I have no idea what Sebastian Gorka’s deeply held views are on Jews or Hungarian nationalism, or on anything else for that matter. I’m not in a position to vouch for the competence or the character of Donald Trump’s chief counterterrorism adviser. Maybe one day someone will uncover pictures of him goosestepping in shiny jackboots.
What I do know is that, to this point, Forward has offered a lot of sloppy journalism in an attempt to depict the guy as some sort of secret Nazi. The magazine’s latest big scoop — which I saw retweeted all over the place by mainstream media types without a hint of skepticism — claims that “Controversial Trump Aide Sebastian Gorka Backed Violent Anti-Semitic Militia.”
That sounds terrible. As the offspring of Hungarian Jews who were victims of that nation’s Nazi sympathizers, I take that kind of allegation seriously. But having a working understanding of basic Hungarian, I was immediately suspicious when watching the two-minute snippet of an 11-minute interview with Gorka provided by Forward. (Only later did the publication add the full video of the 2007 interview to the bottom of the page.) The conversation seems to cut off at a pretty important point. So I sent the video to someone fluent in the language.
If the translation I was given is correct — and after comparing it to the video, I have no reason to believe it isn’t — it turns out that the contention that Gorka “publicly supported a violent racist and anti-Semitic paramilitary militia that was later banned as a threat to minorities by multiple court rulings” is only true in the most risible sense.
Here’s how the how the reporter, Lili Bayer, strings together Gorka’s answers:
Asked directly on the TV interview program if he supports the move by Jobbik, a far-right anti-Semitic party, to establish the militia, Gorka, appearing as a leader of his own newly formed party, replies immediately, ‘That is so.’ The Guard, Gorka explains, is a response to ‘a big societal need.’
Hungary’s official military, he stressed, ‘is sick, and totally reflects the state of Hungarian society…. This country cannot defend itself.’
Those lines are pasted together in a way that misleads readers.
First of all, here’s the context of all this: In 2006, massive protests spread throughout Hungary after a speech by socialist Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany was leaked. In it, he is heard admitting that his party had accomplished nothing during its first term and then lied to win the elections.
In the ensuing days, protesters marched through Budapest and elsewhere. Some of those involved, like with other mass demonstrations, exploited the situation. In the end, hundreds of marchers were arrested. Many Hungarians viewed the events as a crackdown on free expression, and the episode basically ended the Left’s political hold of Hungary.
As a response — whether it was an overreaction or not — some right-wing groups came up with the idea of creating militias to defend demonstrators from state abuse.
So in that 2007 interview, Gorka, in his capacity as a spokesperson for the mainstream right-wing party, was asked what he thought of a joint group supported by the right-wing Fidesz and the nationalist Jobbik party called “Magyar Garda” — Hungarian Guard.
At the time, as the Forward piece briefly mentions, “Magyar Garda” hadn’t even really been formed yet, much less banned, so the conversation was mostly theoretical. By loading up the piece with examples of the subsequent bigotry of Magyar Garda, Bayer creates the impression that Gorka was endorsing those actions.
Moreover, in the interview, Gorka clearly states that he supports an armed citizenry in principle. Gorka goes on to explain how self-defense works in places like Switzerland, Israel, and America. He argues that there is nothing inherently wrong with militias. But, more importantly, he then goes out of his way to point out that forming this particular group was a cynical political ploy by the two parties involved.
Gorka says, “there was a growing need among the Hungarians to defend the country’s honor. I believe Jobbik has decided to politically exploit and politically benefit from a popular call for self-defense. And the most important thing is that, I stress, the most important thing is that this is has nothing to do with our party, the UDK, rather it’s Fidez who is behind the plan” (emphasis added).
Does that sound like an endorsement?
Bayer links to numerous nebulous comments from others in the UDK — none of them officers, much less Gorka — regarding the Magyar Guard. She then claims the October 2007 interview wasn’t the only time Gorka defended the group. “A month later,” Bayer contends, “in an interview with a Hungarian online portal, Gorka said that when it comes to the Guard, ‘it’s not worth talking about banning or a national security risk.’”
Would any honest person characterize that comment as a defense of the group? The “presumed” membership of the Hungarian Guard was 200 people, after all. To contend it was not worth banning implies that it could be worth banning if it were larger or stronger. I’m unsure in what form that assertion is an endorsement.
What Gorka does say in that interview, incidentally, is that it’s difficult to support a ban on a group when you’re not sure it even intends to do anything illegal. In fact, this supposed Nazi-sympathizer bemoans the radicalism that emerges in times of political change. Then he contends that in the past “the true statesmen (and women) such as Churchill, Adenauer, Thatcher and De Gaulle had stable vision and undertook the unpopular decisions. Today, politicians of this kind are practically extinct.”
But Bayer tops off one misleading accusation with another, claiming that “Gorka strongly defends his party’s support for the Guard, though not without some ambivalence.” Her proof is that he says: “I’m not saying it’s a good solution, but neither shooting training nor using the Arpad flag [is] unconstitutional.” (The Arpad flag uses the same symbol the fascist Arrow Cross did during World War II.)
This is tantamount to accusing the ACLU of supporting the aims of the Klu Klux Klan in Skokie because they “strongly” defended the rights of those people to march. Then again, contending that banning symbols or the ability of people to train with firearms would not be a “good solution” is hardly a robust defense of anything. I don’t believe it’s a good idea to ban flags or symbols or pictures, even those celebrating the worst kind of human beings — say, Che Guevara. Does that make me a supporter of Communism?
At the end of the piece Bayer makes this admission:
There is no evidence that Gorka himself has ever engaged in overtly anti-Semitic acts or participated in any of the Guard’s activities. But Gorka and some of his political supporters have argued that he has fought anti-Semitism throughout his career. The newly available video footage signals that Gorka not only failed to fight anti-Semitism, but also supported an openly intolerant paramilitary group and publicly rejected the Jewish community’s concerns about their own safety and the safety of other minorities due to the group’s founding.
That’s quite the shift in expectation. Maybe Gorka fought anti-Semitism throughout his career; maybe not. Whatever the case, failing to fight Jew hatred, or even misrepresenting how hard you pushed back against bigotry, is a far cry from supporting it. And there is simply no way that the comments Forward compiles in this piece add up to the headline, “Controversial Trump Aide Sebastian Gorka Backed Violent Anti-Semitic Militia.” Not overtly. Not implicitly.