America First Legal was founded last year by Stephen Miller and he is using it to teach Conservatives how to Fight and Win
by Beth Reinhard and Josh Dawsey, The Washington Post, December 12, 2022
The deal in early 2021 was hailed by advocates for Black farmers as the most significant piece of legislation since the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — about $4 billion in President Biden’s massive pandemic stimulus package to rectifydecades of discrimination. Minority farmers began investing in new machinery and other improvements, anticipating tens of thousands of dollars in government aid.
But today, the landmark deal on behalf of historically disadvantaged farmers is dead — successfully challenged in court by a fledgling conservative organization that argued the program racially discriminated against White farmers.
America First Legal is headed by Stephen Miller, the architect of President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigrants. While AFL lacks the name recognition and financial heft of many conservative counterparts, it has racked up notable court victories over the Biden administration. Casting itself as “the long-awaited answer to the ACLU,” AFL has weaponized the grievance politics embodied by Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement through dozens of federal lawsuits, challenging efforts to remedy racial disparities, support LGBTQ students and expand the pool of early voters.
AFL-backed suits helped doom a $29 billion program that prioritized struggling female and minority-owned restaurants last year, and last week, a council created by the Department of Education that conservative parents groups viewed as partisan. AFL has won in part by consistently filing lawsuits in a conservative-friendly judicial district in Texas and taking advantage of a larger federal court system revamped by Trump’s predominantly conservative nominees.
The group’s success is alarming civil rights advocates, who fear Miller has figured out how to harness the courts to protect America’s declining White majority and unravel government policies intended to right historical wrongs against marginalized communities.
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“Many of these lawsuits are centered on making sure that White people remain in control and continue to benefit from unearned privileges, and on maintaining the systemic discriminatory policies that have harmed Black people and other people of color for generations,” said David Hinojosa, an attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “To argue that White men are being pushed to the back of the line is unfounded and ridiculous. What they’re being asked to do is share a place in line with other people who do not look like them.”
In an interview, Miller said AFL is filling a void in the conservative legal movement by challenging what he termed “a hyperracialization of American political and corporate life.” Programs seeking to remedy past injustices and boost historically disadvantaged groups are punishing people based on their skin color, he said.
“I believe that the equity agenda represents one of the single greatest threats to the survival of our constitutional system,” he said.
The group’s mission was fueled by more than $6.3 million in donations last year, recent tax filings show, including about $1.3 million from the Conservative Partnership Institute, whose leadership includes key figures in the effort to overturn the 2020 election. Steve Wynn, the casino magnate who resigned as finance chair of the Republican National Committee in 2018 amid allegations of sexual misconduct, is an AFL donor, according to two people familiar with the group’s work who were not authorized to speak publicly about its fundraising. Wynn, who has denied the allegations, declined to comment.
AFL is part of a constellation of groups led by Trump allies that represent an administration-in-waiting upon his potential return to the White House. AFL’s all-White, all-male board includes loyalists who recently trekked to Mar-a-Lago for Trump’s 2024 campaign announcement, including Miller, who helped write the speech, former Office of Management and Budget head Russell Vought and former acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker. Miller, who is expected to work for the 2024 campaign, received $110,762 from AFL last year, about $134,000 from his Save America political committee since Trump left office, and is slated to be paid about $80,000 by the General Services Administration as part of Trump’s post-presidency funds, government documents show.
In the lead-up to the midterm election, AFL also bankrolled a multimillion dollar ad campaign that included inflammatory radio and TV spots demanding an end to “anti-white bigotry” and accusing the White House, businesses and universities of discriminating against White people.
America First Legal "Anti-White Bigotry" Ad:
Trump critics see AFL as the extension of a White House that frequently stoked racial division and a former president who last month dined at his Florida home with two well-known antisemites.
“The Trump administration didn’t care about people like me, it was for White men, and that’s what this group represents and is fighting for,” said John Boyd, president of the National Black Farmers Association, which intervened in the AFL-backed lawsuit challenging the aid to minority farmers. “It’s continuing the legacy of divisiveness.”
Miller, though, argues that AFL is fighting against “bigotry and insanity.”
“I think that it is inescapably true that there is insidious and explicit discrimination against White Americans, Asian Americans, Indian Americans and Jewish Americans based on their skin color and their ancestry,” he said.
According to Trump advisers who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations, Miller stays in close touch with Trump, contributes to his speeches and gave significant input on his endorsements in the midterm election, where many Trump-backed candidates who rejected Biden’s 2020 victory and took other far-right positions were defeated. Miller repeatedly complained during the campaign that Republican candidates were not talking enough about culture war issues and immigration and focusing too heavily on an economic message, people who spoke to him said. America “is the apex of achievement of Western civilization,” Miller said, with “a heritage to be jealously guarded.”
Miller founded AFL in early 2021, as a newly elected President Biden issued a flurry of executive orders dismantling the former president’s nativist agenda. Miller was involved in policies fervidly challenged by civil rights groups that banned immigration from several Muslim-majority countries and separated immigrant children from their parents.
“During the four years of the Trump administration — especially in the arena of immigration — every single executive action, no matter how rigorously lawful, was subjected to a never-ending stream of activist litigation,” Miller said. “One of my goals when I left the administration was to try to help and inspire and coordinate a larger legal movement on the conservative side of the spectrum to do the same.”
AFL was among several groups incubated in the first year of the Biden administration by the Conservative Partnership Institute, a central hub of the GOP’s pro-Trump wing. CPI describes AFL as a “partner” on its website, and three AFL board members, including Mark Meadows, who served as a chief of staff to the former president, also have top CPI posts.
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Neither of these tax-exempt groups are required to disclose their donors to the public, though federal campaign records show Trump’s political committee, Save America, donated $1 million to CPI last year. In its 2021 annual report, CPI called AFL “the sling that hardworking, patriotic Americans can use to fight back against the abusive Goliath of the Biden Administration’s Deep State.”
CPI’s revenue exploded last year to $45 million, up from about $7 million in 2020, according to its latest tax filing, obtained by Accountable.US and the Center for Media and Democracy. Its $1.3 million donation to AFL was the largest of eight grants that it made last year. Tax records also show AFL last year received $25,000 from DonorsTrust, a nonprofit that contributes to a number of right-wing causes, and $10,000 from Citizens for Self-Governance, which favors a convention of states to limit the power of the federal government.
Miller declined to answer questions about the group’s donors. “It’s best for your adversaries to have less rather than more information when they meet you in court,” he said.