The American Jewish Committee has called on the White House to “look into new revelations” about the background of President Trump’s chief counter-terrorism advisor, Sebastian Gorka.
In a statement released Tuesday, the Jewish civil rights organization cited video of a 2007 TV interview with Gorka, first reported yesterday by the Forward, in which the future deputy assistant to the president voices support for the formation of a right-wing paramilitary militia led by known racists and anti-Semites.
In the interview, Gorka, a U.S immigrant who was then leading a new right-wing political party in Hungary, is careful to make clear that Jobbik, a party with a long history of anti-Semitism, was behind the initiative. He alleged that Fidesz, a larger right-wing party also quietly backed the move. But asked directly if he and his party also supported it, Gorka replied, “That is so”—a response in line with statements on his party’s website supporting the nascent Guard.
Gorka dismissed the concerns of Hungarian Jews and others who pointed to the Guard’s adoption of uniforms and racial rhetoric reminiscent of Hungary’s World War II-era Arrow Cross militia, a pro-Nazi unit responsible for turning thousands of Jews over to the Nazis and killing thousands more themselves.
The Guard was banned in 2009 via several court rulings on the grounds that its anti-Roma marches violated the rights of the Hungarian Roma community. In 2013, two of its members were found guilty in a string of racially motivated murders of Hungarian Roma, including the killing of a 5-year-old.
In its statement, the AJC noted several previous disclosures about Gorka’s past in Hungary, first reported by the Forward. “Significantly,” the group noted, citing Gorka’s role as co-founder of the New Democratic Coalition, his Hungarian political party, “his associates in launching the party were former members of Jobbik, an outright racist and anti-Semitic group.” The Jewish advocacy group also noted the claims of leading members of the Vitezi Rend, a far-right honorary order that collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, that Gorka was a sworn member of their organization.
“According to American immigration laws, membership in it constitutes grounds for denial of admission to the United States,” the AJC noted.
In a March 19 interview with the Telegraph, a British paper, Gorka said, I never swore allegiance formally” to the group, explaining, “I inherited the title of Vitez through the merits of my father,” who was honored by the Vitezi Rend. In an earlier interview, he simply denied he was ever a member.
In issuing its statement, the AJC joins several other groups and lawmakers who have raised questions about Gorka, or called outright for his dismissal.
Three Democratic U.S. senators—Dick Durbin of Illinois, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Ben Cardin of Maryland—have called for an investigation into whether Gorka entered the United States and later obtained U.S. citizenship legitimately, given allegations of his Vitezi Rend membership. Last February, the Anti-Defamation League called on Gorka to disavow the “openly racist and anti-Semitic hate groups” he was linked to during his time in Hungarian politics in the mid-2000s.
Gorka has not responded to requests from the Forward for comment on its stories.
Larry Cohler-Esses is the Forward’s senior investigative writer. He joined the staff in December 2008. Previously, he served as Editor-at-Large for the Jewish Week, an investigative reporter for the New York Daily News, and as a staff writer for the Jewish Week as well as the Washington Jewish Week. Larry has written extensively on the Arab-Jewish relations both in the United States and the Middle East. His articles have won awards from the Society for Professional Journalists, the Religious Newswriters Association, the New York Press Association and the Rockower Awards for Jewish Journalism, among others. Larry Cohler-Esses can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.