by Eli Clifton and Jim Lobe
Trump counter-terrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka has offered a series of inconsistent reactions to The Forward’s report that he is a sworn member of Vitezi Rend. This chivalric order was founded in the 1920s by Adm. Horthy, a self-described anti-Semite who ruled Hungary from 1920 until 1944 and who allied his country with Nazi Germany during World War II. In an unsurprisingly friendly interview with Breitbart today, Gorka passed up the opportunity to repeat his insistence that he was never a member of the organization.
After declining to respond to queries from LobeLog, where photos of Gorka wearing the Vitezi Rend medal at Trump’s inaugural ball were first published, and the Forward, which interviewed senior Vitezi Rend officials who said Gorka was sworn in as a member, he told Tablet on March 16th:
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.
Shortly thereafter, Gorka, following weeks of declining to respond to the Forward’s questions about his right-wing ties, issued a statement through the White House. Remarkably, it avoided any mention of his relationship with Vitezi Rend despite the fact that the Forward’s story was getting widespread attention in the media. His statement simply asserted: “I’ve been a committed opponent of anti-Semitism, racism and totalitarianism all my life. Any suggestion otherwise is false and outrageous.”
Two days later, however, The Telegraph asked Gorka about his relationship:
He insisted that he was not a full member of the Order of Vitez.
“By the bye laws I inherited the title of Vitez through the merits of my father, but I never swore allegiance formally,” he said.
Gorka had gone from “never” being a member to “never [having] swor[n] allegiance formally,” a denial that appeared to hedge his unequivocal statement to the Tablet.
Today, Breitbart, which has dedicated five posts over the past month to defending Gorka, its former national security editor, conducted an interview with him in which he alleged that he was the target of “Leftist media” bent on smearing him and denying the election mandate of American voters. Remarkably, however, the interview entirely ignored the question that has dominated coverage of him during the past week: whether or not he is a sworn member, like his father, of Vitezi Rend. Instead, he stressed that he and his wife have visited Israel frequently.
The question at this point is not whether he is a Nazi—no credible source has claimed that he is. And although he has clearly “palled around” with anti-Semites, there is no specific evidence that he holds anti-Semitic (as opposed to Islamophobic) views. The question now is about his credibility.
As noted above, high-level and long-time members of Vitezi Rend interviewed by The Forward have insisted that he was sworn in as a member. Lili Bayer and Larry Cohler-Esses reported:
Gorka, who pledged his loyalty to the United States when he took American citizenship in 2012, is himself a sworn member of the Vitézi Rend, according to both Gyula Soltész — a high-ranking member of the Vitézi Rend’s central apparatus — and Kornél Pintér — a leader of the Vitézi Rend in Western Hungary who befriended Gorka’s father through their activities in the Vitézi Rend.
Soltész, who holds a national-level leadership position at the Vitézi Rend, confirmed to the Forward in a phone conversation that Gorka is a full member of the organization.
‘Of course he was sworn in,” Pintér said, in a phone interview. “I met with him in Sopron [a city near Hungary’s border with Austria]. His father introduced him.”
“In today’s world it is rare to meet anyone as well-bred as Sebastian or his father, Pali,” he added.
And Gorka, who wrote his PhD dissertation and testified before Congress under the name “Sebastian L.v. Gorka” may have signaled his membership through the use of “v.,” a privilege extended only to full-fledged members.
The Forward reported:
“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.
Gorka’s response to the charge he is a member of a historically anti-Semitic group has, in less than a week, gone from an outright denial to a denial, as The Telegraph put it, of “formal membership.” And given an opportunity by Breitbart today to say anything he wished, he chose not to address the issue of the week but instead, in true Trumpian fashion, to attack those who have raised the question as politically motivated.