As a congressional staff member, Mr. Smith once wore a hoodie in a demonstration on Capitol Hill protesting the death of Trayvon Martin. Now President Trump calls him “my star.”
In the days after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a white neighborhood watch volunteer, Ja’Ron Smith was among a group of congressional aides who pulled on hoodies and stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol in protest.
The demonstration was a powerful statement: Mr. Martin, a Black teenager, had been wearing a hoodie when he was killed, and the aides were Black, Asian and Hispanic, Republicans as well as Democrats. Mr. Smith, the president of the Black Republican Congressional Staff Association, spoke of being racially profiled himself and said it was “a real issue in our country, and it comes from ignorance.”
Eight years later, Mr. Smith, 37, is the highest-ranking Black official in the Trump White House, a deputy assistant to a president who has threatened protesters calling for police reform and racial justice after George Floyd, a Black man, was killed in police custody, and who stands accused of running a re-election campaign that in ways subtle and explicit appeals to white racism.
As President Trump has escalated those appeals, calling the Black Lives Matter movement a “symbol of hate,” attacking the Black NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace and defending the Confederate flag, Mr. Smith has emerged as a de facto spokesman on criminal justice and one of the authors of an executive order on policing for a White House where there are no Black advisers in the president’s inner circle. He has worked with Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Mr. Trump has taken to calling him “my star” when they are together in meetings.