The trickle down anti-Semitism of the Bannon, Gorka White House

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 a historic Jewish cemetery in St. Louis. And, just last night, nearly 100 gravestones 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’s 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 one’s given to members of Horthy’s Order of Vitéz… Oh, and, yeah… Horthy’s regime was in power 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” (Jews) who have taken over our 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 him out on the use of the on the “globalist media canard.” “‘Globalist media’,” their 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.”

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…

And, in all fairness, 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.”

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?

Posted in Ann Arbor, Civil Liberties, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Alt State Department issues list of politically vulnerable GOP Reps

For those of you who might have missed it, what with all the hoopla about the Oscars, our Alt State Department issued a list earlier this evening of those GOP Representatives who, according to the data, may be most vulnerable in the upcoming midterm elections, and the state of Michigan has two Republican members of Congress on it; Dave Trott, of Michigan’s 11th district, who got rich foreclosing on the homes of Michiganders and now refuses to meet with his constituents, and retired General Jack Bergman, of Michigan’s 1st district, who was pretty much wasn’t even living in Michigan when he decided to run for office here, and has likewise apparently been hiding from the people he’s sworn to represent. I don’t know that either will be easy to beat, but one has to think that we’d at least have a shot. I know there are other factors to be considered, as circumstances change over time, but I’ve got $10 earmarked for each of their Democratic opponents, as soon as they become known, and I’m going to do my best to start covering them both more here on the blog, in hopes of helping flip those two seats. If you have any information on either one, let me know. And, if there are other seats that you think might be in play, I’d like to know that as well… So, now let’s strategize on how to flip these seats.

Here’s the entire Alt State Department list, for those of you who aren’t lucky enough to be living in the great state of Michigan.

Posted in Michigan, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Caught on tape, Sean Spicer explains why the New York Times, CNN and others were banned from Friday’s White House press conference: “We’re going to aggressively push back.”

As we were just discussing, the White House banned reporters from the New York Times, CNN, and Politico from this past Friday’s scheduled briefing with Sean Spicer. At the time, the administration assured us that it was nothing out of the ordinary, and that we shouldn’t read too much into it. Audio just released from the private press event, however, tells a different story. In it, the White House Press Secretary can be heard telling those journalists that were allowed into the room why their associates had been kept out. “We’re going to aggressively push back,” he said. “We’re just not going to sit back and let, you know, false narratives, false stories, inaccurate facts get out there.” The following audio comes by way of Politico.

As for why this is happening right now, I hope to post more later tonight, but, for the time being, let’s just say that Dan Rather was probably onto something last night when he told Chris Matthews that a lot of this is a “very calculated smokescreen” meant to draw attention away from stories about Trump’s Russian connections.

Posted in Other, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Three months ago, Sean Spicer said that banning media outlets from presidential press conferences is something that dictatorships do. Yesterday, the White House did just that.

At some point prior to the 2016 election, Donald Trump, angered by what he perceived to be negative press coverage, banned reporters from the Washington Post, Politico, and Buzzfeed from his campaign events. When asked this past December by Politico’s Jake Sherman whether or not we might expect to see the same kind of aggressive vindictiveness toward the press under the Trump administration, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that would never happen. “There’s a big difference between a campaign, where it is a private venue, using private funds, and a government entity,” Spicer told Sherman. “And I think we have a respect for the press when it comes to the government. That is something that you can’t ban an entity from; conservative, liberal or otherwise. I think that’s what makes a democracy a democracy, versus a dictatorship.”

Well, yesterday, the White House announced that reporters from the New York Times, CNN, and Politico would be banned from the day’s scheduled briefing with Sean Spicer, the man who, as I just noted, recently said that keeping reporters from press events would signal a shift away from democracy and toward dictatorship.

And, as you might imagine, this isn’t sitting well with people. The White House Correspondents’ Association, which represents the press corps, has issued a statement of protest, and both the Associate Press and Time pulled their reporters from the briefing in a sign of solidarity. The White House defended the move, saying that this was a less formal press event, and that the agencies who were not invited would still be represented by press pool journalists who would be sharing their reports. The New York Times, as you might expect, saw it differently. New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet wrote, “Nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties. We strongly protest the exclusion of The New York Times and the other news organizations. Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest.” It should be noted that, while the Times was left out, conservative media organizations like Breitbart News, The Washington Times and One America News Network were allowed to participate.

Interestingly, at the same time this was playing out yesterday, Donald Trump was on the stage at CPAC, ranting about “fake news,” and referring to certain news organizations as the “enemy of the people.”

Veteran newsman Dan Rather, I think said it best. These actions, he said, “must be seen as a real and present threat to our democracy.”

Here, by way of Ken Vogel, is video of Sean Spicer agreeing with Rather.

For what it’s worth, this most recent move on the part of the Trump administration shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. Trump himself said on January 18 that he would be selecting which journalists were able to cover the White House. And, now, he’s apparently testing the waters, seeing if he might be able to intimidate America’s press into submission.

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Betsy DeVos turns her back on trans students

Yesterday, there was a lot of talk online about how Betsy DeVos, our controversial new Secretary of Education, had taken a principled stand on behalf of transgender students, pushing back against Attorney General Jeff Sessions and President Trump, both of whom had apparently urged her to support the rollback of protections extended by the Obama administration, allowing students at schools accepting government funds to use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding with their gender identity. DeVos, according to the New York Times, had taken her concerns directly to Trump, who essentially offered her a choice… either get on board, or step down as Secretary of Education.

DeVos chose to keep her job.

She did, however, release a letter Wednesday evening stating the following.

“We have a responsibility to protect every student in America and ensure that they have the freedom to learn and thrive in a safe and trusted environment. This is not merely a federal mandate, but a moral obligation no individual, school, district or state can abdicate. At my direction, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights remains committed to investigating all claims of discrimination, bullying and harassment against those who are most vulnerable in our schools… I consider protecting all students, including LGBTQ students, not only a key priority for the Department, but for every school in America.”

And, based on what I saw on social media, a lot of us were encouraged by this. Unfortunately, this afternoon, when DeVos took the stage a CPAC, any illusion those of us on the left might have had that DeVos was going to be a champion for civil rights inside the administration was completely shattered. Here’s the video. In it, you can hear DeVos choosing to discuss the entire episode not in terms of the rights of trans students, but in terms of Obama’s “administration overreach.”

This issue was a very huge example of Obama administration overreach, one-size-fits-all approach to issues best solved at personal and local level,” DeVos told the enthusiastic CPAC audience.

Some people whom I respect believe that DeVos did as much as she could be expected to do. Stepping down over this, they seem to think, wouldn’t help anyone, as this guidance by the Obama administration would have been rescinded anyway. I’m inclined, however, to say that she could have done more. While I suppose it’s a step in the right direction that she came out and said, she’d been “quietly supportive of gay rights” for some time, it’s not enough. This isn’t a states rights issue. It’s a civil rights issue.

DeVos knows full well that, by reversing this rule, many of our most vulnerable children will suffer. And yet she went along with it. Regardless of how conflicted she may felt about doing so, she made a choice to go along with the administration. She made a choice. She turned her back on trans children so that she could continue to enact her anti-public education agenda. And it’s difficult for me to see much in that worthy of praise. So, yes, it’s nice that she said she was sympathetic, but we should judge her by her actions, not her words. She turned her back yesterday on these children she swore to protect, and we should hold her accountable for that.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments


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