About a year and a half after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Sebastian Gorka, in a Hungarian-language lecture, proposed that the United States government under the leadership of such Cold War military veterans as Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney and Colin Power, “found or created” a suitable label in the “ideology” of Islamofascism as a worthy successor to the vanquished ideology of Soviet communism.
Gorka explained to his audience in the Hungarian city of Sopron that the end of the Cold War ushered in a period of unpredictability in the lives of nation states. This period of uncertainty ended after September 11, 2001, when Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda took credit for carrying out the terrorist attacks that shook up the United States with its reverberations felt around the world. The 9/11 attacks finally crystallized in the minds of America’s leaders the next target: a new, “irrational” type of terrorism perpetrated in the service of Islamofascist groups. This type of terrorism was irrational, according to Gorka, because their demands, i.e. the total surrender of the infidel West, conversion, or death, were non-negotiable aims.
Unlike the Soviet Union, this newfound enemy was not deterred by nuclear arms. The military doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD) did not apply to Al Qaeda and its later spin offs. For a radical jihadist terrorist organization located in failed states or state sponsors of terrorism could launch attacks in the West without fearing complete annihilation. The American nuclear umbrella, thus, became a liability, rather than an asset to those nations it was designed to protect as America scrambled to find an adequate response to the terrorist threat. Still, NATO countries mobilized and assisted in the removal of Saddam Hussein and the occupation of Iraq.
While skeptical of the American desire to export democracy by force, Gorka, in 2003, expressed sympathy towards the Bush administration because of its conservative character. His two dazzling examples of conservative principles in action consisted of Bush’s institution of a dress code in the White House, namely, making it mandatory for men to wear ties and disallowing women from wearing skirts that did not cover their knees.
As it turned out, America’s military occupation of Iraq produced nothing but carnage and instability and menacing transmutations of Al Qaeda. While radical Islamic terrorism was contained in the United States, it occasionally reared its destructive head in London, Brussels, and Paris. Increasingly, it was a new kid on the block, ISIS, that began to create a humanitarian crisis wherever it spread its sovereign rule.
Only six years after leaving Hungary in order to move to the United States with his American wife, Gorka joined Breitbart News in 2014 as national security and foreign affairs editor. In that role, Gorka contributed to the effort to keep the specter of Islamofascist violence (since its inception mercifully renamed as radical Islamic terrorism) in the forefront of his readers’ consciousness as an urgent threat. And since his striking political ascent to the position of deputy assistant to the President of the United States, Gorka has succeeded in shaping the way Donald Trump sees Muslims and the threat represented even by such a seemingly innocuous event as an interfaith church service at the National Cathedral in Washington (not to mention his absolute public support for the twice attempted and failed executive order banning Muslims from six Muslim countries).
But how did this British-born son of Hungarian refugees end up in such an influential position as assistant deputy to the President? And what does his association with the Hungarian Vitézi Rend really portend?
As the communist regime gained absolute power in 1948, Paul Gorka, aged eighteen, joined an anti-communist organization and was sentenced to ten years in prison after the British double-agent Kim Philby betrayed him. Having endured torture, Paul Gorka escaped his tormentors during the 1956 revolution. He settled down in London and started a family.
Born in 1970, Sebastian Gorka grew up in a fiercely anti-communist, Hungarian nationalist atmosphere, fostered by his father, Paul Gorka. By his own admission, Sebastian Gorka did not speak English as a child until he entered kindergarten. Even at a young age, Gorka was interested in the military. As a result, he went on to serve as a reserve intelligence officer in the British army for up to three years where he may or may not have been involved in intelligence operations after completing his bachelors degree in philosophy and theology at the University of London.
By the end of 1992, Gorka moved back to Hungary. Gorka’s father contacted an acquaintance of his, Colonel General Kálmán Kéri, a newly rehabilitated, unapologetically chauvinistic old soldier of the Horthy regime, in order to secure a position for his son at the Hungarian Ministry of Defense. He did, thereby launching the young man on an impressive career trajectory.
In 2002, the Socialist prime minister, Péter Medgyessy invited him to fill an advisory position. He was ultimately turned away because he allegedly failed the intelligence committee’s vetting process. While working in various capacities at the Ministry of Defense, Gorka entered the Ph.D. at Corvinus University in Budapest in 2002 and obtained his Ph.D. in political science in 2007.
Gorka also tried his luck in Hungarian politics. In 2006, he ran for mayor of Piliscsaba (population 7,466) where he lost to the Socialist candidate. Then, as a critic of Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party, Gorka attempted to organize an alternative Hungarian right wing party that could challenge Fidesz. This attempt of entering Hungarian politics, too, had failed. It is important to note that in 2007, at least one right-wing online publication, Endre Csapó’s Swedish-Hungarian “Hunsor,” referred to him as vitéz Sebastian Gorka.
How did Gorka become a proud holder of the “vitéz” rank? According to “Vitéz” Sebastian Gorka, the Vitézi Rend medal he wore at President Trump’s inauguration was awarded to his father in 1979 in England to for his fight against communism. He simply inherited it along with the title of Vitéz and meant to honor his father’s anti-communist and anti-fascist past. How and in what capacity Gorka’s father fought the fascists is still unclear. As to who exactly awarded it to Gorka and by what authority in the revived Vitézi Rend in England, it is not publicly known.
So, what is the Vitézi Rend exactly? Originally, it was a Hungarian neo-feudal chivalric order created by the self-professed anti-Semitic Vice-Admiral Miklós Horthy shortly after he took power in 1920. Its express purpose was to create a new, hereditary elite that specifically excluded as ineligible all of the Hungarian Jewish veterans of World War I whom he saw as a threat. According to the Hungarian-born American historian István Deák, the percentage of Jewish reserve officers in the Hungarian Honvedseg in 1911 was as high as 30%.
In a 1939 publication of Vitézek Albuma, the Vitézi Rend was an exclusively Christian, militarist, family-oriented, conservative, revisionist, nationalist, ethnocentric, “Hungary-first” racialist entity from its inception to its legal demise in 1945. The use of the title “vitéz,” a hereditary honorific signifying valor or gallantry much akin to knighthood, was banned in 1947 in Hungary, only to be made legal once again in 2011 under Viktor Orbán’s rule.
Despite its forcible disbandment in Hungary, the Vitézi Rend reconstituted itself in exile and continued to propagate its reactionary ideology. In addition to the old vitéz members, its ranks grew by inducting new members for various nationalistic merits. Since the biggest enemy of Hungarian nationalism was Soviet communism, for the remnants of the old Horthy-inspired expatriates living in Great Britain and elsewhere abroad, those who made contributions in the struggle against communism and were of “pure” Hungarian blood, (read not Jewish Hungarians/Hungarian Jews) must have been ideal candidates.
What is relevant to Americans is not whether or not Gorka is currently a sworn member of the Vitézi Rend. If he is, the organization itself is a burlesque of dissatisfied, aging Hungarian nationalists who make themselves appear important by dressing up in historical uniforms. They have little influence on Hungarian society, which has already shifted considerably to the right under the ruling Fidesz party. What is of importance, rather, is the degree to which Gorka has internalized the reactionary and racialist values this organization represents.
The parallels in the rhetoric of the Vitézi Rend and Trump’s message are striking. Putting Hungary first and protecting Hungary under Horthy, in part, meant denying the Hungarianness of thoroughly assimilated Hungarian Jews while putting in place a legal framework whereby to restrict Jews from entering universities in order to protect “real” Hungarians from Jewish invasion of Hungarian society. It gave rise to a culture of resentment and outright hatred of Jews that spiraled out of control when the the Nazis–with whom Horthy kept up a close but ultimately perilous relationship–occupied Hungary in 1944 and the Hungarian authorities eagerly dispossessed and deported more than half a million Jews who were brutally murdered in various concentration camps.
Recycling old nationalist canards about the purity and superiority of “the nation” under siege by foreigners can easily be translated into a crusade against “criminal” illegal aliens guilty of killing innocent Americans or getting a parking ticket. Of course, with such a constitutively heterogeneous population, American nationalists cannot point to intrinsic ethnic or racial superiority as easily as the equally deluded Hungarian nationalists could. The discourse must be different. Now, it is law abiding American citizens against the lawbreaking “criminal” aliens. And Sebastian Gorka, a “proud American” who was a “proud Hungarian” in close association with Hungary’s radical right-wing members from the heavily anti-Semitic Jobbik Movement just ten years ago, is now in a position to whisper advice based on his view of the world as one that rests on perpetual ideological struggles (currently between the West and Radical Islam) into the right ear of the most powerful political leader on the face of the earth.
Clearly, ISIS and its ilk needs to be defeated completely, and President Trump has said as much. The question is what he means by the word “complete,” and how it can be achieved. If the president merely means the terror group’s total loss of sovereignty over vast swathes of land in Iraq and Syria then American victory will be just as pyrrhic as it was in Iraq under Bush. For it will not prevent the spawning of other groups elsewhere with equally vicious methods and aims.
Gorka is right that it is irrational for terrorists to expect that the West will surrender by giving up its way of life and its most fundamental values under pressure. It is equally unrealistic, though, to think that an ideology can be defeated militarily. If Islamic radicals are held together by a set of beliefs about the deleterious effects of the West on their own societies, then the most cogent response, in addition to a devastating military defeat of said organizations and taking reasonable law enforcement measures throughout the United States, is to strengthen such pillars of liberal democracy as equality under the law, institutionalized liberties, the practice of critical thinking, the constitutional system of checks and balances, and the respect of human rights.
For this system represents everything Islamicists deplore.
The right combination of military force applied in the Middle East, compassion towards the dispossessed, thorough but reasonable vetting of refugees, and an uncompromising loyalty to the Constitution of the United States will protect American national security and its liberal democracy. Fueling a seemingly ideological struggle, which in reality is nothing more than an embrace of what social psychologists call ingroup superiority (America First) versus an artificially created outgroup enemy (today criminal aliens, tomorrow liberals or anyone else who does not fit the “official” view of what makes a loyal American) will only achieve a deterioration in the American way of life much more so than a terrorist attack could ever hope to achieve.
Dr. Gorka needs to recall what Horthy’s exclusionist, and racially defined social order portended for half a million Hungarian Jews and countless others. America in 2017 is not Hungary in 1944. But the Jews of yesterday are the Muslims and the illegal immigrants of today. Only when Sebastian Gorka is a “vitéz” no more (in the unhealthy, anachronistic, and exclusionary sense of the word) can the American public rest assured that his words of advice do not echo the values represented by the Vitézi Rend.
America certainly deserves better.
David Mandler holds a Ph.D. in English from New York University and teaches English at Stuyvesant High School in New York City. His latest book, “Arminius Vambéry and the British Empire: Between East and West,” appeared in July 2016 the Hungarian translation of which was published in 2014. Dr. Mandler’s author page is www.amazon.com/author/