by Eli Clifton
A review of Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka’s comments over the past two years reveals a consistent dismissal of any suggestion that non-jihadist terrorism poses any threat to Americans. That position runs in parallel with President Donald Trump’s refusal to denounce white supremacists on Saturday, following the deadly attack on anti-neo-Nazi protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Trump’s initial statement took many by surprise. The White House, on Sunday, clarified that Trump’s controversial condemnation of “all forms of violence, bigotry and hatred” included “white supremacists, KKK, Neo-Nazi and all extremist groups.” On Monday, Trump bowed to pressure and declared, “those who cause violence in [racism’s] name are criminals and thugs, including the K.K.K., neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans.“
But the tone deaf response on Saturday, which brought criticism from prominent Republicans, was interpreted as the administration continuing its quiet embrace of the alt-right and white supremacists. Indeed, one of Trump’s close advisers has a lengthy history of publicly downplaying, if not outright rejecting, the threat posed by white supremacists and right-wing terrorism.
Controversial Trump counter-terrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka built his career around claiming expertise in terrorism and counter-terrorism operations, but a review of his comments over the past two years reveals a consistent dismissal of any suggestion that non-jihadist terrorism poses any threat to Americans.
Gorka has his own ties to the far right—including wearing the medal of a Hungarian Nazi collaborating group to Trump’s inaugural ball, backing a racist and anti-Semitic Hungarian militia in a 2007 television interview, and serving as national security editor of the alt-right website Breitbart—so it come as no great surprise that he takes offense at any suggestion that the far-right poses a domestic terrorism threat.
A review of Gorka’s assertions about right-wing terrorism made over the past two years reveals a series of factually inaccurate statements and a pattern of criticizing public policy on false and/or misleading bases.
On February 21, 2015, Gorka appeared on Fox News to argue that then-President Obama’s focus on counter-extremism programs was misguided. He said:
Think about it. We have tens of thousands of people in the Middle East and elsewhere and here in America who have committed themselves to the destruction of this great nation and we’re going to be focusing on the small clusters of right-wingers here in the United States? This is like saying after Pearl Harbor that Japan’s not a threat to America and Adolf Hitler’s not a threat to America. This could endanger American lives.
But the facts don’t support Gorka’s bellicose argument. Right-wing extremist terrorists have attempted nearly twice the number of domestic attacks as Islamist terrorists in recent years.
Data compiled by The Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute (full disclosure: I am currently a fellow at The Nation Institute and have been a reporting fellow at The Investigative Fund in the past) found 63 cases of Islamist domestic terrorism from January 2008 to the end of 2016. Seventy-six percent of those were foiled plots where the attack did not take place.
In that same period, right wing extremists attempted 115 attacks, 35% of which were foiled plots.
Lying about the sources of domestic terrorism is a pattern for Gorka.
Last week, Gorka told Breitbart Radio that the “fake news media,” represented by The New York Times’s Maggie Haberman, focused too much on white supremacist terrorism. He said:
Look at Maggie Haberman and her acolytes in the Fake News media who immediately have a conniption fit and say, ‘What about Oklahoma City?” What about Oklahoma City? A) that individual is not a jihadi. My comments were about jihadism post-September 11. Second, Timothy McVeigh had an accomplice. Second, by the way, this the one I love, that event was twenty-two years ago. Can you talk to me about the last sixteen years of hundreds of thousands of people killed in the Middle East by jihadis? It’s this constant: “Oh, it’s the white man. It’s the white supremacists. That’s the problem.’” No it isn’t, Maggie Haberman. Go to Sinjar. Go to the Middle East and tell me what the real problem is today. Go to Manchester.”
Even Gorka’s emphasis on European terrorist attacks is limited, as he either conveniently omitted or completely forgot about Anders Behring Breivik’s 2011 lone wolf terrorist attack in Oslo, Norway, which targeted the government and a left-wing children’s summer camp. Breivik killed 77 people and his was the worst attack in Norway since World War II.
On April 13, 2016, Gorka was interviewed by Steve Bannon on Breitbart Radio. Gorka described a conversation he had with a “pretty girl” from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) following a talk delivered at a state capital to the local police department. Gorka described the conversation:
‘Dr. Gorka, you’re clearly very clever, but I really disagree with most of your analysis. Because I am from the Department of Homeland Security’ – and she gives me her card, and she says, ‘You do know that the primary threat to these officers, and to America, is from right-wing extremists and militias.’”
Gorka responded to the DHS official:
“Really? Could you give me one example of a threat, of a plot as significant as San Bernardino, or the Boston bombing?”
The woman, according to Gorka, offered that the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing, which killed 168 people, as an example. Gorka responded that the bombing, at the time of the conversation, was twenty-one years ago, and scoffed:
“The guys I work with are not this woman. If you’re going to the Eighteen Alphas, to the Green Berets, to the special agents in the FBI, to the Marines who deploy to Iraq – if you look at our local, state law enforcement – all of those guys get it. They get it, and they’re angry at the institutional political correctness you discussed.”
Indeed, DHS is favorite target for Gorka due to its focus on right-wing extremist terrorists who, according to publicly available data, pose a far greater threat than Islamist terrorists. (Gorka’s wife, Katharine Gorka, has been a policy adviser at DHS since April 7th and was reportedly involved in the decision to end funding for a program to de-radicalize neo-Nazis.)
On June 12, 2016, Gorka Tweeted, “DHS says white supremacists primary threat to America. Not Jihadis. They said it to my face. Unreal.”
Correct! DHS says white supremacists primary threat to Americans. Not jihadis. They said it to my face. Unreal.
— Sebastian Gorka DrG (@SebGorka) June 12, 2016
On August 8th, Gorka went on MSNBC and rejected the concept of the “lone wolf terrorist,” such as the driver of the car that drove into a crowd of anti-neo-Nazi protesters in Charlottesville later that same week, saying, “That was a phrase invented by the last administration to make Americans stupid.”
In fact, the concept of the “lone wolf” terrorist was developed by white nationalist Louis Beam in the 1980s and later advocated by Tom Metzger, founder of the White Aryan Resistance, but Gorka wasn’t done yet. He went on:
“There never been a serious attack or a serious plot that was unconnected from ISIS or al-Qaeda, at least through the ideology and TTPs, tactics and training and techniques and procedures, that they supply through the internet — never happened, it’s bogus.”
Again, one could point to the Oklahoma City Federal Building bombing, the Charleston church shooting, or the fact that right-wing terrorist incidents dramatically outweigh Islamist or left wing domestic terrorist attacks, but at this point it seems clear that the facts don’t stand in the way of Gorka’s drumbeat of claims that right-wing terrorism doesn’t exist.
Following political blowback after the White House’s failure to denounce white supremacists and neo-Nazis on Saturday, Gorka might be facing some tough questions about the advice he’s been whispering in the president’s ear and his own associations with anti-Semitic and Nazi collaborating organizations in Hungary.