For some reason, in spite of the fact that we have Donald “I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life” Trump as our President, we seem to be experiencing a wave of anti-Semitic acts across the country. Last week, over 170 gravestones were toppled at an historic Jewish cemetery in St. Louis. And, just last night, nearly 100 more were pushed over at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia. And this is in addition to the 90 bomb threats called into Jewish organizations across the United States since Trump won the election. Today alone, according to the Jewish Community Center Association, “there were 21 incidents of bomb threats called into 13 JCCs and eight Jewish day schools in Alabama, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia,” with the Michigan incident happening right here in Ann Arbor. Thankfully, no bombs have been found to date. That doesn’t mean, however, that the threat isn’t real. Just last week, as you might recall, a South Carolina white supremacist by the name of Benjamin Thomas Samuel McDowell was arrested by the FBI and charged with planning a terror attack “in the spirit of Dylann Roof” on a synagogue.
Why is this coming to a head now? Well, some, I’m sure, would say that it has something to do with the rising influence of those like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, who left Breitbart News – which Bannon himself has referred to as as the “the platform for the alt-right” – to join the Trump White House, where, among other things, you have to imagine they’ve had a hand in doing things like removing any mention of the Jews from the White House’s annual statement of Holocaust Remembrance Day. [If you haven’t yet, you might want to check out this recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center showing the marked increase in instances of anti-Semitic sentiment being expressed in the Breitbart comments section since 2014.
While we’ve talked quite a bit about Chief White House Strategist Steve Bannon in the past, and the charges of anti-Semitism that have dogged him these past several years, I don’t think we’ve ever discussed Deputy White House Strategist Sebastian Gorka, the self-proclaimed “irregular warfare strategist,” who, along with Bannon, is a member of Trump’s Strategic Initiatives Group, which, as I understand it, is the internal think tank that determines what Trump should do and when he should do it. Here’s a photo of Gorka from the night of Trump’s inauguration. Note the jacket and the medals.
The jacket, according to research by Talking Points Memo, is called a “bocskai,” and it was apparently popular in Hungary, where Gorka’s family hales from, back in the day of Miklós Horthy, the Regent of the Kingdom of Hungary from March 1920 to October 1944. In fact, the medals Gorka is wearing have been identified as ones given to members of Horthy’s Order of Vitéz… Oh, and, yeah… Horthy’s regime was in power when hundreds of thousands of Hungarian Jews were murdered. The following comes from Talking Points Memo.
…András Biro-Nagy, a professor at Budapest’s Corvinus University, where Gorka did his Ph.D. studies, said that the “bocskai” he wore was popular during Horthy’s rule and today is often worn by members of the “right-wing” on special occasions. But he noted the medal has a distinct connotation.
“The medal is a clear sign that he sympathizes with the Horthy era—this medal was awarded as a state honor only between 1920 and 1944,” Biro-Nagy told TPM.
A few far-right Hungarian publications wrote up approving stories about Gorka’s attire shortly after inauguration.
…Horthy was a Hungarian admiral and statesman who controlled the country from 1920 through 1944, and entered into an alliance with the Nazis early in World War II, according to the U.S Holocaust Memorial Museum. Horthy’s paramilitary units killed hundreds of Jews, and 437,000 Jews were deported to Auschwitz under his watch during the summer of 1944 alone, per the museum.
Despite that brutal legacy, in the last few years Horthy has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity among Hungary’s ultranationalist far-right, particularly in the Jobbik party, whose leaders have been accused of stoking anti-Semitism. Statues of Horthy have been erected in towns across Hungary, and conservatives have taken to wearing bocskai jackets to formal events…
So, yeah, you can kind of see why some might think that the ascendency of Bannon and Gorka might have sent a signal to racists within the United States that they, at long last, were free to throw off the shackles of “political correctness” and speak their minds about the “globalist elites” (code for “Jews”) who have taken over our once great country… Speaking of the “globalist elites” anti-Semitic dog whistle, which has been been used so successfully on Breitbart for years, did you happen to hear Bannon’s tirade at the CPAC conference last week, when he went off on the “globalist media“? [“They’re corporatist, globalist media that are adamantly opposed to an economic nationalist agenda like Donald Trump has,” Bannon said of the press.] The Chicago Tribune, to their credit, called Bannon out on the use of the the “globalist media canard.” “‘Globalist media’,” Tribune reporter Rex Huppke wrote, “is a loaded term that bubbled up out of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of a media controlled by Jewish elites, a concept akin to ‘international bankers,’ cabals of wealthy Jews supposedly plotting to take over the world. Bannon knows this, I have no doubt. He ran Breitbart, a website that caters to white nationalists, many of whom are overtly anti-Semitic.” Steven Goldstein, the director of the Anne Frank Center, agreed, saying, “Globalist and corporate media — these are code words of anti-Semitism, and when they’re used by a man with an anti-Semitic history such as Steve Bannon, you’d have to be living in the Stone Age not to connect the dots.” “We are now seeing a pattern,” he went on to say, and “that doesn’t happen by accident.”
But enough on Bannon. Let’s get back to Gorka. I wanted to share this clip from the Jewish publication Forward.
…(A)n investigation by the Forward into Gorka’s activities from 2002 to 2007, while he was active in Hungarian politics and journalism, found that he had close ties then to Hungarian far-right circles, and has in the past chosen to work with openly racist and anti-Semitic groups and public figures.
Gorka’s involvement with the far right includes co-founding a political party with former prominent members of Jobbik, a political party with a well-known history of anti-Semitism; repeatedly publishing articles in a newspaper known for its anti-Semitic and racist content; and attending events with some of Hungary’s most notorious extreme-right figures.
When Gorka was asked — in an email exchange with the Forward — about the anti-Semitic records of some of the groups and individuals he has worked with, he instead pivoted to talk about his family’s history.
“My parents, as children, lived through the nightmare of WWII and the horrors of the Nyilas puppet fascist regime,” he said, referring to the Arrow Cross regime that took over Hungary near the very end of World War II and murdered thousands of Jews…
In fairness to Gorka, I should add that it’s not just his perceived anti-Semitism that people dislike about him. There’s also the fact that he doesn’t seem to be too knowledgeable about terrorism.
A great many in the counter terrorism community, it would seem, think that Gorka is completely out of his depth and terrifyingly uneducated on the real threats we face as a nation. If you have a few minutes, check out this audio of an angry Gorka calling noted terrorism expert Michael E. Smith II at his home and demanding to know why he (Smith) keeps tweeting about how he (Gorka) doesn’t know what he’s talking about. [Smith has recently tweeted that Gorka “doesn’t know the enemies’ ideologies well enough to combat them.” He’s also tweeted at Trump, “You are endangering the lives of Americans by hiring fake ‘terrorism experts.’”] Smith, when asked about the call by Newsweek, said, “I thought it was a prank. He began by threatening me with a lawsuit.” This kind of behavior, I think it’s fair to say, isn’t something we typically see from presidential administrations, especially ones that we’re told are running like fine tuned machines.
Here, to sum up how Gorka understands terrorism, is a clip from Newsweek: “His views on the ‘global jihadist movement,’ as he calls it, align with a small cadre of right-wing observers who depict Islamist militants and extremists as being driven principally by passages from the Koran, rather than by government repression, or sectarian, tribal, political or economic factors.”
I’m not sure where all of this leaves us, but it’s time for me to call it a night and turn in… Tomorrow, we’ll resume the fight, OK?
[note: The image at the top of this post was borrowed from a photo essay in the New Republic titled “Hate in the Age of Trump,” which looks inside America’s growing white nationalist movement.]