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In Philadelphia, I'm Terry Gross with Fresh Air Weekend. The HBO series Watchmen has more Emmy nominations this year than any other series. 26 Watchmen combines sci fi superheroes and the reality of racism in America. Today we talk with one of the writers on the show, Cord Jefferson. Jefferson has written four other shows, too, including Succession The Good Place and The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. Also, journalist Gene Guererro talks about her new book, Hate Monger Stephen Miller, Donald Trump and the White Nationalist Agenda.
It explores how Miller became the architect of President Trump's border and immigration policies and Trump's chief strategist. Later, Kevin Whitehead, our jazz critic, will have an appreciation of Charlie Parker. This weekend marks the centennial of Parker's birth.
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Capital One and a member FDIC, the TV series nominated for the most Emmys this year, 26 of them is HBO's Watchmen. My guest, Cord Jefferson, is one of the series writers and is nominated for an Emmy for writing Episode six. Watchmen is based on the graphic novel of the same name and combines elements of superhero comics, sci fi and time travel and the all too true trauma of racism in the U.S..
In the series in 2016, a white supremacist group attacked the homes of 40 police officers working for the Tulsa Police Department. Of those who survived, only two stayed with the force. A black cop, Detective Angela Ábhar, played by Regina King and a white cop, Police Chief Judge Crawford, played by Don Johnson. To protect themselves, the police decided to conceal their identities by wearing masks. In the episode that Jefferson is nominated for writing, Angela discovers a 100 year old man who turns out to be her grandfather and appears to have lynched Don Johnson's character.
As the FBI investigates the murder, Angela wants to know more about her grandfather, so she swallows his bottle of a drug called Nostalgia. The drug contains the person's harvested memories so he or she can relive them by taking her grandfather's nostalgia. Angela experiences what he lived through. She's thrown back in time to Tulsa when he was a child and survived the Tulsa massacre of 1921, when mobs of white residents were given weapons by city officials and attacked black people and businesses, destroying a prosperous black community that was known as black Wall Street.
Cord Jefferson has also written for succession the good place master of None and Larry Wilmore is late night series of political satire. In Conversation The Nightly Show, Jefferson also wrote for the now defunct website Gawker, where he was the site's West Coast editor. Cord Jefferson, welcome to Fresh Air and congratulations on your Emmy nomination and all the others that Watchmen has received so far. So I want to start with the Tulsa massacre, which we just kind of central to the whole story in this.
How did it become a central part of the series? I don't think it's in the graphic novel that it's based on.
It is not anywhere in the graphic novel. That idea came to us via Damon Lindelof, the creator of the show. He came into the room on day one and said that he wanted the Tulsa massacre to be a part of the show in some way. He said that he had read Tennessee Coates's case for reparations in the Atlantic cover story and was really moved by it. And he had never heard about the Tulsa massacre until until he read that and about the and how sort of decimated this prosperous black community, as you said.
And he was really moved by the story and wanted to include it somehow in the show. So he came into the room saying he wanted to use it. But how we were actually going to incorporate it, we didn't know. I think it took us about a month or two to decide that not only was it going to be in the pilot, but it was going to open the series and that we would begin on the Tulsa massacre. And I'm I'm really happy that we decided to include it there and not somewhere else.
So the character who is the super hero in this is also the character who is the cop in the 1930s and who survived the Tulsa massacre. He becomes known as hooded justice. He takes the hood that was used when he was being lynched. And this is going to be complicated. But fellow cops who are white supremacists lynched him with a black hood over him and then cut him down and basically said, next time we're not going to cut you down. He takes that hood and uses it to disguise himself to fight white supremacists.
So it's an interesting twist on the superhero origin story. You want to talk about the process of coming up with that?
Yeah. And maybe you'd want to explain it a little better than I did.
Well, I'll try. I'll try. It is complicated. So Hooded Justice is a character in the original text of Watchmen. He's not a he's not a big character by any means, but he is the original superhero. He is the one that all the other masked vigilantes modeled themselves after and his identity is never discovered. It's theorized in the book that he is this German bodybuilder because he said to be sort of hulking and strong, but nobody really knows if that's the case.
And one day he just disappears. And so it's this mystery that's left unsolved in the text. And so when we came into the room, Damon said that another thing that he knew, besides wanting to include Tulsa and the Tulsa massacre, was he wanted hooded justice to be a black man and who that black man was going to be. We didn't know and we worked backwards from there. One of the things that is also in the original text is that hooded justice.
His costume is this black mass and he has a noose around his neck. Also, Damons, a big fan of homework in the room. And one day the homework for the writers was, I believe I mean, it was a while ago at this point, but I believe the homework was come in with a reason why hooded justice has a noose around his neck. And I came in the next morning and pitched the idea that, you know, if we're saying that this is a black character and we're seeing this black character goes around with a noose around his neck, to me that signifies somebody who has lived through some sort of racial violence and probably a lynching.
And so I came in and pitched the story that that he would will Reeves as a police officer, would have gone out and attempted to arrest a wealthy white man in the community. And that white man would be upset and he would be part of some white supremacist organization and that he would convince his fellow white supremacists who were also police officers, to exact some justice on his revenge by threatening Will Reeves the next day with a lynching and that they would cut him down midway.
And just it would it would serve as a warning. That was the origin story for how that scene came to be. I think some people were surprised by the revelation that that hooded justice was a black man in the shows telling of Watchmen. But for me, the more I thought about it, the more I thought that it made perfect sense for for a black person to be the first superhero. I mean, the superheroes in most tellings are these people who who cannot find justice via traditional means.
And so they need to find justice via extra judicial means. And so if we're saying that that is somebody in the. In 30s, I think the person who would be most likely to not be able to find justice and to and to have to go outside of the traditional traditional system in order to to find the justice that they need would be would be a black person. And it just made perfect sense.
So the writers room for Watchmen was a diverse writers room. Mm hmm. Did you have a lot of conversations about race in the writers room?
Yeah, yeah, a great many. You know, something that I always tell people is one of the one of the problems and difficulties that people have had, you know, in Hollywood, but in every industry really, is that the idea that hiring one black person gets you the black experience or hiring one woman, gets you the woman's experience in America or or so on? And so there's been a lot of discussion about, you know, writers rooms that just hire one black person.
They say like, well, how do black people feel about this? And and you will feel very put on the spot by something like that. But this was a room in which there was I would say seventy five percent of the room was black. And so you're talking about racial issues, but you're you're also realizing that that, you know, a lot of black people have different opinions about racial issues. And so you're talking things about things like policing in the black community.
You're talking about things like generational trauma. You're talking about things like reparations. And, you know, a lot of people would have a variety of different opinions about all those things. There's a lot of third rail issues. So there was never shouting matches or anything. But there was there was certainly a lot of disagreement and discussion as the as the months went on. My guest is Cord Jefferson, he's a writer on the HBO series Watchmen, which is nominated for 26 Emmys, more than any other show he's nominated for writing Episode six.
We'll hear more of our conversation after a break. And jazz critic Kevin Whitehead will have an appreciation of saxophonist and composer Charlie Parker. This weekend marks the 100th anniversary of Parker's birth. I'm Terry Gross and this is Fresh Air Weekend.
Hey, I'm Sam Sanders, host of It's Been a Minute on my show. We catch you up on all the things in news and culture. This Space Force. I totally missed this. What is the space for stopping space? I don't know about space for know what? I've been in my apartment for four months.
Oh, man. Crushing it to. Thank you, Bill. Good news without the despair.
Listen now to the it's been a minute podcast from NPR. Let's get back to my interview with Cord Jefferson. He writes for the HBO series Watchmen and is nominated for an Emmy for writing Episode six. Jefferson has written four other shows, too, including Succession The Good Place and The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore. I want to talk with you about some of your personal essays, you've written some really good personal essays in 2014, you wrote a piece about your mother and her diagnosis of a type of breast cancer that's very aggressive and very difficult to treat.
And I regret to say she she died in 2016. And I was sorry to hear that when we talked earlier. And you write a little bit about her history and in that piece and about how it sounds like her mother suffered with a very severe, undiagnosed depression, if we're talking about generational trauma.
Absolutely. Well, my mom had it. My mom had a difficult childhood, too. So that that is absolutely part of it.
Yeah. Yeah. And your mother is white and she in your father is black. And when your mother I think when your mother started dating him, your grandfather on your mother's side was really angry. And I think when you were born, she he refused to see her anymore because you were black. Yeah.
He he disowned her. He dishonored. But before that he disowned him when they started dating. When my parents started dating, my my my dad was my mom's divorce lawyer. So so my mother had been married right out of college to her first husband, who was white. And my dad was was a consummate professional. He he sort of finished her divorce proceedings and she left his office. And when by the time she got home, there was a message on her answering machine from him saying, now that we are no longer working together, we're no longer a client.
I was wondering if you would go out to dinner with me. And so they they started dating shortly thereafter. And her her father disowned her because of it. And then he refused to meet me after I was born. I would send him letters and he would return them, he said. But when they started dating, he said, I never want to see you ever again. In my mother, it was I think it was shortly before Christmas.
And she had she went out and bought him, him and her stepmother some gifts and brought them to his house and left them on the doorstep. And when she came home later that day, the gifts were on her doorstep. And there was a note that said, what? I said, never. I meant never. And then he meant never. So so I would send him I would send him letters a couple of times a year until I was about eight or nine.
And he would he would always send them back. So I never I never got to meet him. I think the last time that that my mother saw him on his deathbed, she saw him right before he died. But but that was that was it. But there's there's a sort of really haunting. She had a reconciliation with her brother shortly before she died, I would say about two or three years before she was diagnosed, who had sort of she'd also had a falling out with because of all this turmoil with her with her dad.
And he told her that one day before their dad passed, he had walked into a room and seen her father with a box of letters that she had sent him over the years reading them. And so he was it's sort of this really haunting, tragic story. You can you know, that ultimately he was thinking about her and wanted to reach out, but something in him just wasn't allowing him to do it. I guess the hatred and so deep that that had prevented him from doing it.
But I have no idea what they said to each other on his deathbed. But I know that she she flew back to Ohio to see him.
You know, you've talked about carrying around a lot of anger over the years. And I can only imagine how angry you would be when your own grandfather refused to even meet you. Yeah, because you were black.
Yeah. People think that the things that happen are just part of their lives. You don't really think of how it affects you at the time. You think that this this is something that just happened and I've dealt with it and now it's over. And so for for years and years and years, I just thought of this is just that's my back story. That's sort of it's not a huge deal. I don't there's nothing sort of I think in intellectually that that I'm missing.
But by never having met my grandfather. And yet at the same time, I understand that deep down there probably is something there probably is a longing there that probably is as a desire to to feel loved by your family and to want to know them and to want them to know you. But it wasn't something that I thought of really intellectually until until recently, but absolutely. Yeah, I think that that's part of it, you know, and I think that some of that anger is is directed them not not for my own sake, but because I saw how much it hurt my mother.
It devastated her. It was yeah. It it really, really, really hurt her for her entire life. Yeah.
I mean, it's one thing not to get the love that you want from a relative. It's another thing to be completely rejected and. Making a conscious decision to never even meet you, I mean, that's just that's horrible. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I mean, it's I was lucky to I was raised in a home full of love. My my my dad and my mother had their own issues, but they never they never made me feel unloved.
And so I think that that was crucial because, you know, I think that I remember asking him why what what was wrong with me that my grandfather didn't like. I remember that that that is, you know, when he sent back the letters, I would ask my mom, you know, why doesn't he like me? And she would explain it's it has nothing to do with you. He doesn't know you. He's just he has a I can't remember the term that she used, but she would make sure to to to explain to me that it was not it was not anything that I did that I was I was totally innocent in the matter.
And I think that, you know, that was incredibly important for me because. Yeah, otherwise, if you don't have that reassurance, I think that I could have gone in a totally different direction.
Yeah. How old were you when your parents divorced? I was 14 the summer between my freshman and sophomore year of high school. One of your personal essays is about how you donated a kidney to your father in 2009 when your father was living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. I've asked myself what I do in a situation like that, and I. I don't know. Did did did he ask you or did you just volunteer? I volunteered initially, but he rejected it initially as soon as he told us that he was on dialysis and needed a kidney transplant.
I, I said to him, I volunteer a kidney to you, please. And he said, no, that he wanted to he wanted to explore other other options. He even explored buying one at one point in time because my dad lives in Saudi Arabia. And I believe that there's a pretty booming organ market in those kinds of places. And I think he looked into it and decided it was pretty gruesome and that he didn't ultimately want to do it.
And so eventually he came to my brothers and I asked if we would be willing to donate. And my brothers both have families and jobs that they need to be present for. And I luckily I didn't have a family and I had a job that allowed me to travel and I didn't have to go to an office every day to do so. I I was the best match and I went to Saudi Arabia for about three and a half months and and went through with the donation.
What's it like to see your father and know that not only did he create you, but you live inside of him? Yeah, it's well, it felt like I was giving back, I felt like that was why it wasn't really a question, that's why I volunteered immediately, is because it felt like he'd given me life. He had supported me my entire life. And so it felt like this organ was partly his this kidney was partly his. And so I was happy to give it.
I think that, you know, there's not been no real repercussion, repercussions for me afterwards. The consequences are minimal if any. I can't box or do extreme sports or anything. But I was never like much of a skateboard or anything anyway, so I was happy to do it. But it's you know, I think it bonds us a little bit closer. My dad and I have had a difficult relationship sometimes, and I think that that was, you know, one of the things that that brought us closer together over the years.
You know, in your essay about your mother and her cancer diagnosis, you write, The world takes from us relentlessly. It takes our friends and first loves. It takes our parents. It takes our faith. It takes our dignity. It takes our passion. It takes our health. It takes our honesty. And it takes our credulity to lose so much and still hold on to yourself is perhaps the most complicated task. Human beings are asked to perform.
And, you know, reading that now during the covid pandemic, I think that just has a very special resonance now. And I'm wondering what the pandemic has been like for you so far. How are you finding a way to get by?
And you know how you're dealing with anxiety and fear while also trying to do your work, how vulnerable you do or don't feel. Yeah, I mean, I feel incredibly grateful I have been employed doing a job that I enjoy and I know that there are so many people who have who have lost their work during these times. I think that the way that I've worked through it is I just try to stay focused on my work. I try to donate money and time and resources and places that that the required.
And I go to a lot of therapy and go to I go to I go to a whole lot of therapy. That's that's also been helping me.
Well, I want to get back to very good news, which is that you're nominated for an Emmy for writing an episode of Watchmen and the show is nominated for 26 Emmys. So that's a lot to celebrate. This isn't an easy time to celebrate because of the general mood, but also because, like how you're going to celebrate, you can't go out to a restaurant, you can't go out or you can have a party.
So how did you celebrate the nomination and what is the ceremony going to be like?
I had some champagne and was in bed by nine thirty that night. That was great. Yeah, that was yeah. The celebration was minimal. I got some I had some very nice gifts and cards from people, but I have no idea how the actual event is going to go. Apparently. I think it's going to be somehow I think via Zoom, I think that there may be cameras in people's homes. I don't think that that applies to writers because I don't think anybody cares about seeing writers.
I think people want to see Regina King and her, like, beautiful gown as well. They should. So so I don't know if me and the fellow writers are going to get much screen time, so. But, you know, that's fine. I'm I'm actually interested in seeing what it looks like myself. They haven't given us much information yet.
Good luck to you at the Emmys. Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. It's been a pleasure to talk with you.
Thank you so much. I've loved it.
Thank you. Cord Jefferson is nominated for an Emmy for writing Episode six of the HBO series Watchmen. The series is nominated for 26 Emmys.
This weekend marks the centennial of the birth of saxophonist and composer Charlie Parker.
Our jazz critic Kevin Whitehead considers Parker one of the most brilliant and influential jazz musicians ever and one of the more notorious for his prodigious use of alcohol and heroin, leading to his premature death at 34. Here's Kevin's crash course in the heart of Parker's art, his way with the alto saxophone.
Like trumpeter Louis Armstrong and saxophonist John Coltrane, Charlie Parker was so influential, even players of other instruments wanted that sound.
Trombonist, pianist, guitarist, drummers and more copy his style or phrasing. His sensibility pervades jazz on multiple levels. But when Charlie Parker first came up, some luminaries like Armstrong didn't get it at all. For one thing, there was Parker's unvarnished sound before him.
Even alto players who got around on the horn and were free with the beat, like Benny Carter, got a thicker, sweeter tone. Benny Carter, Charlie Parker Stone, by contrast, is thin and coarse, more blues singer than Broadway. His Kansas City elder, Lester Young, was a role model there. That lighter sound let Parker be light on his feet and quick he redefined jazz velocity. Up tempo, when you needed a moment to think he'd insert some pet lick placeholder that also served as an identifier signing his name to a solo.
No mystery why his nickname Stuck Bird, his scrappy sound and pithy little melodic figures had the rough beauty of bird calls, plus the cartoon cry of Woody Woodpecker. Here's Bird serenading the crowd at a Harlem ballroom in 1952.
Charlie Parker mostly developed his voice on his own, but in New York in the early 1940s, he fell in with like minded players who also took possibilities to extremes like his sometime partner, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and drummer Max Roach. Their new style was dubbed bebop radical then Jazz's wellspring, now the boppers added colorful extra notes to enrich iTunes chords and effect, piling an unrelated chord on top of the first one.
Then the boppers leaned on those dissonant added notes in their solos to some old timers. It sounded like they were in the wrong key and lost in time, starting and ending their phrases in cracks between beats to make the composed and improvise parts fit together. Boppers wrote fractious tunes that mirrored their solo language. But those abstract lines had their melodic charms, just as the solos did. This is Byrds, Calypso, Barbados from 1948.
No. Bird came up in Kansas City where jazz was soaked in the blues and the blues with its vocalised instrumental flights, rueful ironies and comic interpolations stayed close to Parker's heart.
He was a master of sly quotations from diverse sources, studying a solo with fragments of radio pop, the New Orleans Standard High Society, or the English Pastoral Country Gardens, arranged that spoke to his broad and snobby listening.
He liked the Duop Group, The Clovers and Stravinsky with his wrong notes.
Birds quotations like his blues confirm his populist side, the 1948 classic Parker's Mood is a modified blues that distorts blues form but still comes out 12 bars long.
He launches a solo with a basic blues lick, then quickly complicates things, making use of a pat repeated note stutter. We've heard him use already.
Charlie Parker made all these complexities sound deceptively easy, almost like he followed a Formula One, plenty of musicians tried to replicate umpteen alto saxophonist Skoda's tone and inflections.
And the best of them, like Jackie McLean or Charles McPherson, put their own spin on his style, attracting their own disciples. And yet, as at least one early fan would insist, decades later, nobody was able to do what Parker was doing, though generations of players tried, as Charles Mingus put it in a song title, if Charlie Parker were a gunslinger, there'd be a whole lot of dead copycats.
Kevin Whitehead is the author of the new book Play The Way You Feel The Essential Guide to Jazz Stories on Film.
Coming up, we'll talk about how Steven Miller became the architect of President Trump's border and immigration policies and Trump's chief strategist with investigative journalist Jeanne Guerrero. Her new book about Miller is called Hate Monger Stephen Miller, Donald Trump and the White Nationalist Agenda.
This is Fresh Air Weekend. How was it that the richest and most powerful country in the world was laid low by a virus only microns in size? One science journalist says it's the inequities that have been with us for generations that made our body politic such opportunistic targets. Listen to the Code Switch podcast from NPR. Support for NPR comes from why presenting the podcast, Elenor Amplified and adventure series Kids Love Hear reporter Eleanor Atwood crafty villains and solve mysteries as she travels the globe to get the big story available.
Where you get podcasts or a wig, it's impossible to understand the Trump era with its unparalleled polarization without tracing Steven Miller's journey to the White House. That's what my guest, Gene Guerreiro, writes in her new book, Hate Monger Stephen Miller, Donald Trump and the White Nationalist Agenda. She describes Miller as the architect of Trump's border and immigration policies, helping Trump, quote, conjure an invasion of animals to come steal American jobs and spill American blood, unquote.
She describes the ideological arc of Miller's life and investigates his ties to right wing mentors and far right groups. She adds many are baffled at how someone so young, with so little policy or legal expertise gained so much power, outlasting and overtaking his mentor, Steve Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist.
Her book helped show how he did it. Guerreiro is an investigative reporter who formerly was with PBS, the radio and TV station in San Diego. She previously covered Mexico and Central America for The Wall Street Journal and Dow Jones Newswires. She's the author of a previous book called KRUX, a cross-border memoir about growing up with a Mexican father and Puerto Rican mother. We first broadcast this interview Monday just before the first night of the Republican convention. Jean Guerrero, welcome to Fresh Air.
Let's talk about the arc of Stephen Miller's ideology. He was anti-immigration in high school. And you describe him as growing up in California at a time when there was a strong anti-immigration movement. What are some of the things in his world, in his personal life that you think helped lead to his extreme views on immigration? Right.
So this is one of the reasons I was drawn to Stephen Miller's story, the fact that he grew up in Southern California in the 90s, that at the same time that I did because, you know, I'm a couple of years younger than him. And I grew up just a couple hours south of where he grew up in Santa Monica, California. And I remember, you know, the incredible anti-immigrant hostility that was pervasive in California at the time, which may be surprising to people because California is known as such a deep blue state and kind of leads the charge against the Trump administration today.
But in the 90s, it was sort of ground zero, like a microcosm for what we're seeing nationally today. There were unprecedented attacks on immigrants through a proposition called Prop 187, which, you know, targeted social services for children of undocumented migrants. It was later ruled unconstitutional and there was also attacks on bilingual education statewide. There were attacks on affirmative action. And the Republican governor of California at the time, Pete Wilson, you know, was repeatedly railing against what he called the invasion at the border, the same language that you see Trump using today and blaming all of the state's fiscal problems on immigrants.
You know, running these ads on television that I remember watching about how, you know, showing families coming across the border. And there's this ominous narrator over the video saying they keep coming. And for my reporting, it became clear to me that Steven Miller is truly a product of this environment. He was internalizing a lot of these white supremacist and racist narratives that were common in the state and acting them out. You know, in his high school, he ends up going to Santa Monica High School, this public high school that's very diverse.
And he would go around from a very young age expressing, you know, racist viewpoints, telling his Mexican classmates to speak English and to go back to their countries if they couldn't learn the American way. He, you know, would go to school board meetings to argue passionately against measures to improve racial equity. Around this time, he broke he ended a friendship with a Mexican friend, telling him that he could no longer be friends with him because of his Latino heritage.
So, you know, from a very young age, expressing these viewpoints that would later manifest in the immigration policy and the rhetoric that we're seeing out of the White House and. I truly see it as a case study in radicalization. Back when Steven Miller was in high school, he listened to right wing talk radio, he listened to Rush Limbaugh, who was broadcasting out of California then, and he listened to a show called The Larry Elder Show on ABC.
The L.A. Times described Larry Elder as a darling of white listeners who seemed to almost gush when they telephoned him on ABC Talk Radio, astonished to find a black man who not only wasn't going to chastise them, but who often agreed with them. So he starts off listening to Larry Elder.
Then he calls in to Larry Elder. Then he becomes a guest on Larry Elder. How did he get to the point of being a guest on right wing talk radio?
Yeah, from a very young age, Steven Miller has been really great about using the media to forward his views and to get power. And, you know, when he was a teenager, Larry Elder, when he heard Steven Miller call in and and start to criticize his high school for its multiculturalism and alleged lack of patriotism, regurgitating a lot of the views that Stephen Miller had been hearing on Rush Limbaugh, Larry Elder was just super impressed. He tells me that he just couldn't believe that there was this teenager who is so articulate and, you know, so passionate about these issues.
Steven Miller didn't really, you know, um, or like like other teenagers. He was very articulate. And so Larry Elder starts to invite him as a guest regularly because he was so impressed with him.
And it was through being on Larry Elder show that David Horowitz heard him describe who David Horowitz is.
David Horowitz is a former Marxist who became a conservative writer. And during this time that he met Steven Miller, he was really focused on teaching young conservatives like Steven Miller how to use the language of the civil rights movement, which David Horowitz was familiar with against the civil rights movement. So casting white men as victims of discrimination based on their skin color and calling liberals and people of color the real racists and calling liberals and people of color oppressors. And David Horowitz was listening to Steven Miller.
But I mean, there were a lot of people listening to Steven Miller on Larry Elder, a lot of people who later went on to shape Trump ism. There was Steve Bannon heard him, you know, Andrew Breitbart heard him, Alex Marleau. And a lot of these people remember listening to teenage Steven Miller on the Larry Elder show and being very impressed with him. But David Horowitz, you know, when he gets a call from Steven Miller inviting him to speak at the at his high school, he he agrees because he also was just you know, he saw Steven Miller as a kindred spirit and he thought he was really gutsy for going out there with his with his views against multiculturalism and against his school.
And David Horowitz kind of takes Steven Miller under his wing and becomes almost like a father figure to Steven Miller really early on, inviting him over to his house to talk about ideas and later on really fostering his career.
And he told Steven Miller, hope and fear are the two greatest weapons in politics, but fear is more compelling and that Republicans should appeal to Americans base instincts rather than talk about Republicans success at job creation, instead attacked the Democrats as job destroyers.
Yes, he he is the one who really taught Steven Miller the importance of appealing to people's baser instincts. He eventually feeds a strategy paper to Steven Miller that talks about the political utility of these emotions and how the Republican Party needs to remake itself around demonization of its political opponents.
But but David Horowitz indoctrinates Steven Miller at a very young age. And this idea that American civilization is being threatened by too many brown and black people coming here because white men are responsible for for this unique culture that that we cherish and that too many brown and black people would destroy it. And so, Steven Miller, you know, this is when he starts to really see a mission in his life and a sense of purpose. And David Horowitz gives him the tools for fighting this mission, you know, inverting the language of the civil rights movement and using fear and hostile emotions in order to rally people around his cause.
The kind of over-the-top language that Stephen Miller uses when he speaks and when he writes speeches for President Trump, the American carnage kind of language, you connect that in part to a novel called The Camp of the Saints from 1973, a dystopian novel that influenced John Tanton, who founded the anti-immigration groups that you were talking about and influenced the person who funded those groups. And I think Steven Miller read that book to.
Yes, Terry, this is a book that Steven Miller actually promoted in twenty fifteen. He sent an email to some Breitbart writers telling them to write an article showing parallels between the book and real life and the book.
It's about the destruction of the white world by brown refugees who are described in really horrific language that is meant to get you to feel disgusted by brown and black people. It refers to them as monsters and beasts and teeming ants toiling for the white man's comfort, you know, refers to them as centipedes, just just really dehumanizing language. And in addition to that, it also explicitly endorses hatred and violence against people of color as a survival mechanism against this imagined white genocide.
So this is a book that for me, when I read it was a real turning point in my understanding of Steven Miller.
You know, aside from already being very familiar with his demonization strategies and his anti-immigration policies, this made it very clear to me that, you know, Steven Miller ascribes to this white supremacist idea that brown and black people oppose some kind of threat to America.
Well, among the many riddles surrounding Steven Miller is, you know, he's Jewish. His grandparents were immigrants, and he espouses some views that are espoused by white supremacists.
White supremacists hate Jews.
They would like Jews to, like, leave the country or at least live in a separate space on their own.
How does he reconcile that? I'm sure you don't know the answer to that.
But don't you wonder? I do you know, I one of the stories that I found the most interesting in my research for the book is the story of Steven Miller's grandmother, Ruth, who on his his grandmother, on his mother's side, who spent her retirement compiling the family history, you know, how they were refugees who fled nationalist agitators and, you know, these pogroms against the Jews, these massacres against the Jews and came here to the United States.
And she recorded the family history.
She said she was recording it for her grandchildren like Steven Miller, so that they would never forget the value of people who come to this country with nothing but the clothes on their back and speaking no English, just as Steven Miller's ancestors came to this country. How have people in Stephen Miller's extended family reacted to his extreme views? You know, I interviewed a number of his relatives and most people in his family, with the exception of his parents and his siblings, who declined to talk to me.
They're very ashamed to be associated with with Steven Miller and the legacy that he's created around the family name because of the fact that, you know, they know where they where the family comes from and the fact that they you know, they initially came here without any knowledge of the English language and without any money in their pockets and started out as, you know, peddling fruit on the streets and eventually made their way up and made something of themselves and contributed in a very strong way to this country in the way that, you know, many immigrants do.
And so a lot of them told me that they see him as a someone who needs to be punished for crimes against humanity.
You know, one of his aunts was telling me that she she truly believes that he is he's unleashed what she calls a Pandora's box of hatred in this country that is going to be very difficult to contain after they leave office. If they do.
You know, for the most part, President Trump has really downplayed the pandemic. He's talked about how we have the best numbers in the world, how it's going to just, like, miraculously disappear. There's going to be a vaccine like really soon.
And he just hasn't really recognized how damaging the pandemic has been to every aspect of life in America and how black people and people of color have been especially hard hit by the pandemic. Steven Miller's grandmother died from covid-19, and she is the daughter of Jewish refugees who fled before the Holocaust. What questions does that raise for you?
Yeah, I mean, Ruth, who died of of the coronavirus, she's the one who recorded the family history with the idea that she wanted to be a bridge between the refugee generation and the generation of Stephen Miller so that they would never forget the value of people who come to this country with nothing but the clothes on their back and speaking English. And so she wanted to be a bridge and she stood for the importance of remembering she she believed that remembering was an act of defiance against the Nazis.
And so for me, I've you know, one of the first questions I would ask Stephen Miller if he ever spoke to me is what do you think about these lessons that your grandmother tried to immortalize for you? And did you talk to your grandmother when she was on her deathbed?
You know, she she was dying from from the coronavirus for four months. I mean, she she survived the it's amazing.
She's 97 years old and she survived the initial infection, but she died from complications from the coronavirus. Her her death certificate says she died of the coronavirus.
And the Trump administration is in complete denial. Steven Miller, his you know, he's put out it. They've put out a statement saying that Steven Miller, his grandmother, did not die from the coronavirus.
So continuing to try to justify their reaction to the coronavirus, which instead of being focused on distributing masks and medical equipment and responding to the scientists, they were very focused on further shutting the door to refugees like Steven Millar's great grandparents.
Jean Guerrero, thank you so much for talking with us. Thank you so much, Terry.
Jean Guerrero is the author of the new book Hate Monger Stephen Miller, Donald Trump and the White Nationalist Agenda.
Fresh Air Weekend is produced by Teresa Ma'aden Fresh Air's executive producer is Danny Miller, our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our interviews and reviews are produced and edited by Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, Roberta Shorrock, Sam Briger, Lauren Krenzel, Heidi Samantha Challoner, Seth Kelly, Kayla Latimore and Jill Wolfram. Our associate producer of digital media is Molly CVN br. I'm Terry Gross. Kevin.