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Stephen Miller: a driving force behind the Muslim ban and family separation policy

Stephen Miller, the senior adviser for policy to President Trump and a prominent anti-immigrant voice in the administration, has been honing his views on issues of race and identity for years.

On the road to his current position, Miller has crossed paths with hate groups that have influenced him, including the anti-immigrant Center for Immigration Studies and the anti-Muslim David Horowitz Freedom Center.

Miller is now injecting the anti-immigrant ideology he developed while associating with these groups into U.S. policy. The New York Times reported last week, Miller was one of the strongest advocates for the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy of prosecuting every person who crosses the U.S. border without documentation which Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced earlier this year.

The policy has led to a surge in the number of children being separated from their parents when apprehended crossing the border and has set off a wave of criticism from the public and leaders on both the left and right. According to The New York Times, “… Mr. Miller was instrumental in Mr. Trump’s decision to ratchet up the zero tolerance policy.”

Miller also played a significant role in crafting Trump’s Muslim ban and its rollout, alongside the president’s former chief strategist and former Breitbart News executive chairman Stephen Bannon.

A fan and friend of the anti-Muslim David Horowitz Freedom Center

Miller has long-standing links to the David Horowitz Freedom Center (DHFC), which is designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for its record of demonizing Muslims. Miller’s relationship with Horowitz dates back to when Miller was in high-school when he invited Horowitz to speak at his school and wrote for Horowitz’s Frontpage Magazine. In September of 2003, just after Miller began attending Duke University, he wrote a column for Frontpage Magazine in which he criticized school officials for embracing multiculturalism. Miller also started a chapter of Horowitz’s national group, Students for Academic Freedom at Duke.

In 2006, Miller participated in Horowitz’s first Academic Freedom Conference in Washington, D.C. A year later, Miller again spoke at the event, which brought together elected officials and students.

Stephen Miller (second from left) at a Students for Academic Freedom event.

Miller also invited Horowitz to give a speech about his book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America at Duke in 2006 where he introduced him. (A video of the Horowitz speech and Miller’s introduction can be seen here.)

Just before graduating in 2007, Miller again teamed up with Horowitz, this time to work on the Terrorism Awareness Project (TAP), funded by Horowitz’s Freedom Center. Miller served as national director. The TAP website no longer exists, but snapshots of it from the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine reveal a litany of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. The website claims jihad is “not, as some Western apologists claim, simply a striving for individual perfection” but rather that “The long term goal of jihad is world domination – a global islamic state under islamic law.” The site also claimed, “There is nowhere in the world where one can escape the jihad. Wherever Muslims are found, which is in almost every country on the planet, there are adherents of the ideology of jihad.”

 The website contains a number of video presentations with titles such as, “Jimmy Carter’s War Against the Jews,” “The Islamic Mein Kampf,” “What Every American Needs to Know About Jihad,” and “The Violent Oppression of Women in Islam.”

Also in 2007, Miller and Horowitz’s TAP launched its first “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week,” and published a “Student's Guide” to Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week on the TAP website that encouraged students to hold a screening of one of a number of  films including Obsession produced by Raphael Shore, the founder of the anti-Muslim hate group Clarion Project. The guide also listed Frank Gaffney, founder of the anti-Muslim hate group the Center for Security Policy, as a featured speaker.

Miller remained connected with DHFC after college. In 2014 he attended DHFC’s annual Restoration Weekend, an event that brings together anti-Muslim activists, hate group figures and right-wing politicians sympathetic to their cause. At 2014’s conference, Miller introduced his then boss Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.). Miller also spoke at the 2006 Restoration Weekend while he was still a student at Duke.

Connections with another like-minded hate group, Center for Immigration Studies

Miller has also associated with the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which SPLC designates as a hate group. CIS was founded by white nationalist John Tanton and has a history of producing reports that associate immigrants with criminality — this despite numerous studies that show that immigrants are much less likely to commit crime than native-born Americans. CIS has also circulated white nationalist content thousands of times to its supporters.

Miller served as the keynote speaker at a CIS award ceremony on May 31, 2015, during which he praised CIS staffers and said that speaking with the organization’s research director was “one of the great pleasures of my professional life.” Miller joined the Trump campaign shortly afterwards.

Miller has since cited CIS on several occasions, including while serving as Trump’s policy adviser.  In February 2017, Miller cited a CIS report that misleadingly claimed that 72 terrorists originally came from countries covered under the Muslim ban. He also cited CIS in August 2017 when answering questions about the RAISE Act — a bill that as The New York Times describes would “slash legal immigration to the United States in half within a decade by sharply curtailing the ability of American citizens and legal residents to bring family members into the country.”

Miller’s relationship with CIS appears to be ongoing. After the announcement of President Trump’s immigration plan in January, Miller spoke with anti-immigrant groups including CIS on a private call in an effort to enlist their support.

Miller’s connection to white supremacist Richard Spencer

During his Duke University days, Miller also came into contact with Richard Spencer, the man credited with coining the term “alt-right” and head of the white nationalist hate group National Policy Institute. Spencer and Miller both attended Duke in the mid-2000s when Miller was an undergraduate and Spencer was pursuing graduate studies. While Miller has denied the claim, Spencer has publicly stated that he considered himself Miller’s mentor.

In a December 2016 interview with Mother Jones, Spencer admitted that he wanted to keep his relationship with Miller quiet.  “I knew [Miller] very well when I was at Duke. But I am kind of glad no one’s talked about this, because I don’t want to harm Trump.” In another interview with Vanity Fair six months later, Spencer was more open, claiming that he mentored Miller and calling him “ballsy,” before adding “I do think that Stephen probably would’ve ended up exactly more or less where he is today whether he had met me or not.”

Miller has denied Spencer’s mentorship claim, telling the Daily Beast, “his comment is totally false and obviously ludicrous… I strongly condemn his views.” However, it’s clear that the pair collaborated at Duke. New York Magazine reported in a 2017 article that Spencer served as graduate advisor for the Duke Conservative Union while Miller led the organization as an undergraduate. Additionally, the two worked together to bring a leading white nationalist to speak at the university in 2007 when Spencer helped Miller organize an immigration policy debate on campus featuring Peter Brimelow, founder of, a hub for white nationalists and antisemites who decry non-white immigration to the United States. Spencer and Miller invited Peter Laufer, Ph.D., a long-time journalist and the James N. Wallace Chair of Journalism at the University of Oregon, to debate Brimelow. Laufer told the Southern Poverty Law Center that “Miller and Spencer made it clear that they agreed with Brimelow’s positions on immigration and not Laufer’s.”

Today, despite being denounced by Miller, Spencer continues to speak strongly in support of him. In January, Spencer praised Miller for pushing President Trump further to the right on immigration. Speaking on his “alt-right” podcast Spencer said, “Stephen Miller is singularly responsible for the fact that A: DACA isn’t just some heartwarming bill that he signs in the Rose Garden and gets nothing for, that its actually part of a deal. And B: that we’re even talking about chain migration.” Spencer went on to say, that the topic of family reunification, decried by nativist groups as “chain migration,” “has never been in mainstream discourse in my memory and it has certainly never been part of a policy deal, and Stephen Miller deserves credit for that.”


Photo illustration by SPLC

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