A key en­gi­neer for Trump’s agenda

Miller, 31, be­gan build­ing a con­ser­va­tive foun­da­tion in lib­eral Cal­i­for­nia

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROSALIND S. HELDERMAN

As a young con­ser­va­tive in lib­eral Santa Monica, Calif., Stephen Miller clashed fre­quently with his high school, of­ten call­ing in to a na­tional ra­dio show to lam­baste ad­min­is­tra­tors for pro­mot­ing mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, al­low­ing Span­ish-lan­guage morn­ing an­nounce­ments and fail­ing to re­quire recita­tion of the Pledge of Al­le­giance.

Miller’s out­rage did not ap­pear to sub­side af­ter he grad­u­ated. As a Duke University sopho­more, Miller penned a col­umn, ti­tled “Santa Monica High’s Mul­ti­cul­tural Fist­fights,” in which he ripped his alma mater as a “cen­ter for po­lit­i­cal in­doc­tri­na­tion.”

“The so­cial ex­per­i­ment that Santa Monica High School has be­come is yet one more ex­am­ple of the dis­mal fail­ure of left­ism and the delu­sions and para­noia of its ar­chi­tects,” Miller wrote in the 2005 ar­ti­cle for the con­ser­va­tive mag­a­zine Front­Page.

In the years be­fore he be­came a top ad­viser to Pres­i­dent Trump

a lead­ing West Wing ad­vo­cate for the ex­ec­u­tive or­der tem­po­rar­ily halt­ing en­try into the United States from seven ma­jor­ity-Mus­lim coun­tries, Miller was de­vel­op­ing his skills as a cul­ture war­rior and con­ser­va­tive provo­ca­teur ea­ger to con­demn lib­eral or­tho­doxy — par­tic­u­larly on mat­ters of race and iden­tity. Like Trump, Miller forged that iden­tity while im­mersed in lib­eral com­mu­ni­ties, giv­ing him ca­chet with fel­low con­ser­va­tives for wag­ing his bat­tles on op­po­si­tion turf.

Start­ing as a teenager, with his fre­quent calls to the na­tion­ally syn­di­cated “Larry Elder Show,” Miller made a name for him­self in con­ser­va­tive me­dia cir­cles for his will­ing­ness to take con­tro­ver­sial stands and act as a cham­pion for those on the right who felt ma­ligned by a cul­ture of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness.

He pro­duced a canon of sear­ing col­umns on race, gen­der and other hot-but­ton is­sues and, at Duke, be­came known to Fox News view­ers as a lead­ing de­fender of the white lacrosse play­ers wrong­fully ac­cused of rap­ing a black strip­per. By his late 20s, Miller was a key aide to then-Sen. Jeff Ses­sions (R-Ala.), help­ing to tor­pedo a long-sought goal of im­mi­grant ad­vo­cacy groups to put mil­lions of unau­tho­rized His­panic im­mi­grants on a path to cit­i­zen­ship.

To­day, at 31, he has emerged along­side for­mer Bre­it­bart News chief Stephen K. Ban­non as a chief en­gi­neer of Trump’s pop­ulist “Amer­ica first” agenda that has roiled the Wash­ing­ton de­bate over im­mi­gra­tion and trade and sparked alarm among tra­di­tional U.S. al­lies abroad.

Miller, whose White House ti­tle is se­nior ad­viser to the pres­i­dent for pol­icy, has been at Trump’s side for more than a year, join­ing his cam­paign in Jan­uary 2016 when Ses­sions, who was sworn in Thurs­day as at­tor­ney gen­eral, was one of the only Repub­li­can of­fi­cials to en­dorse the busi­ness­man’s can­di­dacy.

While Trump at times re­vamped his cam­paign lead­er­ship, with Ban­non join­ing rel­a­tively late in Au­gust 2016, Miller re­mained a steady pres­ence whose pro­file and in­flu­ence grew over time.

He wrote some of Trump’s most stri­dent speeches dur­ing the cam­paign, in­clud­ing his Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion ac­cep­tance ad­dress in which Trump de­clared that “no­body knows the sys­tem bet­ter than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”

And Miller some­times served as the warm-up act for Trump at his large cam­paign ral­lies, in­clud­ing a rip-roar­ing speech in Wisconsin dur­ing the Repub­li­can pri­mary when Miller thrashed Trump’s chief ri­val, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), for sup­port­ing in­creases in le­gal im­mi­gra­tion that would re­sult in more Mus­lims en­ter­ing the coun­try — a po­si­tion Miller charged that Cruz held with “no re­gard, no con­cern” for how it would “af­fect the se­cu­rity of you and your fam­ily.”

Af­ter re­ports of Miller’s cen­tral role craft­ing the or­der im­pos­ing a 90-day ban on cit­i­zens of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, So­ma­lia, Su­dan and Ye­men from en­ter­ing the United States, the young aide has drawn un­com­fort­able new scru­tiny. MSNBC’s Joe Scar­bor­ough, host of the “Morn­ing Joe” pro­gram that is a Trump fa­vorite, re­cently blasted Miller as a “very young per­son in the White House on a power trip think­ing that you can just write ex­ec­u­tive or­ders and tell all of your Cabi­net agen­cies to go to hell.”

For Miller, though, work­ing in the Trump White House is a nat­u­ral cul­mi­na­tion of his young ca­reer — a chance to work for a pres­i­dent who ap­pears to share his zeal for get­ting un­der the skin of po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents.

“The way that peo­ple on the left abuse and slam peo­ple on the right — that’s prob­a­bly the thing that’s most con­cerned Stephen,” said Elder, the Los An­ge­les-based con­ser­va­tive talk-show host who Miller de­scribes as a men­tor. “The lack of fair­ness. The left­wing dom­i­nance in academia. The left-wing dom­i­nance in the me­dia. The left-wing dom­i­nance in Hol­ly­wood.”

Miller’s ide­o­log­i­cal awak­en­ing found its roots in a left-lean­ing high school where he has writ­ten that so­cial life and aca­demics were badly seg­re­gated, de­spite what he saw as a de­vo­tion among teach­ers and ad­min­is­tra­tors to mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism.

“My best judg­ment at the time was that the ed­u­ca­tional an­swer that had been pro­vided, which was to re­ject the melt­ing-pot for­mula in fa­vor of an ed­u­ca­tional for­mula that fo­cused on all the things that made us dif­fer­ent, was not work­ing,” he told The Wash­ing­ton Post in an in­ter­view.

Miller said he re­jects the “provo­ca­teur” la­bel, say­ing it sug­gests that his in­ten­tions are to seek at­ten­tion rather than what he says is his true goal: “to bat­tle against slim odds, a stacked deck and pow­er­ful en­trenched forces, in pur­suit of jus­tice.”

Miller said he turned away from the more lib­eral pol­i­tics of his par­ents as he grew up in Santa Monica af­ter buy­ing a sub­scrip­tion to Guns & Ammo mag­a­zine and be­com­ing fa­mil­iar with the writ­ings of ac­tor Charl­ton He­ston, a long­time pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion.

Miller be­gan ap­pear­ing on Elder’s show, a lo­cal broad­cast that is aired in 300 mar­kets, af­ter the 9/11 at­tacks, when he felt his home town lacked suf­fi­cient pa­tri­o­tism.

Elder said that Miller called in the first time to voice ob­jec­tions to his school’s fail­ure to re­cite the Pledge of Al­le­giance daily as re quired by state law.

In writ­ings at the time and later, Miller said he lob­bied for the pledge recita­tion against a re­cal­ci­trant ad­min­is­tra­tion that re­fused to put the prac­tice in place even af­ter he had flagged the le­gal vi­o­la­tion. “Osama Bin Laden would feel very wel­come at Santa Monica High School,” he wrote in a let­ter to the ed­i­tor at the time.

“It’s dif­fi­cult to over­state the ex­tent to which the in­struc­tional en­vi­ron­ment on cam­pus was breath­tak­ingly PC,” Miller said in an in­ter­view.

Mark Kelly, who was the prin­ci­pal at the time, said he did not re­call the episode as a ma­jor fight. When Miller flagged the is­sue, Kelly said he re­searched the law and re­al­ized that the school, in­deed, needed to change its pol­icy and in­sti­tute the recita­tion of the pledge. Miller was in­vited to lead the pledge af­ter it was re­in­stated.

“Stephen was right,” Kelly re­called.

The vic­tory was a val­i­da­tion for Miller of the ne­ces­sity to fight pow­er­ful fig­ures who op­posed his views.

Miller pushed the school ad­min­is­tra­tion over his de­sire to host an on-cam­pus speech by David Horowitz — a one­time Marx­ist, then con­tro­ver­sial far­right con­ser­va­tive — who be­came an early men­tor and would later in­tro­duce Miller to Ses­sions.

Horowitz re­calls be­ing im­me­di­ately im­pressed with Miller. “One of the things that struck me when I be­came a con­ser­va­tive was that con­ser­va­tives don’t have any fight,” Horowitz said. “They don’t have any stom­ach for it . . . . Stephen Miller had that from the get-go.”

Cul­tural-iden­tity is­sues ap­peared to par­tic­u­larly an­i­mate Miller. In a col­umn in his high school news­pa­per ti­tled “A Time to Kill,” he urged vi­o­lent re­sponse to rad­i­cal Is­lamists.

“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,” Miller wrote.

Ari Ros­marin, a civil rights lawyer who edited the stu­dent news­pa­per at time, re­called that Miller was es­pe­cially crit­i­cal of a Mex­i­can Amer­i­can stu­dent group.

“I think he’s got a very sharp un­der­stand­ing of what words and is­sues will poke and pro­voke pro­gres­sives, be­cause he came up around it and re­ally cut his teeth pick­ing these fights that had low stakes but high of­fense,” Ros­marin said.

That skill led Miller to be­come a mini-celebrity in con­ser­va­tive in­tel­lec­tual cir­cles be­cause of his pas­sion, age and home town. He ap­peared 70 times on Elder’s show be­fore his high school grad­u­a­tion, ac­cord­ing to the host.

“He found a re­ally unique role to play that was deeply at­trac­tive to na­tional con­ser­va­tives,” Ros­marin said. “He was like a lonely war­rior be­hind en­emy lines.”

In the halls of Santa Monica High School, though, where stu­dents and teach­ers took pride in their eth­nic di­ver­sity and lib­eral val­ues, Miller was be­com­ing some­thing of a pariah. That en­vi­ron­ment prompted Miller to be­come even more as­sertive, re­called one of his for­mer teach­ers.

“He had to come on a lit­tle strong as a de­fense mech­a­nism — just to sur­vive,” said the teacher, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity out of fear for how col­leagues would re­act to the de­fense of an alum­nus so closely associated with Trump. “He came un­der a lot of fire, even from teach­ers.”

At Duke, Miller wrote a bi­weekly col­umn for the stu­dent news­pa­per that reg­u­larly aroused the ire of class­mates.

“Men and women are in many ways the same, but they’re also in­nately and mag­nif­i­cently dif­fer­ent,” he wrote in one col­umn that ar­gued laws re­quir­ing men and women to be paid equally would hurt busi­nesses and that the pay gap largely re­sulted from women tak­ing time off for child­birth, be­ing less will­ing to ask for raises and be­ing less likely to take part in haz­ardous work.

“The point is that the pay gap has vir­tu­ally noth­ing to do with gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion,” he wrote. “Sorry, fem­i­nists. Hate to break this good news to you.”

In a col­umn ti­tled “The Case for Christ­mas,” Miller, who is Jewish, ar­gued that the hol­i­day should be more widely rec­og­nized as a “cru­cial Amer­i­can hol­i­day.”

“Chris­tian­ity is em­bed­ded in the very soul of our na­tion,” he wrote.

Miller stepped into the na­tional spotlight af­ter three white lacrosse play­ers were falsely ac­cused of rape in a case rife with racial ten­sion. The play­ers were even­tu­ally cleared, and the lo­cal dis­trict at­tor­ney was dis­barred for pros­e­cu­to­rial mis­con­duct in the case. Miller wrote a series of col­umns about the case and ap­peared on na­tional tele­vi­sion to dis­cuss it.

“This trav­esty has been al­lowed to con­tinue be­cause we live in a na­tion par­a­lyzed by racial para­noia,” he wrote in Novem­ber 2006, writ­ing that pro­fes­sors and oth­ers were fright­ened to speak in de­fense of the stu­dents be­cause the dis­trict at­tor­ney had turned the case into a racial cru­sade, and op­po­si­tion “would be per­ceived neg­a­tively by the black com­mu­nity and that there would be a po­lit­i­cal price to pay.”

Speak­ing years later about his role as an ad­vo­cate for the play­ers, Miller told The Post: “The one take­away I have from it is that in a dif­fi­cult mo­ment, I took a stand on prin­ci­ple — and I was cor­rect.”

Re­flect­ing more broadly on his col­lege-era col­umns, Miller said his writ­ings were a good re­flec­tion of his views at the time. But, he said, “I would surely hope that any per­son who was a writer about po­lit­i­cal and con­tro­ver­sial top­ics in col­lege would find that their thoughts had ma­tured on a va­ri­ety of is­sues.” He de­clined to out­line where his own views had changed over time.

Miller’s out­spo­ken­ness in the lacrosse case first brought him to the at­ten­tion of Richard Spencer, a white na­tion­al­ist who was a Duke grad­u­ate stu­dent at the time. Spencer said he be­came friendly with Miller through the Duke Con­ser­va­tive Union in fall 2006.

“He was very out in front, very bold and strong,” Spencer said in an in­ter­view.

Spencer last year told the Daily Beast that he was a “men­tor” to Miller, which Miller has an­grily de­nied.

“I con­demn him. I con­demn his views. I have no re­la­tion­ship with him. He was not my friend,” Miller said.

Miller noted that he served on cam­pus as the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the lead­ing con­ser­va­tive group, which put him in con­tact with Spencer. “Our in­ter­ac­tion was lim­ited to the ac­tiv­i­ties of the or­ga­ni­za­tion, of which he was a mem­ber and, thus, ceased upon grad­u­a­tion,” Miller said.

But Spencer said that the two met fre­quently dur­ing their Duke days. As first re­ported by Mother Jones mag­a­zine, they both helped or­ga­nize an im­mi­gra­tion de­bate be­tween Pe­ter Brimelow, an an­ti­im­mi­gra­tion ac­tivist whose web­site has been la­beled a hate site by the South­ern Poverty Law Cen­ter, and Pe­ter Laufer, who ad­vo­cated for open­ing the south­ern U.S. bor­der. Spencer praised Miller’s me­dia savvy and or­ga­ni­za­tional skills in ad­vance of that event.

David Bit­ner, a friend of Miller’s who also be­longed to the con­ser­va­tive club at Duke, said the two did in­ter­act in the small group. But Bit­ner called it “scur­rilous li­bel” for Spencer to claim he was Miller’s men­tor.

“Richard Spencer be­lieves in white iden­tity pol­i­tics. Stephen Miller dis­avows iden­tity pol­i­tics,” he said.

Nev­er­the­less, Miller’s role in the White House has been greeted with en­thu­si­asm by Spencer and other white na­tion­al­ist fig­ures.

“He is not a white na­tion­al­ist,” Spencer said. “But you can’t be this pas­sion­ate about the im­mi­gra­tion is­sue and not have a sense of the Amer­i­can na­tion as it his­tor­i­cally emerged.”

Af­ter at­tend­ing Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion, Jared Tay­lor, an­other high-pro­file white na­tion­al­ist, posted a piece to his web­site in which he wrote that Trump is “not a racially con­scious white man” but that there “are men close to him — Steve Ban­non, Jeff Ses­sions, Stephen Miller — who may have a clearer un­der­stand­ing of race, and their in­flu­ence could grow.”

In an in­ter­view, Tay­lor said he was “spec­u­lat­ing” and that he has not met or spo­ken with Miller.

Miller said he has “pro­found ob­jec­tions” to the views ad­vanced by Tay­lor and Spencer, say­ing: “I con­demn this ran­cid ide­ol­ogy.”

Elder, who is black, said he has never heard Miller speak of Spencer or Tay­lor or ex­press what he con­sid­ers racist views.

In­stead, Elder said, Miller be­lieves as he does: “Race and racism are no longer ma­jor prob­lems in Amer­ica. This is the fairest ma­jor­ity-white coun­try in the world. If you work hard and make good de­ci­sions, you’ll be fine.”

Miller said that his views at the time were best summed up in a 2005 col­umn in the Santa Monica Mir­ror, ti­tled “My Dream for the End of Racism,” in which he ar­gued that Amer­i­cans should fo­cus on how far the coun­try has come in over­com­ing such prej­u­dice. “No one claims that racism is ex­tinct — but it is en­dan­gered,” he wrote. “And if we are to en­tirely ex­tract this venom of prej­u­dice from the United States, I pro­claim Amer­i­can­ism to be the key.”

Fo­cus­ing on “mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism,” he wrote, has had the ef­fect of keep­ing dif­fer­ent groups sep­a­rate.

Miller’s White House role is in many ways a de­par­ture for an ac­tivist who has mostly seen him­self as rep­re­sent­ing an op­pressed po­lit­i­cal mi­nor­ity. Now he holds the power, help­ing to drive the gov­ern­ment while work­ing steps from the Oval Of­fice.

Bit­ner said he won­ders how Miller’s tac­tics will trans­late.

“I don’t think he’s had the op­por­tu­nity to prac­tice this,” he said. “These are all out­siders, many of them peo­ple who have been vo­cal mi­nori­ties. How do you tran­si­tion from there to gov­ern­ing?”

Miller wrote some of Trump’s most stri­dent speeches dur­ing the cam­paign, in­clud­ing his Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion ac­cep­tance ad­dress.

CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES

Stephen Miller’s clashes in high school had a na­tional au­di­ence.

JABIN BOTSFORD/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

At 31, White House se­nior pol­icy ad­viser Stephen Miller, cen­ter, has emerged along­side chief strate­gist/se­nior coun­selor Stephen K. Ban­non as a chief en­gi­neer of Trump’s “Amer­ica first” agenda.

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