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Calls Grow For Stephen Miller To Leave White House After Leaked Emails

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

More people are calling for White House adviser Stephen Miller to go. Civil rights activists and Democrats are demanding his resignation after the publication of leaked emails in which Miller promoted the ideas of white nationalists. But the White House is standing behind Miller, and Republicans have been largely silent.

NPR's Joel Rose looks at how the line of what's acceptable in public discourse has shifted.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: When torch-wielding demonstrators took to the streets in Charlottesville two years ago...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting) You will not replace us. You will not replace us. You will not replace us.

ROSE: ...They were invoking the great replacement, a conspiracy theory popular in white nationalist circles that immigrants and people of color are seeking to annihilate the white race.

JARED TAYLOR: Sometime 2040, 2045, whites will become a minority. That sounds like a replacement to me.

ROSE: Jared Taylor is the editor of American Renaissance, or AmRen, a website that's widely considered a white supremacist publication, though Taylor himself rejects the label.

TAYLOR: I call myself a race realist. That's someone who understands that the races are not identical and equivalent. And I also describe myself as a white advocate.

ROSE: Taylor promotes ideas that are widely considered racist and cloaks them in the language of science. For example, he talks about black people having higher levels of testosterone and, therefore, being predisposed to commit more violent crimes, an idea that simply has no scientific support.

TAYLOR: Yes, there are patterns of difference, but this is now something that's considered a huge, hateful taboo in the United States.

ROSE: Taylor's website is not well-known outside of white nationalist circles, but it has found an audience in White House adviser Stephen Miller. He has recommended articles on AmRen and another white nationalist site called VDARE. We know this because the Southern Poverty Law Center has uncovered hundreds of emails that Miller wrote to a reporter at Breitbart News before he worked in the White House.

The latest batch released today shows Miller pushing a supposed link between immigrants and rising crime, another idea that's been debunked. The leaked emails suggest that the political dynamic around race and immigration has shifted to include ideas that were once beyond the pale.

VANITA GUPTA: I fear that the line of what is normal is moving.

ROSE: Vanita Gupta heads the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in Washington. The group sent a letter last week signed by 50 civil rights organizations calling on the White House to fire Miller. More than a hundred members of Congress, all Democrats, have also called for his resignation.

GUPTA: I don't think that there's any way to look at those emails and to look at his own track record and not be profoundly disturbed about what we are allowing at the highest level of government today.

ROSE: In a White House where turnover is high, Miller is one of the few staffers who've been there from the beginning, and he continues to be a key architect of the president's hard-line immigration policies. The White House is defending him, saying Miller is opposed to bigotry in all its forms. But most Republicans have been silent.

MIKE MURPHY: Yeah, it's horrible.

ROSE: Mike Murphy is a Republican strategist who's worked for Mitt Romney and John McCain and a self-described "Never Trumper."

MURPHY: The Republican Party has been hijacked by Trump into this crude, nativist populism. And dregs like Miller are running wild in positions of power.

ROSE: Not that long ago, promoting the views of white nationalists would have hurt your career in Washington. Earlier this year, Republican Congressman Steve King of Iowa said in an interview he wondered why the terms white nationalist and white supremacist are considered offensive. He was quickly rebuked by his colleagues on both sides of the aisle. And last year, the Trump administration dismissed low-level staffers for attending or speaking at public events with white nationalists. But as Mike Murphy notes, Stephen Miller is still there.

MURPHY: And I think the Republican leaders of one half-generation ago would have taken a very strong public line against this sort of stuff. George H.W. Bush, George Bush, Ronald Reagan never would have tolerated any of this.

ROSE: Murphy thinks the silence among current Republicans is the sound of fear. He says they don't want to anger President Trump and his loyal base of Republican primary voters. Murphy does not think there's wide support in the GOP for white nationalist ideas, but Maya Berry at the Arab American Institute is not so sure. She says many Republicans are worried about the coming demographic shift in the U.S.

MAYA BERRY: I think that's actually the real story of the Stephen Miller problem. It's not that he's an anomaly. It's that at this time, regrettably, there seems to be a fairly dominant strain of the Republican Party that thinks it is appropriate to be afraid of the upcoming majority-minority change.

ROSE: People who study far-right extremism say this is how ideas move from the fringe to the mainstream.

Cynthia Miller-Idriss studies white nationalism and extremism at American University. She says the normalization of hate speech may be well underway.

CYNTHIA MILLER-IDRISS: I think there is a danger here that people start to get a little bit cynical. They downplay it, or they think, like, oh, it's not so bad. But you know, something that would have been shocking two or three or four or five years ago becomes much less shocking in 2019.

ROSE: To Jared Taylor, this is progress. The editor of the white nationalist site AmRen says he's gratified that his ideas are finally gaining some traction.

TAYLOR: I've been injecting my ideas into the general conversation patiently and diligently for the last 30 years, and I can assure you that more and more people agree with me.

ROSE: Taylor's critics find that possibility horrifying. They say this isn't just about rhetoric or an exchange of ideas. They warn that these ideas are dangerous, and they're driving extremist violence in Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, El Paso and elsewhere.

Joel Rose, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.