She was already a racist when she took a publishing job in Washington, DC. But when she became a reporter for Breitbart News, Katie McHugh says she was taken to new depths of hate with the help of Stephen Miller.
Emails show the two were in frequent contact between 2015 and 2016 while he was working for then Sen. Jeff Sessions and later on the Trump presidential campaign.
McHugh says on Miller’s way to the White House, where he is now a senior adviser deeply involved in shaping immigration policy in consonance with his hardline views, he was constantly sending her far-right material, encouraging her to use their arguments in her articles.
“He was shaping news coverage of a far-right website that was rapidly growing … and was controlling the narrative behind Donald Trump’s candidacy and the tenor of the electorate, especially the Republican electorate,” McHugh says. Breitbart supported Trump and as he rose while embracing the site’s ideology, so did Breitbart’s popularity with readers.
McHugh was a willing acolyte of Miller who she says further radicalized her.
“I was a white nationalist,” she says. “Whatever you want to call it – white nationalist, white supremacist. But that part [of me] is dead.”
She says Miller privately showed his true colors and pushed white supremacist ideals echoing his hardline views on restricting immigration to her in order to get them on Breitbart’s website.
McHugh has shared several hundred emails with the Southern Poverty Law Center and now some with CNN showing Miller’s contacts from 2015 to 2016. She says Miller stopped reaching out once he got a position in the White House.
She agreed to a CNN interview – her first on camera – because she wants to sound the alarm about Miller.
She says she is doing this as part of her own journey to healing and repentance for the life she used to live and the people she hurt.
Miller has not responded to a detailed request for comment. He has never denied the veracity of the emails.
The White House has not commented on McHugh’s interview. When the emails were first revealed last month a White House spokesperson told CNN: “While Mr. Miller condemns racism and bigotry in all forms, those defaming him are trying to deny his Jewish identity, which is a pernicious form of anti-Semitism.”
McHugh says she was introduced to Miller in June 2015 by Breitbart colleague Matthew Boyle when she became a reporter, after editing the site’s homepage and stories. She was 23 at the time.
“Miller was introduced to me as someone that I would take editorial direction from as I was reporting on the immigration beat and criminal justice beat,” she says. “It was not like, ‘Here’s someone from a Senate office, he may pitch you stories.’ It was understood that Miller had editorial control over the political section,” she alleges.
Elizabeth Moore, vice president of public relations and communications for Breitbart, said in a statement to CNN: “This person (McHugh) was fired years ago for a multitude of reasons, including lying, and now you have an even better idea why she was fired. Having said that, it is not exactly a newsflash that political staffers pitch stories to journalists – sometimes those pitches are successful, sometimes not.”
McHugh said Miller would point her towards crimes committed by undocumented migrants, such as the killing of Kate Steinle in San Francisco, with the subtext that curbing immigration from certain countries would cut crime. And she would seek out his opinion too.
In October 2015, McHugh asked Miller if he thought a natural disaster in Mexico could drive people to the US border. He replied: “100 percent,” according to emails McHugh gave to the SPLC and then CNN.
He then raised the possibility that those potential migrants could be allowed to stay in the US with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) – the special category given to Haitian survivors of the devastating 2010 earthquake among others.
TPS is giving to citizens of countries who are unable to safely return because of an environmental disaster, a war or extraordinary conditions that are temporary.
“Wow. Ok. Is there precedent for this?” McHugh asked, to which Miller responded with a link to an article on an extremist website that promotes the racist “great replacement” theory that white people are facing genocide.
McHugh told CNN: “I do want to emphasize … that those emails are now White House policy.”
The Trump administration decided not to offer the humanitarian relief of TPS to survivors of Hurricane Dorian that laid waste to some of the Bahamas this summer. The US is also in the process of rescinding TPS previously granted to people from El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua and Sudan. The administration has said the original dire conditions are no longer present.
Calling someone a white supremacist is a very strong and personal attack, but McHugh does not hesitate to denounce Miller from what she knows of him and how she saw in him a kindred spirit when she was on a racist path.
“I would absolutely call him a white supremacist,” she says. His driving ideology is “white supremacy and anti-immigration especially,” she adds.
McHugh herself once followed the same hate as Miller. When she first moved to Washington, she dated a white nationalist and they and their friends would hang out in a home they dubbed “the house of hate.”
She tweeted virulently racist and Islamophobic statements but says she was still having fun and a social life.
When she went to work for Breitbart, she says she became more isolated – working long hours remotely by herself and that helped to make her susceptible to what she calls her “radicalization” by Miller and others.
“My world got more sealed off and I got much more intense. I got prideful, and I got angrier and angrier,” she says. “Unless you stop, you know, objects in motion, stay in motion. It just gets worse.”
At the time, she was enjoying the success and being close to a policy maker whom she said also had the ear of then Executive Chairman Steve Bannon and other leaders at Breitbart.
Bannon later joined Trump’s campaign as chief executive and worked at the White House for about six months as a chief strategist.
“It’s very exciting to shape the news,” McHugh says. “I wasn’t self-aware enough … to realize like what I was doing was extremely harmful. I hoped that we would bounce ideas off each other and … it was nice to be able to talk to someone because I was very isolated and I had hoped … we could be kind of friends.”
That didn’t happen, McHugh says, but she and Miller remained in repeated, sometimes almost constant, contact.
“We spoke so frequently and we were friendly to each other, but it was never like, there wasn’t a friendship there because it wasn’t like, ‘Hey, how’s your day going?’”
And McHugh admits she was traveling further and further down the rabbit hole of intolerance, sending out vile tweets that eventually led to her firing after they were highlighted by CNN among others.
McHugh now says getting fired from Breitbart was the best thing that could have happened to her. She took jobs with extremely far right websites soon after her firing, but was eventually let go from those jobs too.
“I was able to break away from what was frankly a toxic culture and a radicalization machine, especially for young people like me.”
She says she first began to see Miller had feet of clay a few weeks after being fired when he had a contentious exchange with CNN’s Jim Acosta over US immigration and the poem on the Statue of Liberty that calls out for “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
“You see him trashing the Emma Lazarus poem at the bottom of the Statue of Liberty,” she says. “It struck me as odd that he would direct such, like, vitriol about welcoming like the most desperate people in the world into a better country for that, like a safer place.”
When Acosta suggested Miller was “trying to engineer the racial and ethnic flow of people into this country,” he hit back, accusing the reporter of “cosmopolitan bias.” Critics noted that phrase has been used to counter arguments by racist regimes for decades.
McHugh describes shedding her white supremacist views as akin to “pulling shrapnel from my brain.”
Once vilified by the center and the left, she is now a target for all sides, but she knows she is on her journey away from being a white supremacist.
“I just think it’s important to speak about this publicly because people need to know,” she says. “It’s a serious danger and I see other people younger than me going down that same path.”
More than 100 Democrats in the House and 27 senators have called for Miller to go.
But McHugh says, “Not a single Republican has called for Miller’s resignation. That should terrify us as a country.”
McHugh’s politics have now swung to the left. She has even donated to Democratic Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, partly because of his calls for “Medicare for All,” she says.
She has diabetes, alopecia and other medical issues. She has no permanent home right now and only a part-time job but says she would like to give more to Sanders’ campaign if she becomes able.
At one point she breaks down. Her shoulders shaking. Tears welling up in her eyes. She apologizes for the harm she says she has caused. She says she is now doing what her Catholic upbringing has taught her. Making amends and repenting. She wants Miller to do the same. And resign.
“I was in a very dark, very small world and I was a very angry person.”
CNN’s Mallory Simon contributed to this story.