FACT-CHECK: Reviewing Allegations of anti-Semitism against Trump Advisor Sebastian Gorka

Amid a string of damning reports, several US senators, [1],[2],[3] a number of Jewish organizations,[4],[5] and human rights groups[6] have recently called for an investigation into Sebastian Gorka’s ties to an anti-Semitic extremist group, and for him to step down as one of President Trump’s key national security advisors.

At a May 7 conference hosted by the Jerusalem Post, Gorka forcefully denied these allegations[7]—but questions remain, including whether or not Gorka will be leaving his position[8],[9],[10] due to the damaging effect these accusations have had on the Trump administration’s already controversy-laden first 100 days.[11] Gorka, and Trump staff have denied rumors that Gorka is being asked to leave the White House,[12],[13] calling them “very fake news.”[14]

Unfortunately, as other “unpresidented” Trump moves dominate this week’s news cycle,[15] Gorka’s potential anti-Semitic leanings may be obscured and forgotten.


Claim: Trump advisor Sebastian Gorka holds anti-Semitic opinions.

Source: First alleged by Eric Clifton on the LobeLog foreign policy blog,[16] and subsequently reported by the Jewish-American newspaper, The Forward[17]

Accuracy: While Gorka’s connection to the anti-Semitic far-right in Hungary are without doubt, his own feelings toward Jews are uncertain; he has not made any public statements which would explicitly suggest that he is an anti-Semite, however his connections warrant more investigation

Who is Sebastian Gorka?

Sebastian Gorka is a member of President Trump’s advisory staff on issues of national security. His official title is deputy assistant to the US president as part of Steven Bannon’s Strategic Initiatives Group, which has been speculated as being set up in order to rival the influence of the National Security Council.[18] Gorka has previously worked with Bannon as a Breitbart commentator, where he railed against President Obama’s foreign policy decisions,[19] praised past American military endeavors with an overtly nationalist tone,[20] and found a way to tie it all back to the threat of “Global Jihadism.”[21],[22]

Gorka has a long history of spouting controversial ideas. Most notably, his rabid views on Islamic extremism have led to widespread accusations of Islamophobia. Along with Bannon and Stephen Miller, Gorka has framed the religion as “an enemy ideology and predicted a historic clash of civilizations,”[23] and ardently maintains that violent Islamic extremism is a direct outgrowth of fundamental Qur’anic principles and not the social, political, and economic factors that many scholars accredit.[24]

While these beliefs are deeply troubling, they have been largely overshadowed by Gorka’s alleged anti-Semitic leanings, which are surprisingly less evidenced, but equally disturbing.

Alleged Membership in the Vitézi Rend

The Vitézi Rend is a Hungarian order of merit with an anti-Semitic past. Gorka was accused of being a member of the modern Vitézi Rend after donning one of their medals at Trump’s inguinal ball.[25],[26] It has also been noted that Gorka has signed his name with a “v.,” as in “Dr. Sebastian L. v. Gorka,” which is said to signify membership.[27]

Gorka initially denied membership in the organization and claimed he only wore the medal as a tribute to his father,[28] but that claim was later refuted by two named members of the modern Vitézi Rend, which reportedly confirmed that Gorka has taken “a lifelong oath of loyalty.”[29] One spokesman for the group said that the incident made him feel “proud.”[30]

The Vitézi Rend’s early anti-Semitic sentiments are undeniable. It was first formed as a government institution in 1920 by Miklós Horthy, who governed Hungary during the interwar period. It was disbanded and re-established as a private organization after World War II. It is said that Horthy was was obsessed with the threat of Communism, which was the primary catalyst leading to the Hungarian government’s alignment with Hitler during the Second World War.[31]

However, Horthy also enacted anti-Jewish legislation[32] and collaborated with the Nazis to deport some 400,000 Hungarian Jews to be killed at Auschwitz,[33] and many more Jews died in Horthy’s own bloody anti-communist “White Terror” campaign.[34] Under Horthy’s leadership, the Vitézi Rend served only Christian Hungarians, and Jews were explicitly denied membership in the order under the 1938 laws that permitted anti-Jewish discrimination.[35]

After the end of World War II, the Vitézi Rend was disbanded and two groups sprouted from its ashes, one being the “Historical Vitézi Rend” to which Gorka allegedly belongs.[36] In a 2009 introductory newsletter addressed to “Knights of the Historical Hungarian Vitéz in exile, born abroad,” this modern version of the order claims the following as essential features of a good Vitéz Knight.

“The members and their families should be strong persons, Christians in faith, considerate, in peacetime resolute in their work; in war brave patriots. They should form an organisation faithful to the nation, patriotic and dedicated to the country, strengthening the social fabric of Hungary.”[37]

According to the State Department, members of the Vitézi Rend, are barred from immigrating to the US “based on human rights violations,” [38] further complicating Gorka’s position.[39]

Gorka’s Association with Jobbik

In recent years Hungary’s far-right leadership—led by the Jobbik party—has moved to resurrect the ultra-nationalism of the pre-WWII era.[40] In 2013, Jobbik members celebrated the unveiling of a bust honoring Horthy in Budapest.[41],[42] The country has witnessed such a recent upsurge in outward praise of Horthy that some have suggested that a “cult of Miklos Horthy” is dominating the increasingly emboldened far-right fringes of Hungarian society.[43] Notorious American neo-Nazi publication, The Daily Stormer,[44] called Horthy a “Hero” and praised Jobbik’s celebration of his reign.[45]

Jobbik members’ regular use of anti-Semitic slurs and anti-Roma rants in parliamentary speeches[46] have effectively normalized hate speech in Hungary. In 2012, a Jobbik leader tried to enact fascist laws that would list Jews deemed a “national security risk.”[47]

An investigation by The Forward found that Gorka maintained close ties to the extreme right in Hungary, including the openly anti-Semitic Jobbik party during a time of peak-hate during the mid 2000s.[48],[49] Jobbik’s former vice president, Tamás Molnár, was a known associate of Gorka’s, and the two were photographed together on more than one occasion.[50] Gorka denies that he was ever aware that any of his friends in Hungarian politics had connections to the extreme right.[51]

The Forward also claims that in 2007, while serving in the Hungarian government, Gorka “publicly supported a violent racist and anti-Semitic paramilitary militia that was later banned as a threat to minorities by multiple court rulings.”[52] The Hungarian Guard (Magyar Gárda) was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights, for having an ideology “based on the racial conflict between Hungarian majority and Roma minority.”[53]

Gorka’s Response

Breitbart has jumped to their former writer’s defense on numerous occasions, with such classically-Breitbart headlines as “Gorka Smites Haters, Radical Islamists in Jerusalem Post Speech”[54] and “Fake News: Media Smear Sebastian Gorka as Nazi Sympathizer.”[55] Gorka and his defenders claim that the “guilt by association” argument is insufficient in proving that he is an anti-Semite,[56] and on that point, they are right.

At the recent Jerusalem Post conference, Gorka repeated the assertion that “Nobody found one sentence that I have said that is anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli,” something The Forward concedes; unlike the wealth of Islamophobic statements made by Gorka,[57] he has not made public any anti-Semitic feelings that he may hold.[58]

While no statements have surfaced which would directly suggest Gorka is intolerant of Jews, Gorka has also notably refrained from of publically stating his disavowal of the anti-Semitic and ultra-nationalist groups that he is accused of supporting. Rather, Gorka has chosen to defend the reputation of the Vitézi Rend, claiming that “members of this order […] were recognized as the Righteous Among The Nations by Yad Vashem.”[59]

However, as pointed out by The Forward, that statement is false; only one member of the order was ever recognized as a Righteous Among Nations.[60] Beyond a few dissident members, the order as an institution, as an arm of Hitler’s Third Reich, certainly contributed to the mass genocide of hundreds of thousands of Hungary’s Jews. The organization’s history is indefensible and Gorka should publically acknowledge that.

Moreover, Gorka cites his forcefully pro-Israel stance as proof that he cannot be an anti-Semite. Appealing to the perception many Israelis’ have of the hostile world around them, Gorka said, “because we are pro-Israel, we must be attacked, whether it’s the president or Steve Bannon or Steve Miller or myself.”[61] However as many commentators have noted, one does not need to be anti-Israel to be anti-Semitic,[62] a common characteristic associated with the American “alt-right.” [63],[64],[65]

Fortunately, there is still the question of whether or not Gorka lied on his US citizenship application by not disclosing his membership in the Vitézi Rend. If found to be valid, that offense is punishable by “denaturalization.”[66]

[1] https://www.cardin.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/senators-call-for-investigation-of-sebastian-gorka-after-reports-surface-of-ties-to-neo-nazi-group

[2] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2017/05/02/democrats-call-trump-fire-aide-sebastian-gorka/101202260/

[3] http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/331609-house-democrats-demand-trump-fire-top-aide-gorka

[4] http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/jewish-groups-call-trump-adviser-exit-nazi-report-article-1.3000170

[5] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/onpolitics/2017/03/16/sebastian-gorka-far-right-group-hungary/99254338/

[6] https://lobelog.com/human-rights-and-jewish-groups-call-for-sebastian-gorkas-resignation/

[7] http://www.jpost.com/American-Politics/At-JPost-conference-Trump-aide-Gorka-denies-antisemitism-accusations-490014

[8] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/30/us/politics/sebastian-gorka-white-house.html

[9] http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/04/30/report-sebastian-gorka-to-accept-role-outside-white-house.html

[10] https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/05/01/daily-press-briefing-press-secretary-sean-spicer-43

[11] http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/president-trumps-first-100-days/top-trump-controversies-first-100-days-n746736

[12] http://forward.com/fast-forward/370709/sebastian-gorka-trump-promised-im-not-leaving-white-house/

[13] https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/05/01/daily-press-briefing-press-secretary-sean-spicer-43

[14] http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/05/07/gorka-smites-haters-radical-islamists-jerusalem-post-speech/

[15] I’m speaking of course of James Comey’s abrupt firing.

[16] https://lobelog.com/why-is-trump-adviser-wearing-medal-of-nazi-collaborators/

[17] http://forward.com/fast-forward/363065/top-white-house-adviser-wears-nazi-collaborator-medal/

[18] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/01/31/steve-bannon-builds-a-new-node-of-power-in-the-trump-white-house

[19] http://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2014/06/15/how-us-policy-enabled-the-rise-of-al-qaeda-2-0-and-the-fall-of-iraq/

[20] http://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2014/06/06/war-then-war-now/

[21] http://www.breitbart.com/author/sebastian-gorka/

[22] http://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2016/06/24/6-things-obama-doesnt-want-know-isis/

[23] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/24/opinion/the-islamophobic-huckster-in-the-white-house.html

[24] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/30/us/politics/sebastian-gorka-white-house.html

[25] http://lobelog.com/why-is-trump-adviser-wearing-medal-of-nazi-collaborators/

[26] The timing was also terribly unfortunate for the Trump administration, which was dealing with a PR catastrophe after failing to mention Jews in an official Holocaust Remembrance Day statement on January 27th.

[27] http://forward.com/news/national/366181/exclusive-nazi-allied-group-claims-top-trump-aide-sebastian-gorka-as-sworn/

[28] http://forward.com/fast-forward/366234/what-is-vitezi-rend-the-ally-of-the-nazis-that-sebastian-gorka-joined/

[29] http://forward.com/news/national/366181/exclusive-nazi-allied-group-claims-top-trump-aide-sebastian-gorka-as-sworn/

[30] http://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/sebastian-gorka-made-nazi-linked-vitezi-rend-proud-wearing-its-n742851?cid=public-rss_20170425

[31] https://www.britannica.com/biography/Miklos-Nagybanyai-Horthy

[32] https://books.google.hu/books?id=c2ISDQAAQBAJ&pg=PA68#v=onepage&q&f=false

[33] http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/right-wing-extremists-cultivate-horthy-cult-in-hungary-a-836526.html

[34] http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/right-wing-extremists-cultivate-horthy-cult-in-hungary-a-836526.html

[35] https://books.google.hu/books?id=c2ISDQAAQBAJ&pg=PA68#v=onepage&q&f=false

[36] http://forward.com/news/national/366181/exclusive-nazi-allied-group-claims-top-trump-aide-sebastian-gorka-as-sworn/

[37] My emphasis. http://www.vitezirend.co.hu/Publications/Newsletter%2001%202009.pdf

[38] https://fam.state.gov/searchapps/viewer?format=html&query=vitezi&links=VITEZI&url=/FAM/09FAM/09FAM030207.html

[39] http://forward.com/news/national/366181/exclusive-nazi-allied-group-claims-top-trump-aide-sebastian-gorka-as-sworn/

[40] http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/right-wing-extremists-cultivate-horthy-cult-in-hungary-a-836526.html

[41] http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/right-wing-extremists-cultivate-horthy-cult-in-hungary-a-836526.html

[42] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-hungary-farright-horthy-protest-idUSBRE9A20B020131103

[43] http://www.economist.com/news/europe/21567961-politicians-all-stripes-rally-protest-against-marton-gyongyosis-speech-united-against-jobbik

[44] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Daily_Stormer

[45] http://www.dailystormer.com/jobbik-celebrates-the-94th-anniversary-of-hero-horthys-march-into-budapest/

[46] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-hungary-antisemitism-idUSBRE8AQ0L920121127

[47] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-hungary-antisemitism-idUSBRE8AQ0L920121127

[48] http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/sites/default/files/Jobbik-Party-Fact-Sheet-final.pdf

[49] Jobbik apparently denies this.

[50] http://forward.com/news/national/364085/sebastian-gorka-trump-aide-forged-key-ties-to-anti-semitic-groups-in-hunga/?attribution=tag-article-listing-4-headline&attribution=tag-article-listing-4-headline

[51] http://forward.com/news/national/364085/sebastian-gorka-trump-aide-forged-key-ties-to-anti-semitic-groups-in-hunga/?attribution=tag-article-listing-4-headline&attribution=tag-article-listing-4-headline

[52] http://forward.com/news/national/367937/exclusive-controversial-trump-aide-sebastian-gorka-backed-violent-anti-semi/

[53] http://www.politics.hu/20131211/hungarian-guard-ban-does-not-violate-freedom-of-assembly-says-strasbourg-court/

[54] http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2017/05/07/gorka-smites-haters-radical-islamists-jerusalem-post-speech/

[55] http://www.breitbart.com/big-journalism/2017/02/14/gorka-fake-news-left-media-attempts-smear-sebastian-gorka-nazi-sympathizer/

[56] http://www.breitbart.com/national-security/2017/03/21/gorka-defenders-blast-guilt-by-association-attack-as-innuendo-and-outright-fiction/

[57] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/24/opinion/the-islamophobic-huckster-in-the-white-house.html?_r=0

[58] http://forward.com/news/371271/sebastian-gorkas-speech-vs-the-facts/

[59] My emphasis. http://www.haaretz.com/us-news/1.787811

[60] http://forward.com/news/371271/sebastian-gorkas-speech-vs-the-facts/

[61] http://www.haaretz.com/us-news/1.787811

[62] http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-1.777484

[63] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/steve-bannon-israel-american-jews_us_582cbc4ee4b030997bbd266f

[64] https://theintercept.com/2016/11/16/steve-bannon-made-breitbart-space-pro-israel-writers-anti-semitic-readers/

[65] http://forward.com/news/israel/354402/how-steve-bannon-and-breitbart-news-can-be-pro-israel-and-anti-semitic-at-t/

[66] http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/senators-durbin-cardin-blumenthal-request-investigation-gorka-immigration-status

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