'That's Stephen': White House Adviser's Controversial Style Dates Back To His Youth


'That's Stephen': White House Adviser's Controversial Style Dates Back To His Youth
  1. 'That's Stephen': White House Adviser's Controversial Style Dates Back To His Youth
    hpr2.org
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Z-tOhfpEow Stephen Miller stood at the lectern in the White House press briefing room wearing his trademark skinny suit and tie and engaged in the kind of verbal combat he has been perfecting since high school. Miller, 31, a policy adviser and speechwriter in the Trump White House, sparred with a CNN correspondent about legislation that would reduce legal immigration and require those immigrating to the U.S. to speak English. There was even a heated…
    Hawaii (HI)

Stephen Miller stood at the lectern in the White House press briefing room wearing his trademark skinny suit and tie and engaged in the kind of verbal combat he has been perfecting since high school.

Miller, 31, a policy adviser and speechwriter in the Trump White House, sparred with a CNN correspondent about legislation that would reduce legal immigration and require those immigrating to the U.S. to speak English. There was even a heated exchange about the meaning of the Statue of Liberty.

For those who knew Miller way back when, the exchange came as no surprise.

"Before he even addressed reporters about the immigration policy ... I was like, that's Stephen all over [President Trump's prepared remarks]. You can hear it. You can just hear it," says Nick Silverman, a writer in Los Angeles and former high school classmate of Miller's.

"You can tell when it's Stephen because he kind of paints this uber-nationalism with this kind of cinematic, almost flowery sparkle ... you can just kind of tell when he has his handprints on a speech or in a statement because he was always into the glorification of 'American culture,' you know, whatever that is."

While the briefing room scene went viral (even spawning a Pauly Shore parody video), it was hardly the first time Miller found himself in the spotlight. He first made a name for himself at Santa Monica High School — a large, liberal and ethnically diverse campus in Southern California.

His classmates describe Miller as an outspoken person who liked to push people's buttons, challenging Latino students to speak English, arguing that school announcements should be in English only and saying people who disagreed with him weren't patriotic.

Jason Islas, a local reporter in Santa Monica, Calif., and an activist, says he bonded with Miller in middle school over a shared affinity for all things Star Trek.

"He really was fascinated with Captain Kirk and that kind of alpha leadership persona," Islas says.

They were close enough that Islas attended Miller's bar mitzvah, but Islas says they lost touch the summer between eighth grade and high school. Once Islas finally made contact, Miller told him they couldn't be friends.

"He gives me this sort of litany of reasons why he doesn't want to be my friend anymore," Islas says.

Islas says Miller listed many reasons for the friend breakup — most of them personal: Islas was too awkward, too short. But there was one reason that surprised him.

"The one thing that really sticks out in my memory was my Latino heritage," Islas says.

It took Islas aback because in all the time he had known Miller, nothing had indicated he felt this way. In hindsight, Islas says that moment marked the beginning of Miller becoming, in his opinion, a provocateur.

"He was posturing himself as an anti-establishment figure in a world where the establishment celebrated diversity, inclusiveness and overall ... the liberal values that, you know, he now makes a point of attacking all the time," Islas says.

"I see where he is now as a teenage rebellion that metastasized into a kind of pernicious, illiberal, exclusionary ideology."

NPR submitted a request to the White House to interview Miller, but after a query about the deadline, there were no more responses. White House spokespeople also didn't respond to a series of questions about Miller's earlier years and his specific duties in the administration.

Ari Rosmarin, the editor of the high school newspaper, says Miller got a thrill from being a conservative soldier behind enemy lines in progressive Santa Monica.

"Stephen made it his business at the school to be heard and be known," says Rosmarin, now a civil rights lawyer with the ACLU.

"He was playing it out in the high school hallway, which I don't think any of us had ever seen before."

Miller was one of the few students who regularly submitted op-eds to the paper — so many that the newspaper couldn't publish all of them.

In one op-ed headlined "A Time to Kill," Miller wrote that he relished the thought of watching Osama bin Laden being riddled to death with bullets. "We have all heard 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.

He disagreed with his fellow students who were concerned about the U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan and those who postulated that American policies could be to blame for anti-American sentiments. "Blaming America for the problems of countries whose citizens would rather spend time sewing blankets to cover women's faces than improving quality of life is utterly ludicrous," he wrote.

He would often come to the newspaper's office to argue with the staff about what was written. Rosmarin calls Miller "theatrical" and says he went too far sometimes.

"For a lot of students, particularly Latino and immigrant students, it wasn't funny," Rosmarin says.

"He was aggressive. He was demeaning. He was condescending and was really challenging their place in the school to be there and the right to speak the language that they spoke. And, you know, that wasn't funny."

At one point, Miller came up to Rosmarin in the school hallway, unhappy with an op-ed Rosmarin penned where he suggested that if people really wanted to be anti-war in the wake of Sept. 11, they should stop driving SUVs.

"He ran up to me and he essentially ripped apart the button-up shirt and had a T-shirt with an American flag on it underneath and told me if I don't like it here to go somewhere else. And that, you know, I'm anti-American and that sort of thing."

Rosmarin was stunned but chalked it up to the fact that Miller, in his mind, was looking for the showmanship that moment created.

"In that way," Rosmarin says, "he has a lot in common with his boss, in that, really king of some of these political stunts."

Oscar de la Torre was a counselor at the school when Miller was a student. He now serves on the Santa Monica-Malibu school board.

"He seemed to feel that, you know, the growth of the country's diversity was the downfall of the country. He really did believe that," de la Torre says.

And that diversity was on prominent display at the high school. De le Torre was the chair of the campus committee for equity and equality in education. Miller joined that committee but de la Torre thinks his aim was to sabotage it.

"Here we had this young man who was jaded. ... He sounded like he was, you know, some 50-something-year-old man who was just angry at the world. He was very upset at everything and in particular anything that would help students of color or anything that addressed issues of racism. He would get really agitated about."

Miller's high school peers say he had a penchant for bold language and confident declarations. He rejected the idea of white privilege, would rattle off statistics about immigration and crime and was big on the Second Amendment.

And while it didn't help his popularity in high school, it won him a fan in conservative talk radio host Larry Elder, who is African-American

After Sept. 11, Miller was fighting with school officials to have the Pledge of Allegiance recited daily, something he found out the school was required to do but hadn't been.

Miller wrote a letter to Elder, who thought the issue was interesting and invited him on his show.

"He was amazing," Elder says. "He just blew everybody away. He was articulate. He was funny. He was passionate."

Miller became a show regular, appearing on the nationally-syndicated program some 70 times.

Elder was wowed by the high school student's interest in the Constitution, federalism and immigration policy — a fully-formed conservative ideology at an age Elder says most guys would still be reading comic books. And he bristles at the idea that the young man he mentored would be called racist.

"What Stephen is opposed to is identity politics, race-based politics — the idea that there ought to be some sort of special rules for women, for gays, for blacks, for Hispanics, lowering standards in order to achieve some sort of pre-engineered racial diversity," Elder says.

"That's the kind of thing that drove him crazy. To call him a bigot just because he doesn't believe that racism is as big a deal as other people do, to call him a bigot becau…

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