transcends politics.

GUERRERO: I do. My sources tell me that Stephen Miller grew up with a man who was very similar to Trump. And he knows, you know, how to get along with Trump, and he sees him almost like, you know, another father figure. And then with Stephen Miller - I mean, Donald Trump truly sees Stephen Miller as a key reason that he won in 2016. And you see him leaning on him more and more during the pandemic. He believes that, you know, he can no longer tout a strong economy. And he's got this public health crisis on his hands. And so he's leaning more and more on the demonization strategies of Stephen Miller that have proved previously so effective for him.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Jean Guerrero. Her book is "Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, And The White Nationalist Agenda."

Thank you very much.

GUERRERO: Thank you, Lulu.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.