By: Richard Cruz Davila

Donald Trump launched his presidential campaign with a racist, xenophobic attack on Mexican immigrants, referring to them as “drug dealers, criminals, [and] rapists.” He ended his presidency by inciting a riot at the U.S. Capitol in which conspiracy activists and White nationalists stormed the building and left five people dead. Though Trump’s racism has been on public display for decades, the anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies of his administration were driven in large part by advisor Stephen Miller. In Hatemonger, Jean Guerrero, an investigative reporter for KPBS San Diego, traces the “ideological arc” that led Miller, the great grandchild of Jewish immigrants who fled persecution in Russia, to embrace a virulently xenophobic worldview. Through court records, email correspondence, and interviews, she details Miller’s ascent from high school provocateur to White House advisor.
Born in 1985 in Santa Monica, CA, Miller came of age in the wake of the 1992 Los Angeles uprising and the reelection campaign of Governor Pete Wilson which relied on scapegoating Mexican immigrants for an economic recession in the state and prompted the passage of California’s anti-immigrant Proposition 187. Miller became enamored of conservative talk radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh and Larry Elder. Under their sway, Miller increasingly expressed contrarian and intentionally provocative—sometimes racially coded—views at Santa Monica High School and became a frequent guest on Elder’s show.
David Horowitz, a former Marxist turned conservative, heard Miller on Elder’s show and saw an opportunity to groom him through his “School of Political Warfare.” Horowitz taught teenagers like Miller “to use the language of civil rights to attack civil rights. Wielding the shield of free speech and wearing the armor of oppressed minorities, his acolytes attacked minorities for their perceived assault on the purity of Western heritage” (p. 7). Miller then studied political science at Duke University, where, he became more focused on immigration. He hosted a debate—in collaboration with White nationalist alt-right spokesman, Richard Spencer—between pro-immigrant author Peter Laufer and Peter Brimelow, author of the xenophobic Alien Nation: Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster. Miller later aped some of Brimelow’s arguments in defending the Trump administration’s immigration policy.
In 2007, Horowitz connected Miller to Minnesota congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, who hired Miller as her press secretary. From there, Horowitz found him work with Arizona Tea Party congressman John Shadegg, and shortly thereafter as press secretary for Alabama senator Jeff Sessions, “the leading nativist on the Hill” (p. 118). Guerrero writes that Miller, ignored by many journalists from mainstream publications, found an outlet for his provocations in—including pushing author Jean Raspail’s notoriously racist tract, The Camp of the Saints—and a new mentor in Steve Bannon, who helped him secure a position in the Trump campaign.
Miller played a key role in shaping the campaign’s messaging on immigration. He wrote speeches for Trump in which, Guerrero says, “gut-punching emotion was a uniquely Miller-Trump mind meld, spiraling up from the underbelly of conservative media and a shared obsession with violent fantasies” (p. 150). Miller also consulted with Horowitz and Elder to refine campaign messaging and solicited endorsements from the Customs and Border Patrol and ICE unions, as well as from Jeff Sessions, the first U.S. senator to publicly endorse Trump.
In the final third of the book, Guerrero details Miller’s role in the administration’s immigration agenda and his manipulation of the media to advance nativist views. In his inauguration speech, Trump presented a dystopian vision of “American carnage” that was derided by many in the media. However, she says, “Miller had long learned that there is value in outrage. The more upset the media [were] at his boss—or pretended to be—the better. They’d fixate on him, elevate him” (p. 183). In the first days of the new administration, Miller was the principal author of three executive orders designed to speed up deportations, build Trump’s border wall, and temporarily ban travel from six Muslim-majority countries. Guerrero also points to Miller’s influence on policies that attempted to use cruelty as a deterrent to undocumented migrants and asylum seekers, including family separations, which sparked nation-wide outrage when images circulated of small children held in cages, and the Stay in Mexico program, which required asylum seekers to wait on the Mexican side of the border until their cases could be processed. Throughout Trump’s term, Miller also unsuccessfully pushed for an end to birthright citizenship.
Many may remember Miller as just another on the list of Trump’s sycophants such as Kellyanne Conway, Senator Lindsey Graham, and Trump’s eldest children. Guerrero reveals, however, the extent to which Miller, influenced the administration’s immigration policy and Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric. By outlining Miller’s long-running relationship with conservative media outlets, Guerrero’s book is also an indictment of right-wing media’s complicity in circulating far-right, anti-immigrant discourse. Without Trump as a loudspeaker, Guerrero suggests in a recent tweet that Miller will continue to use right-wing media to amplify his beliefs: “Immediately post Trump admin, Stephen Miller is trying to make it as a right-wing media personality. He’s been using right-wing media to elevate his views since high school.” Guerrero’s in-depth reporting provides a window into the ideology behind the Trump administration’s immigration policy, and warns of its ongoing dangers. Hatemonger will be of interest to scholars working in areas of immigration policy and right-wing discourse, as well as anyone seeking a more just and humane immigration system.