White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller demonstrates a connection to an anti-immigrant think tank that promoted white nationalist writers, according to emails acquired by Hatewatch.
On Nov. 12, Hatewatch reported that Miller showed an affinity for white nationalist and other extremist thought in more than 900 previously private emails he sent to Breitbart News in the run-up to the 2016 election. At the time, Miller was an aide to then-U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.
In those same correspondences, Miller shows ties to the think tank Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). CIS researchers say the White House has invited them into policymaking discussions. The White House and CIS did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this Hatewatch report.
But CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian did reply in a National Review op-ed, criticizing the Southern Poverty Law Center's approach as being "McCarthyite."
The SPLC began listing CIS as an anti-immigrant hate group in 2016. Since then, others have raised questions about the way the group’s analysts choose to portray immigration in a negative light. In an August article in The Washington Post, CIS tried to distance itself from a far-right attack in El Paso, Texas, responding to criticism that the organization and the young shooting suspect shared similar viewpoints on immigration.
Miller sent at least 46 emails relating to CIS material, employees or contributors to former Breitbart editor Katie McHugh over 10 months, the emails show. At one point, he sent a CIS report to Breitbart that he described as “embargoed.” In another email, Miller forwarded McHugh the cell phone number of a CIS employee. Miller repeatedly offered CIS research material to McHugh for her reporting.
In 2017, McHugh was fired from Breitbart reportedly for posting anti-Muslim tweets amid backlash to that site’s connections to extremism. She has since renounced far-right politics. She shared the entire volume of her correspondences with Miller to Hatewatch, which span from March 2015 to June 2016, out of what she said was opposition to the Trump administration’s immigration policies.
“We used [CIS material] to spin a narrative where immigrants of color were not only dangerous, violent individuals but also posed an existential threat to America,” McHugh told Hatewatch about how Breitbart handled research Miller sent to her. “We never fact-checked anything. We never called up other organizations to get any other perspective about those studies. … It was understood. You just write it up.”
Breitbart spokesperson Elizabeth Moore told Hatewatch in part one of our series on Miller's emails that "it is not exactly a newsflash that political staffers pitch stories to journalists." Hatewatch followed up with a specific question about Miller's success in pushing CIS material into Breitbart stories. “I don't know what 'CIS' means,” Moore responded in an email. Hatewatch explained the acronym in another email, but Moore did not reply back.
In a keynote speech at a May 2015 CIS event, Miller credited the group for illuminating “a debate that far too often operates, like illegal immigrants, in the shadows."
His recommendations of CIS material before the 2016 election often turned directly into xenophobic content for Breitbart, such as when he emailed a CIS report titled “Social Security Data Points to Growth in 2nd-Generation Muslim Population,” on Jan. 5, 2016.
Miller sent that report to a group of Breitbart editors, including McHugh, with the subject line, “Huge Surge in US newborns named 'Mohammed.’” Then-Breitbart chief Steve Bannon replied to the thread by adding reporter Caroline May. The exchange resulted in a Jan. 6, 2016, story by May on Breitbart, “Report: Dramatic Increase in the Number of U.S. Babies Named Muhammad.”
Another example of how Miller used CIS content to push negative stories about nonwhite immigration happened Aug. 12, 2015, when he sent McHugh an “embargoed” CIS report called “Immigrant Population Hits Record 42.1 Million in Second Quarter of 2015.” The report purported to show that people coming from Mexico were driving an immigration surge.
A press representative for a nonprofit group typically notifies journalists about embargoed reports. In this instance, Miller relayed the material to McHugh in an email from his government address with the subject line, “Trump right again: Census data shows Mexican immigration surging - 740,000 in one year! [EMBARGOED].” Miller also put the word “embargoed” in boldface in the body of the email.
Miller, Aug. 12, 2015, 3:13 p.m. ET: “This is a Center for Immigration Studies report, embargoed until 1am Thursday night (i.e. tonight at 1am).”
McHugh, Aug. 12, 2015, 3:16 p.m. ET: “Writing this up for tonight… Will call in a few[.] ”
Later that day, Miller sent McHugh an email with the subject line, “Camarota cell,” referring to Steven A. Camarota, CIS director of research. Camarota confirmed to Hatewatch that the cell phone number was his.
The series of emails related to the CIS study culminated in an article by McHugh, “Surge of Mexican Immigration Pushes Foreign-Born Population to 42.1 Million as Economy Stagnates.” Breitbart published the story the next day, Aug. 13, 2015, and linked to the CIS website.
The SPLC added CIS to its list of hate groups nearly three years ago, responding in part to the group’s willingness to associate with white nationalist writers. CIS bills itself as a “non-partisan, non-profit, research organization” that is “low-immigration, pro-immigrant,” but the SPLC and others have criticized it for using data to portray immigrants unfavorably.
(CIS filed a lawsuit in federal court in January against former SPLC President Richard Cohen and Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC's Intelligence Project, alleging that the hate group designation amounted to a violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. A judge dismissed that lawsuit in September. CIS has appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.)
The late John Tanton, the father of the modern anti-immigrant movement, played a significant role in helping found CIS. In a 1985 grant prospectus, Tanton bemoaned the advances of what he called “pro-immigration” forces.
“Their star is now in the ascendency [sic], as they have the manpower, the material, and the money to crank out papers, run seminars, and supply speakers, and so on. In addition, they have the ear of the President. If we do not meet this challenge, we will surely loose [sic],” Tanton wrote then.
In the following years, CIS frequently looked to the far right to help achieve its goals. A 2017 investigation by Hatewatch and civil rights group the Center for New Community determined the group sent white nationalist content to readers more than 2,000 times across nearly 10 years as a part of its weekly email blasts. The total included more than 1,700 links from the white nationalist website VDARE and at least three links from another white nationalist site, American Renaissance. VDARE and American Renaissance are also two white nationalist sources Miller recommended to Breitbart in the lead-up to the 2016 election.
CIS also published dozens of reports authored or co-authored by Jason Richwine, an anti-immigration author who was forced to resign from the conservative think tank the Heritage Foundation in 2013 after the discovery of his controversial Harvard University dissertation. In his 2009 dissertation, “IQ and Immigration Policy,” Richwine argued that Hispanic people have lower IQs than whites, a finding that immigration advocates dismissed as racist.
Despite the scandal – which included high-profile coverage of Richwine’s resignation in The Washington Post and The New York Times – Miller still expressed enthusiasm for his writing in emails to McHugh. Miller sent McHugh a link to an article Richwine wrote on the conservative website RealClearPolicy in a July 8, 2015, email with the subject line, “[S]omali refugees caught in underage prostitution scheme.”
Miller first emailed what appeared to be a link from the website of a Minneapolis-based NBC affiliate. He then emailed McHugh a second time after realizing that story was not contemporary:
Miller, July 8, 2015, 11:15 a.m. ET: “[L]ooks like this is from a couple years ago, but good to have on hand[.]”
McHugh, July 8, 2015, 11:19 a.m. ET: “Definitely. At some point it would be great to write a big round up of Somali crimes – after asking local officials the specific benefits their diversity provides us with?”
Miller, July 8, 2015, 11:26 a.m. ET: “Exactly. BTW, from Richwine: [Richwine link]”
The Richwine article wasn’t related to Somali refugees but instead purported to show that immigrants from Latin America are unlikely to “be just like the Irish and Italians of Ellis Island lore, coming to the U.S. as menial laborers but rising to the middle class within a few generations.”
Miller returned to the subject of Richwine’s article later that day when he forwarded a press release from the advocacy group American Immigration Council reporting that “immigrants are less likely than the native-born to be serious criminals.”
McHugh, July 8, 2015, 3:28 p.m. ET: “Before even opening this up, I’m guessing they lump El Salvador MS-13 gang members with Canadian neurosurgeons.”
Miller, July 8, 2015, 3:29 p.m. ET: “Of course. Richwine’s piece is good.”
As recently as October, Richwine participated in a panel discussion hosted by CIS in which he and others discussed “the cost of granting health care benefits to illegal immigrants.”
On at least eight occasions in his emails to McHugh, Miller also referred to the work of Harvard economist George Borjas, a former CIS board member, who was Richwine’s primary adviser while writing his dissertation on race and IQ.
For example, Miller sent a link to Borjas’ study on the 1980 Mariel Boatlift of Cubans into Florida to McHugh in a Jan. 11, 2016, email marked with the subject line, “Harvard Professor Borjas: Mariel Boatlift Crashed Wages.” Some economists have criticized the professor’s research, which purported to show that migrant workers from poorer countries hurt native populations through the example of Cuban immigration in Florida.
The email is notable because on Aug. 2, 2017, now as an adviser to President Donald Trump, Miller cited Borjas’ study in the White House press room as an example of how immigration harms American workers.
“I think the most recent study I would point to is the study from George Borjas that he just did about the Mariel Boatlift,” Miller told reporters.
Miller helped coordinate McHugh’s coverage of Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential campaign, sometimes with help from CIS, the emails show.
July 2015 was a busy month for attacking Rubio: Miller mentioned the senator 26 times that month out of more than 150 emails he sent to McHugh – 17 times from his Hotmail.com address and nine more times from his government-issued address. As a point of comparison, Miller cited another GOP presidential hopeful, Jeb Bush, only three times in the same month. Each time Miller brought up the Cuban-American senator’s name, the context was critical and related to the subject of immigration, Hatewatch determined. Sessions, Miller’s boss at the time, was chairman of what was then the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security.
Garrett Murch, another aide from Sessions’ office, would sometimes join Miller in helping to shape critical coverage of Rubio for Breitbart. Hours after Miller sent McHugh a link to a 2013 CIS study on July 7, 2015, McHugh reached out to its author, Jessica M. Vaughan, director of policy studies for the think tank, for a comment about why “GOP candidate Marco Rubio hasn’t publicly retracted his support for Gang of Eight.” The question referred to a bipartisan immigration bill the senator supported in 2013. Murch’s government email address was cc’d on the Breitbart email to CIS. Murch replied, “Perfect,” to McHugh immediately after she sought comment from the study’s author.
Later that day, Breitbart published McHugh’s story, “Rubio’s Gang of Eight Bill Would Have Rewarded Sanctuary Cities Harboring Illegals,” quoting Vaughan.
Miller emailed McHugh to call that article “phenomenal and important” at 6:30 p.m., and it went on to trigger a mini-news cycle. Then-candidate Trump linked to McHugh’s story in a tweet: “Marco is a politician-he flip flops!”
Miller emailed McHugh the same day, encouraging her to continue targeting Rubio over his immigration policies:
Miller, July 8, 2015, 4:24 p.m. ET: “Really important that you got the Rubio hit in there[.]”
McHugh, July 8, 2015, 4:32 p.m. ET: “He needs to be hammered constantly on this.”
Miller, July 8, 2015, 4:33 p.m. ET: “Yes. Every day.”
In a July report on the White House considering a travel ban against Guatemala, NPR noted that Vaughan, the CIS director of policy studies, “speaks regularly with the administration.”
"The president is frustrated that Congress and some lower court judges are blocking his efforts to address the border crisis, and his options are limited, so he is willing to push the envelope to get results," Vaughan told NPR.
Earlier this year, the administration invited CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian and other conservative leaders to participate in a meeting with Trump to hear his plans to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
“The president really has no intention of caving on this,” Krikorian told Politico.
Krikorian told CSPAN in February that CIS is sometimes in contact with White House staff regarding policy.
“Usually, we get requests about, you know, ‘Is this a good idea?’ or ‘Do you have research on XYZ?’ That sort of thing,” he said. “Not on a daily basis by any means.”
CIS has faced increased scrutiny after the rise of far-right terror attacks apparently motivated by anti-immigration sentiment.
The Washington Post noted that CIS and allied groups have “pushed similar arguments about the burden that immigrants place on all Americans.”
Krikorian described the purported terrorist manifesto as “remarkably well-written for a 21-year-old loner,” according to the Post.
“If you have a guy who is going to be angry about immigration, have a killer offering reasons for shooting up immigrants, how could he not use reasons that have already been articulated by legitimate sources?” Krikorian told the paper.
In the attack’s aftermath, an online letter primarily written by immigrant advocacy group the Border Network for Human Rights asked Trump to “stay away” from El Paso as news spread he would visit the city.
The letter also requested that Trump “cut your ties to white supremacists,” citing Miller as an example.
Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, a UCLA associate professor who specializes in immigration studies, told Hatewatch the revelations found in Miller’s emails to Breitbart help bring credence to such accusations.
“I think what this helps confirm is [Miller] is deeply embedded in a cultural-nationalist, white nationalist worldview,” he said.
Photo illustration by SPLC