Last week, the New York-based Orthodox Jewish print magazine Ami featured an extended interview with Sebastian Gorka. In his most candid interview since arriving at the White House, the Deputy Assistant to President Trump went on the record with Ami’s reporter Jake Turx. Ami is a weekly glossy magazine sold in America’s largest Orthodox communities.
Accusations Against a Presidential Adviser: Deputy Assistant to the President Dr. Sebastian Gorka has a blunt talk with Turx about his past and his associations
When Admiral Miklos Horthy, regent of the Kingdom of Hungary, created the shadowy Order of Vitez (in Hungarian, Vitezi Rend) following World War I, observers could not have imagined that a medal awarded by an offshoot of this order would jeopardize the career of a counter-terrorism expert in the Trump administration nearly 100 years later.
The Trump White House has been facing a repeated accusation: that its staff includes people who harbor anti-Semitic attitudes. That assertion first dogged chief adviser Stephen K. Bannon for a long period. Accusations against the president and Press Secretary Sean Spicer were also not long in coming.
But one of the most serious sets of accusations of anti-Semitism against a Trump administration official were leveled at Dr. Sebastian Gorka, a deputy assistant to the president and an expert on counterterrorism.
Dr. Gorka was born in 1970 in the UK to refugees who had fled Hungary in 1956, after the Hungarian Revolution. In a series of articles, first in The Forward and then in other publications, journalists have made connections between Dr. Gorka and anti-Semitic figures in the World War II era and modern Hungary.
His path into the White House led through several countries. While studying in university in the UK, Gorka became a member of an intelligence unit of the British Army reserves. He later moved to Hungary and worked for the Hungarian Defense Ministry and then reportedly later as an adviser to the current prime minister of Hungary, Viktor Orban, though he later was involved in a conservative political party competing with Orban’s Fidesz party.
In the US since 2008, Gorka worked in a number of academic positions, including at several military-affiliated universities and programs. He became a US citizen in 2012.
Gorka has been best known for his analysis of militant Islam and the threat of Islamic terrorism, including in his book Defeating Jihad. He has been a frequent commentator on Fox News, and he was the national security editor for Breitbart News prior to being chosen to advise President Trump.
Gorka’s wife Katharine is also an expert on counterterrorism; she has served as the head of several private analysis firms and think tanks, and has also written for Breitbart.
The recent controversy surrounding Dr. Gorka stemmed from his decision to attend the Inauguration of President Donald J. Trump wearing a medal of the Vitezi Rend. Horthy, the founder of the order, collaborated with the Nazis, and members of the Vitezi Rend were involved in the deportation of Jews to the concentration camps, and Dr. Gorka’s asso- ciation with the order created outrage after media reports focused on it.
In addition, Dr. Gorka’s strongly conservative positions on matters relating to foreign policy and counterterrorism had clearly not endeared him to some members of the media who have reported on his background.
Much of the media coverage has suggested that Dr. Gorka has failed to adequately answer questions about his association with the Vitezi Rend and contemporary right-wing groups in Hungary with anti-Semitic members or ideals.
Last week, amid rumors that Dr. Sebastian Gorka had been hired by the president went viral, he agreed to meet with Ami Magazine on the White House’s northwest drive-way, right outside the entrance to the West Wing, for an exclusive interview.
Dr. Gorka agreed to address all of the outstanding rumors and concerns, as well as speak about his past. Nothing was off the proverbial table.
Has anybody produced proof of something you have done, said or written that proves you are an anti-Semite?
No. Even though I have written hundreds of articles and given hundreds of interviews. Don’t you think that is strange? Whenever I mention Israel or the Jewish people it is always in admiration and support. This is why the president is utterly justifed when he talks of fake news.
How frustrated are you about the narrative being told about you?
Very. Actually, it’s galling. I don’t talk about it because I don’t think it’s seemly to talk about stuff like that. My father was nine years old when World War II started. By the end of the war, when the Germans took control of Hungary, he was only 13 or 14. In his memoirs he talks about how he used to escort his Jewish classmates to school to make sure the German soldiers didn’t spit on them or beat them up. That was my father. Afterwards, he resisted the Communists and was eventually arrested. It often happened that the secret police who tortured him were the same guys who, only a few months before, had been Nazis. All they’d done was change uniforms.
For these people to talk about anti-Semitism in my family—what can I say? I can certainly get annoyed or angry. Not one piece of evidence has ever been found to support anything anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli. It is pure politics. The Trump administration is the most pro-Israeli, pro-Jewish White House we have seen in decades.
So why do you think that proof of your father’s history hasn’t quelled these charges?
Because the people who write these articles aren’t interested in the truth. If they were, the rumors would have been killed within 24 hours. My Jewish friends have done an amazing job of spreading the real truth even without me asking for their help, like the amazing article by David Goldman in [PJMedia] or others in Tablet. What happens, though, is that when people who hate the President see how resilient he is, they go after his proxies, people like Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Stephen Miller, Sean Spicer or me. We’re just replacement targets. I realize that.
Were you ever a sworn member of the Vitezi Rend?
Does Vitezi Rend offer partial membership?
No. If someone is a member of Vitez, the eldest child can inherit the honorific. But one only becomes a member if he is over the age of 18 and takes the oath. I never took an oath, to any version of the Order.
The controversy began when you wore a medal given only to members of the Order to one of President Trump’s inaugural balls. Considering the reaction, would you wear it again?
I did it to honor my parents and everything my family went through under the Nazi occupation and under Communism. Right now, given the incredible lies that are being spread about me, I would have to think twice about wearing it again. If there weren’t any negative repercussions for the administration, then I’d like to think that I would do so in memory of my family’s sacrifices. But given what the fake news has done, how they’ve attacked my dead parents and they’re coming out against my wife and how it’s affecting my children, I’d certainly think twice about it.
Do you regret having worn the medal in the first place?
No, I don’t.
You’ve said that you would wear your father’s medal on meaningful occasions. There’s an undated, black-and-white photograph of you as a young man wearing it that’s been oating around the Internet. Could you provide details behind that photo?
That was the day I got married. The picture was taken just hours before my wedding.
Historically, is it possible to be a member of the Vitez Order without being anti-Semitic?
Of course. There are members who have been recognized as friends of Israel, people who received awards from the State of Israel in recognition of their service to the Jewish people. One member, Vilmos Nagy de Nagybaczon, fought against anti-Semitism so bravely that Yad Vashem gave him its coveted “Righteous Among the Nations” award in 1965. But a lot of people in the media will never print that because it isn’t politically expedient. Their true objective is to attack Israel’s strongest friends, especially those who work for President Trump.
David Reaboi, a Jewish Hungarian friend of mine, has written a lot great stuff about this. The Vitez was created in 1920 to reward Hungarian veterans who had fought in World War I. As things changed in the region, of course things got more complicated. Individual members of the Order did things in support of the fascist Arrow Cross, and then later some individuals committed war crimes. That’s not disputable.
My father was awarded his medal in 1979 by an offshoot of the Order that functioned in exile, outside Hungary, after the Communists banned it in 1948. The recipients were patriotic Hungarians, and my dad was recognized for his resistance to the Communist dictatorship. How does that make of us fascists or Nazi sympathizers? I wasn’t even born until 1970. It’s absurd. It’s just a political attack.
While I read the account of your father escorting his Jewish friend to school in the English version of his book Budapest Betrayed, it has been reported that it doesn’t appear in the Hungarian version. Is that true?
I don’t know. The book was first published in the UK in English and then again in Budapest after the fall of the Berlin Wall, when several pertinent documents had been declassified. I never checked all of the versions side by side so I cannot confirm either way. What were they speculating?
What do you think they were speculating? Perhaps it’s similar to how certain political leaders in the Arab world will say one thing in Arabic and another thing in English?
Oh, great. So now we are Hamas?
What about the reports of your mother’s business relationship with [infamous Holocaust denier] David Irving?
They didn’t have a “business relationship.” My mother was a linguist who spoke seven languages. She worked with Irving for the BBC before Irving acquired his international reputation as a Holocaust denier. He wrote a book [about] 1956, and because he didn’t speak Hungarian he needed her services to translate some original Hungarian documents. That’s the entire story. The idea that my dead mother’s name is being used in the same sentence as Holocaust denial is utterly shameful.
People point to some articles you wrote for the Magyar Demokrata, a magazine that has been described as “an anti-Semitic weekly.”
I was approached by one of its deputy editors. This individual, as far as I know, had nothing anti-Semitic in his background. He was disturbed by how anti-American and anti-Western the far right-wing parties were becoming. He asked me to write about the development of conservative thought in Hungary after the fall of communism, especially its implicit embrace of very unhealthy historic tendencies, the most disturbing of which were irredentism, xenophobia, and veiled as well as explicit anti-Semitism. All of my efforts were aimed at excising these pernicious attitudes from the body politic and establishing a conservative movement that was pro-Western, pro-American, and free of all historic hatreds. I still have every single one of those articles. Anyone can see them all for themselves.
Apparently there’s an interview you gave on Hungarian TV in 2007 which some have interpreted as support for the Hungarian Guard, a paramilitary group with extremist leanings, although others have said that your statements were taken out of context. Why should Americans who don’t speak Hungarian believe one point of view over the other?
The video wasn’t even taken out of context; it was doctored down to two minutes. All of my critique of fascism was edited out. Don’t forget that, only a year before, the Socialist prime minister admitted to lying in order to win the election and violent riots broke out across the country. As a result, it was generally recognized that the Hungarian people should be able to protect themselves. I mentioned in the interview that there was nothing wrong with creating an organization to help a populace protect itself and that the principle of organized self-defense was sound, as is practiced in Israel, Switzerland, or enshrined in America’s Second Amendment.
There’s a museum in Budapest called the House of Terror. It’s located in the same building that used to be the headquarters for the Arrow Cross Party and then in 1948 became the headquarters for the Communist secret police. Right at the entrance there’s a famous display, a mannequin that slowly rotates. Half of its uniform is from the fascist regime, and the other half is the uniform of the Communist secret police. This was done to demonstrate that so many members of the fascist regime changed their alle- giances after the takeover in order to survive. That’s how some of the of officers who tortured my father in the basement of that building in 1950 were in fact originally Nazis.
Was the original Order banned by the Soviets because it was anti-Communist, pro-Hitler, a combination of both, or something else entirely?
Because it was a threat to the Communists. And also because it was patriotic and associated with an independent Hungary.
How would you identify the far-right Jobbik Party? Would you consider it nationalistic?
I’d go beyond that. I’d call it racist and xenophobic. I spent 15 years in Hungary to push back on things like that. If you’ve ever read anything I’ve written, I’m a conservative. And if you want to be a conservative you’ve got to get rid of anti-Semitism and xenophobia.
I grew up under Margaret Thatcher. I looked at Ronald Reagan as a true statesman and wanted to see that kind of conservatism in the land of my parents. But the deep-rooted, unhealthy trends were so resilient that I realized it would be a decades-long effort. But my work was precisely against people who wanted to rekindle anti-Semitism and irredentism, like the members of Jobbik.
There’s a gentleman named Csanád Szegedi who had a leadership position in Jobbik and is also considered a founding member of the Hungarian Guard. He later discovered that he’s Jewish and has been trying to in influence them to change. Now that you’re in the spotlight, has it ever occurred to you that you could do the same thing and reach out to members of the Vitez?
It’s not out of the question, but that’s not my mandate right now. I’m an American citizen and a political appointee of the president. My job is to do whatever the president wants me to do. If the White House would want me to push back on irredentism in Hungary or anywhere else, that would be another story. When people ask me if I’m coming or going I say, “I’ll go wherever the president thinks I can be of use.”
Where did the rumors that you had been fired come from?
Some article in the Washington Examiner or the Daily Beast, I think.
And you say that there is no basis to them?
I’m here, aren’t I?
Then why you?
That’s easy. Because I have a reputation for being hard on jihadists and the threat they present to America. I talk about it on television and push back on liberal nostrums, so I’m already persona non grata with the left. Plus, I work for the president.
Do you know how you are viewed by the average American?
If you go on Facebook or Twitter I’ve got 130,000 followers who say nice things about me. Then you have people who think I’m a Nazi and have never read my book, Defeating Jihad.
But the average person who doesn’t follow you on social media and only occasionally hears your name sees something mysterious about your background.
Mysterious? After The Forward wrote 39 attack articles in a single month about me?
But perception is very important in America; surely you realize that. You’ve got a British accent, you’re a former Hungarian politician and you’ve got this medal from some shadowy group that was originally founded by Miklos Horthy. It’s very easy for people to believe things about someone with such an interesting history.
The great Ed Luttwak, the Jewish Hungarian political scientist and historian, once told me, “You belong to a special category of people who are patriotic and love America but have an outsider’s perspective, because you grew up in the UK speaking Hungarian and spent 15 years of your life in Hungary.” I am not the average cultural product of America. I love it, but I do have an outsider’s perspective.
You’ve tweeted: “Sharing a room with Helen Keller does not make one blind; sharing a subway car with Albert Einstein does not make one a genius.” Surely you’d agree that people are influenced by their surroundings, wouldn’t you?
That’s not my line. I only tweeted it. It was taken from an article on me that was written by Richard Miniter in Forbes. I was trying to say that what is being done to me is ascribing guilt by association.
I’d like to ask you about three gentlemen who are claiming that they knew you as a member of the Vitez. One is Gyula Soltész, described by The Forward as a high-ranking member of the Order’s central apparatus. The second is Kornél Pintér, described as a leader of the Vitezi Rend in Western Hungary who befriended your father. And the third is Csaba Gáspár, who according to the New York Daily News ran against you for mayor of Piliscsaba and lost. Do you know any of these people, and why do they claim that you were a member?
I have no idea who the rst person is. As for the second, I know a lot of people named Pintér; it’s a common name. The third guy obviously has an ax to grind because he ran against me in the election. None of them can con rm that I was a member of the Order. So again, it’s fake news.
You say you’ve known many people named Pintér. But were any of them members of the Order?
I remember one guy who was a professor, but I have no idea.
Why would these people say such things?
Because they know that I have a role in the US government. Maybe they have a vested interest, an agenda. I don’t know. You should ask them.
How do you think the media should have covered the story?
You’re asking the wrong question. That assumes that the people who write these articles about me are interested in the truth, and they’re clearly not. There was one big news organization that wrote a many-thousands-of-words-long article that was basically nothing more than an attack piece. The day it was published I got a phone call from a very good friend who told me that the journalist who wrote it had interviewed him for over 50 minutes but didn’t put any of it into the article. When I asked him if he’d said anything bad about me he said no, so I told him that was exactly why he wasn’t quoted. The only honest way to write an article like that is to do what you are doing right now, asking me these ques- tions face to face.
Did you make yourself available to these journalists?
In the beginning, yes. But once they started attacking me I figured, what’s the point? When I have a long discussion with Politico and then they do an attack piece, and the next week they want tips off the record? These people just don’t understand the concept of respecting the truth or how human relationships work.
To conclude on a more positive note, did you ever dream you’d be in the White House just nine years after moving here?
Of course not. Only in America can a legal immigrant arrive in a country and nine years later be working for the President of the United States. While whom you know is still important in this coun- try, America is still a meritocracy. I grew up in the UK, which is still very class-conscious. I saw that with own my parents, who were immigrants.
I also have to thank Donald J. Trump, the ultimate outsider president. He won despite the establishment, not because of its help. I think my unusual background, which enabled me to see the real dangers of totalitarianism, was perceived as a plus that could be applied to the jihadi threat. Add all these things together and you have a guy with a funny accent walking around the West Wing.
Does all this ever become business as usual?
Never. I pinch myself every day. You can never get used to it. America is the greatest nation man ever made, with Israel being the greatest one G-d ever made.
So if President Trump says, “Sebastian, you’re gone,” would you feel any resentment?
Absolutely not. He’s the boss. He is my employer, and I serve at his pleasure.