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Sebastian Gorka, a controversial White House adviser who works on national security issues, found himself under fire again on Thursday after an outlet reported he has ties to Nazi-aligned groups.
The latest controversy sprung up after The Forward published a story alleging that Gorka, a deputy assistant to the president, is a sworn member of Hungarian far-right group known as Vitézi Rend, which is listed by the State Department as having been “under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany” during World War II.
The Forward cited Vitézi Rend leaders as having said Gorka took a lifelong oath of loyalty to the group.
Gorka denied the allegations, telling Tablet Magazine that he has never been a member of the group.
“I have never taken an oath of loyalty to the Vitézi Rend,” Gorka said. “Since childhood, I have occasionally worn my father’s medal and used the ‘v.’ initial to honor his struggle against totalitarianism.”
Gorka was born in England to Hungarian refugees. He came under fire last month after he was photographed wearing a Vitézi Rend medal that had belonged to his father. Gorka said in a video published by Breitbart News that he wore the medal to remind himself where he came from and what his parents suffered under the Nazis and communists.
The Forward alleged that Gorka is a member of a reconstitution of the group that’s on the State Department’s list of those that were under Nazi direction. The new group “upholds all the nationalist and oftentimes racial principles of the original group,” according to The Forward.
Liel Leibovitz, the Tablet Magazine writer who talked to Gorka about his alleged ties to Vitézi Rend, criticized The Forward’s story.
“I’ve been, and remain, a critic of the Trump Administration, but all criticism is meaningless unless it adheres to reason, refuses rank rumors, and focuses on substance rather than on slinging mud,” Leibovitz wrote.
“Let’s all take a deep breath. The White House is no more overrun with Nazis as with secret Russian spies. To suggest otherwise is to further flame the kind of hysteria that, traditionally, has led to social unrest and delivered no good news to the Jews.”
Some of Gorka’s colleagues in the national security community have come forward to defend him and insist that he’s not anti-Semitic.
“I find the attacks completely, completely and utterly ridiculous,” David Reaboi, a national-security consultant who has written for conservative publications like The Federalist and RedState and said he has known Gorka for years, told Business Insider last month.
Reaboi said he’s also Hungarian and that his parents fled communism, like Gorka’s.
“I’m very much sensitive to anti-Semitism and frankly have fought it professionally and personally for all of my life,” Reaboi said. “If I thought for a second that Seb would be hospitable to that point of view, I mean, I never would have been around him.”
Reaboi said the stories about Gorka’s apparently links to Nazi-aligned groups are “guilt by association.”
“No one has shown that Seb has said anything pro-fascist that I know from knowing him that he would never say,” Reaboi said, adding later, “What lies at the bottom of all this is the question that, can you be a Hungarian patriot at all without being called a Nazi, being called a nationalist?”
Thomas Joscelyn, a counterterrorism expert and senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, has also defended Gorka.
“The idea that he’s an anti-Semite or Islamaphobe is really ridiculous,” Joscelyn told Business Insider last month. He said Thursday that he stands by that.
“It seems to be that we’re in a pretty toxic environment where people throw around labels,” Joscelyn said. “Go ahead and criticize the politics but … this other stuff is just mud-slinging.”
Gorka himself has, however, accused at least one of his critics of being an anti-Semite.
Eli Clifton, who wrote the LobeLog story about Gorka’s Vitézi Rend medal, said he asked his lawyer to issue a cease and desist letter to Gorka over allegations he made that Clifton was fired from a previous job for anti-Semitism.
Gorka told Jewish newspaper The Algemeiner last month that Clifton was “allegedly fired from his previous position for making antisemitic and anti-Israel statements.” Clifton’s editor at that job later came forward to say Clifton was not fired.
Talking Points Memo noted that Clifton “got caught up in an intramural fight over the limits of acceptable criticism of Israel within the mainstream Democratic Party” and that “few reasonable observers thought there was any legitimate claims” that Clifton was anti-Semitic.
Clifton talked to Business Insider about the cease and desist letter last month and stood by his reporting on Gorka’s medal, noting that he never “pretended to know what his beliefs are personally.”
“He has chosen to publicly associate himself with organizations with histories … of anti-Semitism and Nazi collaboration, and he has not chosen to distance himself from them,” Clifton said. “… He’d rather attack journalists who are reporting on his public association with these groups rather than address his association with him and to twist what we’ve written as some sort of referendum what he believes.”