By Christina Lee
Last week US president Donald Trump endorsed a proposal for a new immigration policy, known as the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act, or RAISE Act, co-sponsored by Republican Senators David Perdue and Tom Cotton. The plan would dramatically alter the US immigration system by reducing family reunification in favor of a points system that would allocate visas to people based on qualifications such as language and skills. It would additionally abolish the diversity visa program, set a modest limit on accepted refugees, and remove residency and employment rights for parents of US citizens. The entire text of the bill can be read here.
Last week the White House seemed geared up for a fight over the topic, sending out combative adviser Stephen Miller to convince the press (video here). But events over the weekend completely stole the spotlight from even this incredibly controversial topic.
On Saturday, a rally of white supremacists erupted in chaos and violence in the collegiate town of Charlottesville, Virginia. A protest organized by a coalition of right wing groups under the banner ‘Unite the Right‘ met to demonstrate the planned removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, and ended in tragedy when a participant mowed into a group of counter-protesters, killing one.
There has been massive national and international outcry against the incident as well as Trump’s initial response, which many claimed did not explicitly disavow white supremacist groups as he condemned violence “on many sides”. He made an additional statement on Monday which then did so, calling white supremacist groups “repugnant to all that we hold dear as Americans”. Nevertheless, the incident and Trump’s response has prompted a massive surge of interest in white supremacist/ white nativist groups- some of whom have ties to members of the Trump administration. With concern and interest about such groups at an all-time high, will the main architects of Trump’s immigration policy be discredited by these ties? Let’s take a closer look.
Trump Adviser Stephen Miller tied to Unite the Right Speaker Richard Spencer
Perhaps the most direct line between Saturday’s rally and the White House goes through Stephen Miller, presidential adviser and speechwriter, one of the chief architects and proponents of the Muslim Ban, and the individual tasked last week with introducing and defending Trump’s immigration reform package to the media.
One of the headliners of the Unite the Right rally was open white supremacist Richard Spencer, founder of National Policy Institute, a white nationalist/ Identitarian think tank based in Virginia. Spencer formerly attended Duke University with Stephen Miller and worked together with him in the Duke Conservative Union to host far-right anti-immigrant activist Peter Brimelow (founder of the nativist website VDARE, where Unite the Right organizer Jason Kessler is a frequent commentator) on campus for a debate on immigration, according to two former members of the Union.
In an interview with Mother Jones, Spencer confirmed the two knew each other and shared views on multiculturalism and immigration.
“It’s funny no one’s picked up on the Stephen Miller connection,” Spencer says. “I knew him very well when I was at Duke. But I am kind of glad no one’s talked about this because I don’t want to harm Trump.”
Miller denied the connection to Mother Jones, but did not answer questions about his activities at Duke.
Trump Adviser Kris Kobach Has Ties to White Nationalist Groups and European Anti-Immigrant Extremists
Kris Kobach is the current Kansas Secretary of State, a White House adviser, and President Trump’s appointee to a newly established Commission on Election Integrity. He is also a long-standing advocate of radical immigration reform who was advising on immigration policy from the earliest days of the Trump administration.
As the above tweeted photo shows, and Kobach later confirmed as noted by the Kansas City Star, in 2015 he was among speakers at an event of The Social Contract Press, a white nationalist publishing house that hosts conferences and publishes a quarterly journal highlighting anti-immigrant and anti-“globalist” thought. Previous speakers at TSCP events include Peter Brimelow of VDARE (who was person Spencer and Miller invited to speak at Duke, as noted above), and Jared Taylor, the editor of white supremacist website American Renaissance, author of the book White Identity and one of Spencer’s cited major influencers.
Kobach has also branched out beyond the US to forge connections to extremists from Europe. In March, Kobach hosted Austrian anti-Muslim activist Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff in Kansas, a meeting Sabaditsch-Wolff documented meticulously for anti-Muslim website Gates of Vienna. She expressed numerous outlandish opinions to Kobach, including her suspicion that George Soros is funding the travel of people seeking asylum through Europe with 500 euros bills, that “Sweden is the European country that is closest to collapse”, and that women in Europe no longer feel safe in public.
Trump Assistant Sebastian Gorka tied to Hungarian Nazi Group
Dr. Sebastian Gorka works in an advisory role at the White House and is often seen making the rounds on morning press shows and talk radio to argue forcefully for Trump’s policies. Gorka was born in the UK to parents who fled as political refugees from Hungary following 1956 Rebellion. He has nevertheless been a forceful advocate against allowing refugees like his parents to come to the US, telling Sean Hannity, “We help people when we can help them,” he said. “But that is not a contract for national suicide.” As a spokeman, he has also represented the White House on immigration issues to defend the Muslim Ban and now the RAISE Act, which would also reduce numbers of people allowed to come to the US as refugees.
However, as an active member of Hungarian politics, Gorka was evidently tied to several extreme-right and anti-Semitic groups, including far-right Jobbik. But, as the Forward revealed, he is also allegedly a formal member of a nationalist group that helped deport thousands of Jews from Hungary during World War II and is banned from immigration to the US because of its Nazi ties, the Vitézi Rend. A high-ranking member of the organization confirmed his sworn membership to The Forward.
“Of course he was sworn in,” Pintér said, in a phone interview. “I met with him in Sopron [a city near Hungary’s border with Austria]. His father introduced him.”
The government of Viktor Orbán has made Hungary a welcoming place for individuals with extremist anti-immigrant and anti-Semitics views like Jobbik, but also for American white nationalists. Richard Spencer and another scheduled speaker at the Unite the Right Tally, Daniel Friberg, met up in Budapest in 2014 for a NPI conference (where Spencer ironically ran into problems with the Hungarian police for potential immigration violations, according to Hungarian news site Index.)
The sight of swastikas at the Unite the Right rally, as well as chants of “blood and soil” and “Jews won’t replace us” provokes unnerving historical precedent with nazi movements like the one Gorka allegedly belongs to. The white nationalists and neo-nazis at Saturday’s events no doubt represent a small group of fringe Americans- but that makes the numerous ties to Trump’s administration, and especially the architects and defenders of his immigration policy, even more difficult to overlook.