One of President Donald Trump's speechwriters and policy aides was quietly booted from the White House on Friday — after reportedly refusing to resign — once his association with prominent white nationalists was made public.
Darren Beattie, a White House speechwriter who previously worked as a visiting instructor at Duke University, was terminated from his job after it came out that he had spoken on a public panel that included a prominent white nationalist. Beattie appeared during the 2016 H. L. Mencken conference on the same panel as the notorious anti-immigration activist Peter Brimelow, the founder of white nationalist website VDare.com. The Mencken conference was also once attended by Richard Spencer, another outspoken white nationalist who has supported Trump in order to advance the cause of white supremacy.
After CNN first questioned the Trump administration about Beattie's ties to such a prominent advocate of "racial nationalism" last week, he was initially asked to resign to minimize the potentially bad optics surrounding his situation, The Washington Post reported. But Beattie instead chose to defend himself and refused to step down:
Once White House officials were informed about CNN’s pending report, Beattie reportedly was confronted and urged to step down immediately. But he apparently refused to resign, arguing that he was not racist and that he had made uncontroversial academic points at the Mencken gathering. When it became clear that Beattie would not resign, the people familiar with the matter said, the White House terminated him.
In a statement to the Post, Beattie defended both his presence at the Mencken conference and the Trump administration.
"In 2016 I attended the Mencken conference in question and delivered a stand-alone, academic talk titled ‘The Intelligentsia and the Right.’ I said nothing objectionable and stand by my remarks completely. It was the honor of my life to serve in the Trump Administration. I love President Trump, who is a fearless American hero, and continue to support him one hundred percent. I have no further comment," Beattie told the Post.
It is worth noting that Beattie isn't the first member of the Trump administration to be compromised by past associations with known white nationalists. Stephen Miller, Trump's top policy adviser and speechwriter (as well as someone for whom Beattie would occasionally work), is believed to have known Richard Spencer back when both men were students at Duke University. As Vanity Fair reported in May 2017:
When, during the presidential campaign, the relationship between Spencer and Miller from their days together at Duke became public, Miller quickly disavowed knowing Spencer. “I have absolutely no relationship with Mr. Spencer,” Miller e-mailed Mother Jones last October. “I completely repudiate his views, and his claims are 100 percent false.”
Spencer says he was surprised by Miller’s renunciation of him. He could have spoken publicly about knowing Miller at Duke, he says, but chose not to because he did not want to “harm Stephen.” But, he adds, “the fact is I did know him, now 10 years previously, so I could’ve talked about this in 2015, I could’ve talked about this all through 2016, but I didn’t . . . . Stephen looked a little strange, kind of doing this outright denial. What he should’ve said is ‘Oh, yeah. I knew Richard Spencer 10 years ago. Who cares?’ ”
Trump has attracted considerable criticism since taking office for his seeming willingness to cozy up to white nationalists. Last year he notably refused to single out white nationalists for criticism when there was violence at the "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, even going so far as to blame both sides for violence and arguing that there were "fine people" within each group of protesters.
There was also this infamous exchange between Trump and reporter John Heilemann from Bloomberg about David Duke, the former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
Heilemann:“How do you feel about the David Duke quasi-endorsement?”
Trump:“I don’t need his endorsement; I certainly wouldn’t want his endorsement. I don’t need anyone’s endorsement.”
Heilemann: “Would you repudiate David Duke?”
Trump: “Sure, I would do that, if it made you feel better. I don’t know anything about him. Somebody told me yesterday, whoever he is, he did endorse me. Actually I don’t think it was an endorsement. He said I was absolutely the best of all of the candidates.”
While it is ultimately a good thing that a Trump adviser who had been on a panel with a white nationalist has been discharged, it is important to remember that Beattie's presence in the Trump administration was not an aberration. From championing a Muslim immigration ban and aggressive policies against legal immigrants to perpetuating myths about Mexican immigrants being more likely to commit violent crimes, Trump has trafficked in white nationalist tropes and rhetoric since he first announced his presidential campaign. He has also openly curried favor among the "alt right," an offshoot of modern American conservatism that is openly racist in its worldview.
Removing Beattie from the White House doesn't change any of this. It doesn't even constitute a step in the right direction, as the Post's reporting suggests Beattie was only removed after it became clear his connection to Brimelow was about to be made public.