Updated April 3.
Sebastian Gorka, President Trump’s deputy assistant, and his chief adviser on counter-terrorism, has undisputed ties to the Vitézi Rend — a far-right Hungarian group who were close allies of the Nazis in World War II. Born in Britain to Hungarian parents, he became a naturalized American citizen in 2012 after marrying Katherine Cornell. No one has suggested that there is evidence he is anti-Semitic or an enemy of Israel but the ongoing political affiliations of White House advisers matter. Here is the actual evidence under discussion, and why it matters.
1. The Medal
Sebastian Gorka wore a medal awarded by Vitézi Rend (Order of Knights), a far-right, nativist Hungarian group at the Trump inauguration. Although belatedly saying that it was worn in honor of his father, he has refused to comment on why he would wear a medal from a group that is, apparently, still proudly anti-Semitic.
2. The “V.” Members of the Vitézi Rend, and only members, are entitled to sign themselves Vitézi, or “v.” Gorka signed himself “v.” twice in official documents. First on his (2007) PhD, and second to Congress when he testified before the House Armed Services Committee, Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities, on June 22, 2011.
3. The Vitézi Rend Leaders Three separate leaders of the group have said that Gorka is a member.
“Of course he was sworn in,” said Kornél Pintér — a leader of the Vitézi Rend in Western Hungary.
“Of course, only after the oath,” György Kerekes, a current member of the Vitézi Rend, told the Forward when asked if anyone may use the initial “v.” without going through the Vitézi Rend’s application process and an elaborate swearing-in ceremony.
Imre Fehér, another local Vitézi Rend leader, wrote: “Kornél Pintér briefed you in detail about vitéz Sebastian Gorka and his late father,” referring specifically and emphatically to Gorka as “vitéz,” the honorific the group gives to sworn members of the organization.
4. The Video Interview In an August 2007 interview with Hungarian television, the future White House senior aide explicitly affirms his party’s and his own support for the black-vested Hungarian Guard (Magyar Gárda) — a group later condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for attempting to promote an “essentially racist” legal order. The video was obtained by the Forward and subtitled.
Sebastian Gorka: What Is The Evidence, And Why Does It Matter?
What We Know
1. No Comment
Despite over a month of opportunity and requests from the Forward, Lobelog and others, Gorka has refused to officially deny or disavow his reported affiliation, stating only that he has always “been a committed opponent of anti-Semitism, racism and totalitarianism.”
2. No Apparent Security Clearance
As of March 3, Gorka also appeared to lack any official security clearance for his job, suggesting that the vetting operation is still unsure of his suitability.
3. The Oath
I, Vitez [name], swear on the Holy Crown that I know the Order’s goals and code, and based on the orders of the Captain and Order Superiors will follow them for the rest of my life. I never betrayed my Hungarianness, and was never and am not currently a member of an anti-national or secret organization. So help me God.
4. Conflicting Reports
After the Forward made public the assertions by Pintér, Fehér and Kerekes that Gorka was a current sworn member of Vitézi Rend — to which Gorka had no comment — an opinion piece at Tablet quoted a one-on-one conversation with Gorka saying “I have never been a member of the Vitez Rend. I have never taken an oath of loyalty to the Vitez Rend. Since childhood, I have occasionally worn my father’s medal and used the ‘v.’ initial to honor his struggle against totalitarianism.”
That evening (March 16) the White House press office responded briefly to the Forward with an official statement from Gorka, addressing his attitude to anti-Semitism and totalitarianism, but not his membership of the Vitézi Rend, not his attitude to the group, and not its relation to his immigration status.
“I’ve been a committed opponent of anti-Semitism, racism and totalitarianism all my life.”
What It Would Mean If Gorka Is A Vitéz?
1. A Sworn Hungarian Nationalist In The White House
In a clear conflict of interest, it would mean that a sworn Hungarian nativist and member of an openly anti-Semitic group is one of the American president’s top advisers.
2. A Vitéz Speaking For The White House
Even if Gorka is part of the group fighting against its anti-Semitic factions, it would be inappropriate for a vitéz to address the media on such topics as the Holocaust.
3. American Counter-Terrorism And Nazi-Allied Groups
If Gorka were part of the Vitézi Rend then someone with far-right extremist links to Hungary’s fringe politics is in charge of America’s counter-terrorism effort, including advising on domestic far-right terrorists.
4. An Illegal Immigrant?
His status as a legal immigrant and as a naturalized citizen could be subject to federal challenge since the State Department’s Foreign Affairs Manual specifies that members of the Vitézi Rend “are presumed to be inadmissible” to the country under the Immigration and Nationality Act. Both the immigration and naturalization process require applicants to disclose affiliations to such groups, and failure to do so can render one’s status vulnerable to being reversed. There is no statute of limitation on the disclosure requirement.
Sebastian Gorka: The Evidence, The Importance
Dan Friedman is the director of content and communications at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America. Formerly the executive editor and whisky correspondent of the Forward, he is the author of an illuminating (and excellent value) book about Tears for Fears, the 80s emo rock band.