The horror show that is the current administration wouldn’t be complete without a bearded Central European sporting an aristocratic medal and speaking with a vaguely continental accent.
Meet Sebastian Gorka, Ph.D. (he makes a point of using those letters), or, as he has sometimes styled himself, Sebastian Lukács von Gorka.
The self-styled terrorism expert is now a deputy assistant to the president, brought into the White House by the Abominable Bannon from Breitbart, where he was “national security editor.” Remember, this is the joint where Milo the Unspeakable was “tech editor.”
Gorka is part of the Strategic Initiatives Group, a sort of parallel National Security Council that functions as Bannon’s backup base in case Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, the surprisingly sane new national security adviser, boots him from the NSC, where he apparently appointed himself. Interestingly, it has emerged in recent days that Gorka may not have the proper security clearance for this post, or any other.
Gorka constantly assailed the Obama administration for refusing to spell out “radical Islamic extremism” and has boasted: “There’s a new sheriff in town, Donald Trump.”
Yet less than a year ago, he was not so keen on the man he now works for, telling CNN, “On the right, the Republican side, we have the New York real estate mogul who’s very full of bluster, full of Sturm und Drang, makes lots of statements about how we’re going to win and how the U.S. Army is going to be undefeatable, but there’s no depth. There’s no plan. There’s no strategy. So I can’t judge him because he’s really a black hole, so the last one that’s really serious is Senator Cruz.”
It seems likely then, that Gorka’s loyalty lies less with Trump than with Bannon and his apocalyptic worldview. And if you want to bring on the end of the world, Trump is a pretty good bet.
Few people outside his ideological camp are impressed with Doc Gorka’s credentials.
Gorka’s calling card is a book titled Defeating Jihad, yet he admittedly does not know Arabic. His doctoral thesis, for which a Hungarian university granted him a degree, has been scorned by academics and was largely copied from a piece his wife previously wrote for the right-wing journal Human Events.
“He thinks the government and intelligence agencies don’t know anything about radicalization, but the government knows a lot and thinks he’s nuts,” a former CIA analyst told The Washington Post.
Said a professor at the Marine Corps University, where Gorka had a teaching job privately bankrolled by the chairman of the Heritage Foundation: “The guy he was on Fox News is the guy he was here — bombastic and a showman.”
Retired Col. Peter Mansoor, a former top aide to Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq who helped rewrite the Army’s counterinsurgency manual, was a bit more measured, telling Politico, “What I’ve heard has not been complimentary.”
The centrist foreign policy scholar and pundit Dan Drezner, in a Washington Post column couched as friendly advice to Gorka, wrote: “Until you took a position with the White House, no one had bothered to take your work seriously.”
As László Bartus, a Hungarian-American journalist who knew Gorka when he lived in Hungary around the turn of the century, put it: “Then the unanimous opinion was that this man is a fortune hunter and a con man, who wriggles his way in everywhere, where he convinces everybody of his extraordinary expertise, when actually the only thing he is an expert on is extremist incitement. This picture of him among those who knew him in Budapest has not changed since.”
Gorka was born in Britain to Hungarian exiles, and lived in Hungary for a number of years after the fall of communism.
Questions began to be raised about this peculiar man when he attended a Trump inaugural ball wearing an old-fashioned Hungarian jacket with a medal from the Vitezi Rend, a knightly order set up by Adm. Miklos Horthy, the reactionary, anti-Semitic ruler of Hungary from 1920 to 1944, who brought Hungary into World War II as Hitler’s ally. Horthy’s reign began with the counterrevolutionary White Terror, when thousands of leftists, mostly Jews, were slaughtered, and ended with the Hungarian police packing 450,000 Jews into boxcars for transport to Auschwitz, where 90 percent of them went directly to the gas chambers.
This was in the spring and summer of 1944, when Germany was clearly losing the war, and enough reports had emerged from the death camps to make the Hungarians’ claim that they thought their Jews were being “resettled” ludicrous. It was one of the last major phases of the Holocaust, and the most “preventable” (it was all preventable, of course).
The Vitezi Rend was listed by the U.S. State Department as a Nazi collaborator organization, and its members were given property that was stolen from “resettled” Jews.
Gorka says he was wearing the medal as a tribute to his father, a “freedom fighter” who was jailed, tortured and exiled by Hungary’s Communist regime, and that “my parents suffered under both the Nazis and the Communists.” Perhaps. Indeed his father was only 15 at the end of the World War II, but the Hungarian fascists had youths of that age who dumped the Jews of Budapest into the Danube, so mark me as at best agnostic at that point.
Then the Forward, a Jewish newspaper, came out a few weeks ago with “an investigation into Gorka’s activities from 2002 to 2007, while he was active in Hungarian politics and journalism, found that he had close ties then to Hungarian far-right circles, and has in the past chosen to work with openly racist and anti-Semitic groups and public figures.”
You can read the sordid details there if you wish. In brief, Hungary now has an authoritarian, ultranationalistic government under Viktor Orban, and much of its opposition is even worse. The Orban government has been putting up statues to Miklos Horthy and his buddies all over the place. It also gets along chummily with Vladimir Putin and kindred spirits across Europe like Marine Le Pen.
Gorka and his defenders say he is being “smeared” and that the Washington “swamp” is out for another scalp after getting the patriot Mike Flynn.
The administration’s most loyal (and stupid) lapdog, Sean Hannity, asked Gorka how he was holding up under the “Alinsky-style attacks” (those pesky Jews again).
The “knight” is nothing if not feisty, and he’s not the type to go quietly. If I had to wager, I’d say he’ll last in the White House as long as his patron Bannon does. And Bannon will last as long as Trump, which is an open question at this point.
What Gorka, even if he has little role in policy and serves mainly as a talking head, does illustrate is that the “America first”administration harbors some pretty un-American influences, from a time not so long ago and a continent not so far away.