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'The Atlantic' On Stephen Miller: 'Trump's Right-Hand Troll'


So the secretary of Homeland Security is out. So is President Trump's original nominee to run Immigration and Customs Enforcement. All of this as the president says he wants tougher border policies. So what's behind this? Or perhaps the real question is, who is behind this?

There's renewed focus right now on Stephen Miller, the 33-year-old presidential aide who's considered one of the driving forces behind Trump's immigration policies. This is Miller on Fox News, defending the president's decision in February to declare a national emergency at the southern border.


STEPHEN MILLER: The bottom line is this. You cannot conceive of a nation without a strong, secure border. It is fundamental and essential to the idea of sovereignty and national survival to have control over who enters and doesn't enter the country.

GREENE: McKay Coppins has spent some time getting to know Stephen Miller. He profiled him for The Atlantic last year. And he's with us in our studios.

McKay, welcome.

MCKAY COPPINS: Thanks for having me.

GREENE: So the narrative out there is there's this shadowy figure - Stephen Miller - looming behind the president's big decisions on the border. How true is that narrative, do you think?

COPPINS: Well, you know, I think that the reason that Stephen Miller has been so successful in this White House at kind of garnering power and positioning himself is because his instincts on immigration align with President Trump's. He is a fierce ideologue, a fierce restrictionist - has been for most of his life. But he also is somebody who the president, I'm told, trusts more than virtually anyone else in the West Wing or in his orbit to kind of advance the immigration agenda that President Trump rose to power by promising to advance. And that's what kind of makes him powerful.

He has - especially in recent weeks - gained more power than he has. But he has always been a key adviser with the president's ear on immigration issues. And a lot of the most divisive episodes that we've seen, from the travel ban in the opening days of Trump's presidency all the way to the national emergency that you just mentioned...


COPPINS: ...Have had Stephen Miller kind of as a central figure in pushing those things.

GREENE: You've sat down in his office in the White House. What's he like?

COPPINS: Yeah, it's interesting. You know, you played that clip just now, and he comes across on television as, you know, this almost kind of self-conscious supervillain.

GREENE: (Laughter).

COPPINS: He's out there trying to provoke ire, trying to defend the president in the - kind of the most aggressive terms possible. In person, he does that as well, but you can kind of see the cracks in the facade. It's clear to me, especially having spent time with him and talking to people who have known him throughout his life, that he enjoys - almost delights in - the provocation. You know, he comes from a kind of conservative campus trolling culture, where his goal often is not to persuade people or to win people over, but to provoke them. And that really comes through when you're spending time with him.

GREENE: Yeah. I mean, talk about that, that desire - almost delight, as you say - to provoke. This goes back to when he grew up, I mean, in the liberal bastion that is Santa Monica, Calif. - right? - when he was young.

COPPINS: (Laughter) Yeah, that's right. He grew up in a kind of very diverse, liberal, multicultural community and high school where he was kind of the resident conservative gadfly. And he would loudly complain and protest the Spanish-language announcements that came over the PA system at school. He would - he ran for office, student body office, by complaining about having to pick up trash when the janitors should be there to do it for them.

He is really somebody who has always kind of tried to offend the sensibilities and feelings of his liberal peers. That goes from high school to college to when he arrives in Washington and Capitol Hill as an aide to Jeff Sessions. He's always kind of looking for a way to stir the pot and kind of anger his ideological and political adversaries.

GREENE: You say that President Trump has an alignment of views with him. You say that President Trump trusts him. Do you get the sense there's anyone in the White House who makes an effort to check his power and influence?

COPPINS: Yeah. Well, certainly, I think that Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are not aligned with Stephen Miller on immigration issues. But again, you know, what I'm told from people who have observed this dynamic up close is that the president understands that Jared and Ivanka come from a different world - right? - and they're more aligned with kind of a moderate-to-liberal sensibility on this issue, and - whereas Stephen Miller really aligns with the Trump base. And that's why he keeps turning to him again and again for advice.

GREENE: McKay Coppins is a writer for The Atlantic profile with Stephen Miller, who seems to be playing a bigger and bigger role right now in President Trump's immigration policies.

McKay, thanks a lot.

COPPINS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.