WASHINGTON — Peter Brimelow, founder of the anti-immigration website VDARE, believes that diversity has weakened the United States, and that the increase in Spanish speakers is a “ferocious attack on the living standards of the American working class.”
Jared Taylor, editor of the white nationalist magazine American Renaissance, is a self-described “white advocate” who has written that “newcomers are not the needy; they are the greedy.”
Their websites were among the sources cited by Stephen Miller, the White House aide who is the driving force behind President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, in emails and conversations with conservative allies at Breitbart News when he was a young Senate aide. A cache of those emails, obtained by the Southern Poverty Law Center, provides new insight into the ideas that have shaped Miller’s thinking and suggest Miller has maintained deeper intellectual ties to the world of white nationalism than previously known.
“The heart of where these guys differ from neoconservatives and Republican orthodoxy is basically: ‘What is the American nation and what is the nature of American nationhood?’” Lawrence Rosenthal, the chair and lead researcher at the Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies at the University of California, said in an interview.
“It’s not based on ‘We hold these truths to be self evident.’ It’s based on ‘What were the color of the people who wrote those words?’”
The law center has labeled VDARE a “hate website” for its ties to white nationalists and publication of race-based science, and the Anti-Defamation League calls American Renaissance a “white supremacist journal.” Both sites approvingly cite Calvin Coolidge’s support for a 1924 law that excluded immigrants from southern and Eastern Europe, and praise “The Camp of the Saints,” a 1973 French novel that popularizes the idea that Western civilization will fall at the hands of immigrants.
Miller had no comment on the emails. The White House, which has publicly denounced “bigotry” on Miller’s behalf and equated the law center’s report to libel, did not respond to a request for comment.
But Katie McHugh — the former Breitbart editor who leaked the messages, which were among a small handful of some 900 emails sent from March 2015 to June 2016 — said in an interview last week that “it’s easy to draw a clear line from the white supremacist websites where he is getting his ideas to current immigration policy.”
McHugh was fired in 2017 for posting anti-Muslim Twitter posts. She has since renounced white nationalist viewpoints and shared her emails with the Southern Poverty Law Center to “make amends,” Michael Hayden, the law center reporter with whom she initially shared the messages, said in an interview.
Cas Mudde, a political scientist at the University of Georgia who studies right-wing movements, said in an email that “both VDARE and American Renaissance are white nationalist organizations, who provide a pseudo-intellectual veneer to classic racism.”
Miller’s familiarity with white nationalist thinking predated his job as a staff aide to Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama. As a college student at Duke University, he worked with a fellow student, white nationalist Richard Spencer, to arrange for Brimelow to speak on campus.
The emails show a continued interest after his arrival in Washington. In the emails to Breitbart, a topic Miller referred to more than once was the Coolidge-era immigration law, which ushered in 40 years of lowered immigration levels with discriminatory quotas aimed at southern and Eastern Europeans, whom critics at the time attacked as nonwhite.
On Aug. 4, 2015, Miller sent an email supporting the idea of a complete ban on immigration “like Coolidge did,” an apparent reference to the 1924 law. As a result of those new “national origin quotas,” immigration fell by half and the arrival of Italians and Poles fell by 90%. Sessions, Miller’s boss at the time, was known for publicly praising Coolidge’s policies because he believed they had bolstered American wages.
The 1924 law endorsed by Coolidge is widely seen today as a symbol of bigotry and was heavily influenced by the eugenics movement.
Coolidge “embraced the so-called scientific argument that Italians and Eastern Europeans were genetically inferior,” said Daniel Okrent, whose book “The Guarded Gate” is a history of the 1924 law. The law was disturbing, he said, not only because of the theories behind it but also because it prevented hundreds of thousands of would-be migrants from escaping the Nazis.
“Those people could have lived if they hadn’t locked the door,” Okrent said.
Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, whose work Miller has often referred to in White House policy discussions, said that Coolidge had a “complicated” legacy. “He reached the right result” — meaning low immigration — “but in the wrong way.”
But a recent article by Jerry Kammer of the immigration studies center, which advocates restricting immigration, says Coolidge behaved in an “odious” fashion in embracing the national origin quotas. In an interview, Kammer said citing Coolidge as a lodestar for the restrictionist movement was “an unfortunate and unwise and highly dubious association.”
“I think Stephen Miller has taken legitimate concerns about immigration to illegitimate extremes when he ties it to ethnicity and nationality,” he said.
In his communications with Breitbart, Miller does not explicitly endorse the national origin quotas, but praises Coolidge and his legacy.
He complains that “something tells me there’s not a Calvin Coolidge exhibit” at an expanding immigration museum. On June 2, 2015, he wrote that Immigration Heritage Month “would seem a good opportunity to remind people about the heritage established by Calvin Coolidge, which covers four decades of the 20th century,” an apparent reference to the period between 1924 and 1965 when immigration quotas were in effect.
There are dozens of references to the Coolidge era on American Renaissance.
In one email to McHugh, Miller writes approvingly about “The Camp of the Saints.” Chelsea Stieber, a specialist in French literature at Catholic University, said the approving reference is disturbing because the book makes the case against migration in explicitly racial terms.
“In white nationalist circles, it invokes the theory of the Great Replacement and the fall of the white West,” she said, referring to the theory that white civilization will be overrun by dark-skinned invaders from the developing world.
McHugh recalled a phone conversation in July 2015 in which Miller called her to discuss an article he had read on “AmRen.”
The article, “New DOJ Statistics on Race and Violent Crime,” was by Taylor, who noted that the Justice Department had begun reporting Latinos in a separate category on crime statistics “rather than lumping them in with whites.”
Taylor also wrote that the department had “long counted Hispanics as a victim category in its hate crime reports.”
“We look forward to their inclusion as a perpetrator category,” he added.
While Miller has long pushed the idea that immigration increases crime, decades of evidence suggest otherwise.
In an interview, Taylor said he did not know Miller personally and had never met him. Still, Taylor suggested that the kind of material Miller wanted to read about immigration policies did not exist on mainstream media sites.
“People with inquiring minds have to look elsewhere,” Taylor said, disputing the idea that he is a white supremacist, “and more power to those who have inquiring minds.”
Brimelow said his visit to Duke was the only time he and Miller had met. Miller also arranged for Peter Laufer, an author who wrote a book arguing for open borders with Mexico, to visit and debate Brimelow.
Laufer recalled sitting with Miller, Spencer and Brimelow before the debate and realizing that he had been invited to be “knocked down” for his beliefs.
“There is no question that these people were learning from each other, feeding off each other, and in concert in these viewpoints,” Laufer said.
Much of the emails’ content can be seen as foreshadowing the course that the Trump administration has taken under the influence of Miller. The nostalgia for Coolidge and all-white, northern European immigration of the past was echoed in Trump’s famous denunciation of immigrants from “shithole countries” and his calls for more Norwegians.
In a report on the administration’s proposed “public charge rule,” the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute concluded that it would shift migration away from Mexico and Central America and move it “toward other world regions, especially Europe.”
The central theme of “The Camp of the Saints,” another work Miller referred to in his communications with Breitbart, is that immigrants seek to exploit Western societies’ kindness — that a welcoming ethos is itself a threat.
That is a theme that Trump has advertised at mass rallies with his recitation of “The Snake,” a poem that he has turned into a parable of refugee treachery about a kindly woman who takes in a wounded reptile and is repaid with a venomous bite:
“I saved you,” cried that woman. “And you’ve bitten me even, why?“You know your bite is poisonous and now I’m going to die.” “Oh shut up, silly woman,” said the reptile with a grin. “You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.”
With Miller taking the lead, refugee admissions during the Trump administration have fallen by nearly three-quarters, to the lowest level since the modern program began in 1980.