In one email from 2015, Smith responded to a group dinner invitation whose host said his home would be “judenfrei,” a German word used by the Nazis during World War II to describe territory that had been “cleansed” of Jews during the Holocaust.
“They don’t call it Freitag for nothing,” Smith replied, using the German word for “Friday,” according to the Atlantic. “I was planning to hit the bar during the dinner hours and talk to people like Matt Parrot, etc.,” Smith added, a reference to the former spokesman for the neo-Nazi Traditionalist Worker Party.
The Washington Post was unable to independently obtain the emails.
Smith, a Trump political appointee, did not respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment. The White House referred questions to DHS, where officials said they could not discuss Smith’s work, but that he immediately quit when asked if the emails were his.
“The Department of Homeland Security is committed to combating all forms of violent extremism, especially movements that espouse racial supremacy or bigotry,” DHS spokesman Tyler Q. Houlton said in a statement. “This type of radical ideology runs counter to the Department’s mission of keeping America safe.”
Though Smith was not assigned a supervisory position at DHS, he “wasn’t just some low-level schlub who didn’t do anything,” according to one government official familiar with his work for the administration.
He joined the department as an immigration policy analyst in 2017 and focused on refugee issues and temporary worker visas, according to former colleagues. He also worked on an effort, led by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, to expand the “Public Charge” rule by penalizing more legal immigrants who use tax credits or accept government benefits.
Critics of that proposal say it is part of a concerted attempt to reduce the number of foreigners living in the United States, while forcing immigrants to choose between seeking help and jeopardizing their legal status.
The policy office Smith was assigned to was badly understaffed, with several vacant positions, former colleagues said. On repeat occasions, they said, Smith attended immigration meetings at the White House convened by senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller, attending at times in place of his supervisor, Michael Dougherty, the DHS assistant secretary for border, immigration and trade policy.
Smith did not provide significant input at these meetings, and attended primarily as a placeholder for his boss, according to one official, who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive personnel matter.
Miller, Trump’s most influential adviser on immigration, is known for holding frequent meetings with DHS staff to discuss policy implementation and coordinate public messaging. Miller did not respond to requests for comment, and there is no indication he worked closely with Smith or was aware of his associations with white supremacists.
Former co-workers said Smith did not express extremist views on the job and mostly kept to himself while at work. “He’d done a lot of writing, and seemed like a quiet, thoughtful guy — a policy nerd,” said one ex-colleague.
The emails cited by the Atlantic do not include any explicitly racist statements made by Smith, but they do suggest he was comfortable enough within the milieu of American white nationalism to refer to its leading figures on a first-name basis.
In one 2015 email, for example, Smith explains that he missed an event hosted by “NPI,” the National Policy Institute founded by white supremacist Richard B. Spencer. Smith was copied on another email that included Spencer as a recipient, though Spencer told the Atlantic he could not recall ever meeting Smith.
Still, Smith appears to have been familiar with Spencer’s writing and other white-supremacist publications. In an email from 2016, he recommended someone for a job at a leading pro-Trump media organization, which the Atlantic did not identify. The candidate’s credentials, Smith wrote, included writing for “Radix, Amren, VDare and Chronicles under a pseudonym.”
Radix Journal is published by Spencer. AmRen refers to American Renaissance, a site run by white supremacist Jared Taylor. Smith added that the job candidate “helps Richard and JT with their websites,” apparently in reference to Spencer and Jared Taylor.
Before joining DHS, Smith worked at the Immigration Reform Law Institute, a legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington think tank whose restrictionist immigration views have won broad influence in the Trump White House.
During the period he was in communication with white-supremacist groups, Smith wrote dozens of articles for publications including National Review, the Hill and the Daily Caller. Many of the pieces call for tighter immigration controls.
Smith would have had to pass a background check for his security clearance, which typically includes an in-person interview during which he would likely have been asked about any associations with extremist groups.
In a 2016 interview, Smith said he was born near Seattle and grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia, before moving to Asia and earning a law degree in Australia.
The Atlantic did not indicate how Smith’s emails were obtained.