Originally Published in the Los Angeles Times
Molly O'Toole - August 27, 2020
It takes a particular audacity to hold an outdoor event near El Paso in July, but the backdrop was the draw: a half-mile stretch of privately funded border fencing.
Stephen K. Bannon, former senior advisor to President Trump, was the event director, cajoling a chorus of far-right influencers, politicians and border officials in attendance: “Quiet on set!”
After the 2019 photo-op, Bannon offered to give Jean Guerrero, an Emmy-winning investigative reporter, a ride back to her hotel. On the drive, Bannon raised a recent Fox News hit by Stephen Miller, as Guerrero recounts in her new book, “Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump, and the White Nationalist Agenda.”
It was Bannon, the self-proclaimed brains behind Trump’s 2016 campaign shocker, who brought Miller into Trump’s orbit. According to Guerrero, he referred endearingly to the aide who has outlasted him and most everyone else in the White House as an “evil robot.”
A few days later, a 21-year-old white man murdered 22 people at an El Paso Walmart after posting a manifesto decrying a “Hispanic invasion of Texas,” according to authorities, and declaring, “This is just the beginning of the fight for America and Europe.”
Last week, Bannon, who has been advising Trump’s reelection run, was arrested off of a yacht owned by a dissident Chinese billionaire and business partner. The Justice Department charged Bannon and others with defrauding those contributors who put up some $25 million for the “We Build the Wall” effort behind that half-mile of barrier.
This week, familiar apocalyptic rhetoric echoed from the Republican National Convention as Trump’s most loyal defenders called him “the bodyguard of Western civilization.” The orchestrator of this recurring theme isn’t Bannon, but Miller. (He did not respond to requests for comment for this article.) Having had a hand in every major speech Trump has given for nearly four years, Miller’s takeover of GOP establishment politics will effectively be complete on Thursday, when a weary nation wracked by the coronavirus and racial injustice hears his message — his mission — straight from the president’s mouth, straight from the White House.
Guerrero told The Times that Miller, unlike Bannon and others surrounding the president, is not an opportunist or self-promoter but “a true ideologue, a true fanatic.” Much has been made of the question of what motivates Miller, 35, whose prior experience consisted mostly of PR work for C-list lawmakers before leveraging a single-minded obsession with immigration into the office of then-Sen. Jeff Sessions — and then into speechwriting for Trump’s nascent 2016 presidential campaign.
Guerrero’s book is an exhaustive investigation into not just the how, but the why. She continues to brave threats of violence after conducting more than 100 interviews and researching the darkest corners of the American consciousness to unpack a strange (but not rare) phenomenon: the radicalization of a privileged young white man — though this one, the descendant of Jewish refugees, grew up in an increasingly diverse Southern California.
Guerrero spoke with The Times over the phone from her home in San Diego, a conversation edited for clarity and length. By her account, Miller was primed and groomed — starved for attention, yearning for belonging, and fighting what was, then, a lonely war.