Sebastian Gorka, Donald Trump’s Chief Counter-Terrorism Advisor, has faced countless charges of anti-Semitism throughout his career. Most recently, the headlines surrounding Gorka refer to his alleged affiliation with the Vitézi Rend, an organization with supposed Nazi ties.
The Order of Vitéz, a 1920-founded Hungarian order of merit, was considered a state honor from 1920-1944—a period in which authoritarian regent Miklós Horthy ruled the country. During World War II, countless Hungarian government and military figures were members of the Order.
As a result, these members of the Order contributed to the Holocaust. Some, however, actively led the efforts against not only the Holocaust but also Hungary’s willingness to even enter the war. The U.S. Department of State, however, describes the Order as “Under the Direction of the Nazi Government.”
To understand the Order—and Gorka’s ties to it—it is imperative to explore its founding. Much like post-WW1 Germany, Hungary was forced to capitulate to the allied powers, primarily in terms of land loss. However, following the Treaty of Trianon, a constitutional assembly opted to return to a monarchy rather than pursue a democracy or a republic. In doing so, they installed Miklós Horthy.
Rather than serve as a traditional king, Horthy described himself as a “regent,” a term Dictionary.com defines as “a person appointed to administer a state because the monarch is a minor or absent or incapacitated.” Despite the supposed temporariness of this position, Horthy held the title and ruled Hungary from 1920-1944.
Horthy’s 24-year rule—and the establishment of the Order—is a mixed bag. He not only banned the Hungarian Communist Party but also the notoriously anti-Semitic Arrow Cross Party. In the late 1930s, Horthy reluctantly allied with Germany against the Soviet Union. Hitler rewarded Hungary by returning lands which the nation had previously lost to the allies. Although this sounds bad, Horthy and Hungary supported Polish refugees. For a while, they refused to participate in either the German war effort or the Holocaust. Horthy refused to hand over Hungarian Jews to German authorities. He did, however, enact countless anti-Semitic laws, which banned intermarriage and limited the representation of Jews in universities, entertainment, and the legal system, among other institutions.
He even attempted to secure a deal with the Allies. In October 1944, he announced that Hungary had withdrawn from the Axis and declared the armistice to the Allies. Germany promptly invaded and occupied Hungary, placing Horthy under arrest. Soon after, the fascist, anti-Semitic Arrow Cross Party was installed. Hungary began its own Holocaust, killing 200,000 Jews in the process.
The Vitézi Rend’s alleged Nazism is similar to Horthy’s. The Order established new titles of nobility, replacing traditional monarchical titles with “Vitéz.” Admittance to this Order was only available through demonstrated military merit. According to Hungarian sociologist and historian Viktor Karady, the Order “served as a strictly Christian gentry.”
Soon after Horthy’s disposal—and the Arrow Cross’ rise—the Order of Vitéz became tainted. Although anti-Semitism was not an official policy of the Order, it was a shared sentiment among many of its members. This sentiment is exemplified by the actions of László Endre and László Ferenczy. While Endre helped Adolf Eichmann collect and deport nearly 400,00 Hungarian Jews, Ferenczy gathered and sent Jews on a death march. Finally, the real estate confiscated from Jews was gifted to organizations supportive of the Nazis—of which the Order was included.
Other members of the Order, however, pursued actions which demonstrate a diametrically opposed worldview. According to Hungarian historian Róbert Kerepszki, countless members of the Order fought against the Nazis. Vilmos Nagy de Nagybaczon is the most famous, as he was even awarded the title of Righteous among the Nations for saving Jews. Similarly, Ferenc Koszorus deployed his troops to stop Jewish deportations allowing for the escape of 250,000 Jews from Budapest. There are other countless examples of Order members acting against the Nazis.
Since World War II, the Order has existed in numerous forms, with several groups claiming the title of Vitéz, as well as the usage of the original badge. The most notable of these if the Historical Order of Vitéz: a group which granted Paul Gorka—Sebastian’s father—their title in 1989. He received this title as a recognition of his resistance to the post-war Soviet occupation of Hungary.
Members of the Order utilize a “V.” at the beginning of their name as an abbreviation for Vitéz. Both Paul and Sebastian Gorka have repeatedly utilized this title.
As an advisor to Donald Trump, Gorka attended this January’s inauguration ball. At this ball, Gorka wore the medal of the Vitézi Rend. He later appeared on Fox News wearing a badge, tunic, and ring associated with the Order.
To sum up the controversy: Gorka inherited membership to a group which was the unofficial child of an organization with mixed attitudes towards Jews. While Gorka’s association with Vitézi Rend is far from a smoking gun of Nazism, his other actions haven’t exactly removed doubt.
Gorka once co-founded a political party with prominent members of the openly anti-Semitic Jobbik party. He also published a series of articles in an openly anti-Semitic newspaper, Magyar Demokrata.
In 2006, he took an active role in large anti-government demonstrations, serving as a translator, press coordination and advisor of Magyar Nemzeti Bizottság (Hungarian National Committee). In 2004, this organization’s newspaper, Magyar Jelen, referred to Jews as “Galician upstarts,” imploring the Hungarian people that “we should get them out,” “take back our country from them, take back our stolen fortunes,” adding for good measure that “these upstarts are sucking on our blood, getting rich off our blood.”
In 2007, Gorka—and his party—supported the black-vested Magyar Gárda (Hungarian Guard). This group was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights for promoting an “essentially racist” legal order. Asked on TV if he supported the establishment of this militia by the Jobbik party, he replied immediately, “that is so,” adding that it is a response to “a big societal need,” as Hungary’s official military “is sick, and totally reflects the state of Hungarian society.”
Gorka’s party, the New Democratic Coalition, proceeded to launch an assault on critics of the Guard, including U.S. Rep Tom Lantos. Lantos is a Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor who proposed legislation to bar Guard members from entering the U.S. In doing so, he cited the Guard’s affiliations with “the fascist Arrow Cross regime.” Members of the Guard have called Jews “Zionist rats” and “locusts” while discussing “Zionist-Bolshevik genocide.” One even went as far as to call Hungarian Jews “nation-destroyers.”
In an August 2007 letter, World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder and European Congress President Moshe Kantor implored Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány to address the militia, as the “impending creation of an armed guard, under the false guise of ‘sporting and shooting clubs,’ with uniforms resembling those worn by fascists in World War II” was a danger to democracy and should be stopped.
Much like the Trump administration’s Russia ties, there is no smoking gun. For both, however, where there is smoke, there is fire. Gorka’s purported anti-Semitism has been asserted—and can largely be assumed—due to his willingness to associate and work with openly anti-Semitic leaders and organizations. To put in bluntly: if you aren’t an anti-Semite, you won’t tolerate such bigotry, and you will not associate with those who express it as a means to secure political power. Clearly, for Gorka, this is not an issue. Once again, where there’s smoke, there has to be fire. The smoke surrounding Gorka reeks of anti-Semitism— meaning that the fire it comes from was likely infected by this bigotry as well.
Charles Dunst is a contributor at Paste. His work has also appeared in The Hill, The Huffington Post, The Forward, and Hungary Today, among others. He is currently based in Budapest and can be found on Twitter @cddunst.