The Forward is at it again. Over the course of about a month, the left-wing website has launched nearly 30 aggressive, opposition research-driven attack pieces on Sebastian Gorka, the Hungarian-born Deputy Assistant to the President for Terrorism. Nearly all of them are written by a Budapest-based activist-journalist named Lili Bayer. I’ve debunked the first of these at PJMedia, and many others– including, prominently, David Goldman (“Spengler”)– have addressed The Forward‘s subsequent attacks as well. Defending Gorka at the well-respected Jewish website Tablet, Liel Liebowitz blisteringly asked The Forward, “Have you lost your minds?” He concluded that,
Such unreason isn’t just bad for journalism—the Forward’s piece leaps from intimations of Nazism to suggestions that Gorka may be at risk of having his citizenship revoked—but also bad for democracy. 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. 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.
Nevertheless, they persisted. Perhaps Bayer and her colleagues at the Forward are capable of shame, because in the last paragraph of her most recent report, Bayer notes that, “there is no evidence that Gorka himself has ever engaged in overtly anti-Semitic acts.” That must be the case, as the thousands of dollars in man-hours this opposition-research campaign against a single Trump staffer has cost has been unable to find anything at all of substance– only innuendo and guilt-by-association (even when those associations themselves don’t exist).
Unable to collect a scalp, yesterday’s piece is another dishonest doozy. “EXCLUSIVE: Controversial Trump Aide Sebastian Gorka Backed Violent Anti-Semitic Militia,” blares the headline. Gorka did no such thing. During the time of this interview (August 6, 2007), the idea for a citizen militia called the Magyar Garda (“Hungarian Guard”) was being proposed by two right-wing political parties, Jobbik and Fidesz. It did not launch until August 22nd of that year, so the interview with Gorka was fairly theoretical. He told the interviewer he backed the idea of an armed civilian population in principle (giving the interviewer examples of Israel, Switzerland and the United States) even as he condemned the two parties behind the Magyar Garda for cynical opportunism. “This will be a problem for the Jobbik and Fidesz,” Gorka said.
Outrageously, this story is based on a deceptive edit of a 2007 Hungarian interview which includes about 10 cuts over the course of 2 minutes. Yes, The Forward provided the full clip elsewhere, but it strategically left out of English translation the rest of the interview (which, by now, unsurprisingly) contradicts the story the outlet wants to tell.
In the interest of full transparency, I am a friend of Gorka’s, and have defended him from these baseless attacks. I am also a Hungarian speaker and, coincidentally, a Jew who is sensitive to manifestations of anti-Semitism. I watched the full interview, saw how the Forward was misrepresenting what he said and asked for the help of two independent translators to put together what was actually said.
Istvan Gulyas: I welcome to the studio Sebastian Gorka, the spokesman of the New Democratic Coalition.
Sebastian Gorka: Good Evening.
Gulyas: You are the director of the Institute for Transitional Democracy and International Security, correct?
Gorka: Yes, that is correct.
Gulyas: Mr. Director, how normal is it – if it is normal at all – that in a democracy, a developing democracy like this, an organization that calls itself an organization for preserving culture and tradition, is in reality a paramilitary organization?
Gorka: It varies by nation. If we look at the Swiss or the Israeli example, they are perfectly natural. When we are talking about a small nation that does not have a large mass army, on the basis of territorial defense, a system like this will or could be built. Even in the United States which has a large army, programs like this exist where a citizen can, for example, almost for free gain access to weapons if they are members of an association and participate in organized training. This is not a totally…
Gulyas: But these are all under federal government supervision.
Gorka: Not entirely.
Gulyas: In Switzerland, these are basically part of the army – the territorial defense.
Gorka: Not in the United States. There, the government may sponsor such organizations and even provide them with surplus arms.
Gulyas: So, they are part of the National Guard. No?
Gorka: No, they don’t have to be, they can be an association – a marksmanship training organization – that operates as an association. But this was not the reason behind the idea in my opinion. It is clear that in Hungary, after last year’s violence, [by the former Communist government] a tangible need for organized self defense emerged. After the assault at the Hungarian National Television HQ, which I witnessed personally, – and it was interesting because the people there were not mostly 40-year-olds who had lived through the Fall of Communism, but mostly young people who felt society was in trouble – there was a growing need felt by many Hungarians for a defense of the nation’s soul, and I see Jobbik as having decided to politically exploit this, to politically profit from this societal call for protection.
Gulyas: Ok but…
Gorka: And the most important thing of all, and I stress, the most important thing of all is that this isn’t anything to do with the UDK, but with Jobbik and that FIDESZ is really behind them and supporting it from the sidelines.
Gulyas: This leads me to my next question. Your organization gave a statement that the FIDESZ helped initiate Jobbik’s initiative.
Gorka: That is correct.
Gulyas: And why do you think the Fidesz would support such an organization?
Gorka: Because it has to. It has to.
Gulyas: Why? So if the next time the police are too violent with protesters, some of those protesters could be trained to fight back?
Gorka: No, I don’t think so. I was also there at the Astoria when hundreds of FIDESZ organizers did nothing to protect those protesting the government when the riot police attacked. I don’t believe that FIDESZ itself wished to create any sort of quasi-military organization but it now sees the potential to exploit it [Jobbik’s proposal] as a tool. And it also recognizes that there is a need for something in principle.
Gulyas: But why do you think FIDESZ is supporting them? If you think about it, Mr Director, FIDESZ is the target most frequent accusations, mostly from the left and from liberal organizations, of anti-Semitism and a desire to flirt with the Horthy-era ideas. So why do you think that FIDESZ would support a system or organization that openly supports symbols to include black uniforms and the Arpad flag?
Gorka: Because of two reasons. The first one … on the 25th…
Gulyas: Excuse me, but FIDESZ could not be this stupid.
Gorka: Why not? It failed twice during recent elections.
Gulyas: Do you think it will win the election with a paramilitary organization like this? I believe that parties in Hungary today – be it the Alliance of Free Democrats, the Hungarian Socialist Party, FIDESZ, or New Democratic Coalition [UDK] – are based on the Constitution and I do not think that in any form they would support an armed organization.
Gorka: I do not think so either, and agree, they do not, as well. But I say it for two reasons. First, on the 25th, when this ominous organization is announced, journalists and the dear viewers will see that some people at the core of the organization are people very, very close to FIDESZ.
Gorka: I cannot reveal that at this time.
Gulyas: Will Istvan Simicsko be there?
Gorka: No, someone else who was there during the FIDESZ Administration… Someone who has done a lot for FIDESZ in the media, he will be there.
Gulyas: So, basically you know who is going to be there.
Gorka: I know but I cannot say right now.
Gorka: Because it is from a confidential source and if I tell you how I know, this is a small enough country where you will know right away who I am talking about. The other aspect is why this person is involved. It is not because FIDESZ wants to do anything unconstitutional. It is because FIDESZ knows it cannot win with just Viktor Orban and they need a new base.
Gulyas: I’m sorry but this is how Viktor Orban needs to be replaced?
Gorka: No. They need new blood and new voters and they need to win those who were out there. I saw them – those who went out to protest the government – the young, twenty-somethings who were not necessarily FIDESZ supporters.
Gulyas: So, the ultra-nationalists?
Gulyas: If they have to be compared to something, they were more like Ferencvaros soccer fans and ultra-nationalists?
Gorka: Maybe those who were violently rioting. But I am talking about those who were quietly protesting. The ten or eleven thousand people who were standing on Freedom Square not those who did any sort of damage.
Gulyas: Do you honestly believe that these people would join an organization that wear Arpad flag arm bands and participate in markmanship training – and even based on your analysis – seek to eliminate Israeli-owned and government tasked security corporations and furthermore speak about the physical, spiritual, and intellectual self-defense of the Hungary? Somewhere, this echoes October of 1944.
Gorka: No, this is a very contorted analysis of the situation. Here is the one issues: A nation’s army is always a reflection on the current state of its broader society. And the Hungarian army is ill and totally reflects that state of the Hungarian society. It is full of cases of corruption. We are talking about sixteen thousand members of the army while there are double that – forty thousand police officers in Hungary. This country cannot protect itself with this military. In response to this, Jobbik came up with something. I am not saying this is the solution. But visiting the range and the use of the Arpad flag are not unconstitutional. Let me say one more thing – now that we are talking about facts –
Gulyas: These are useful devices to ignite the sentiment observed more and more on radio and other outlets – many say, who experienced 1944 and the Nyilas era, or they are afraid of these phenomena, that this is the time to leave Hungary. That this is capable of reigniting anti-Semitism.
Gorka: This sort of political accusation is the tool of a certain political stratum – I will say something very important that nobody is talking about. Do you know what kind of flag is used when the Prime Minister of Hungary is sworn into office?
Gulyas: Yes, the Flags of Hungarian History.
Gorka: Yes, and what flag is in the middle of that display?
Gulyas: The Flag of the Arpad kings. The Arpad Flag.
Gorka: So, what are we talking about? What is wrong with using an Arpad Flag by a new organization?
Gulyas: I did not say that I have a problem with the Aprad Flag.
Gorka: Then how do we jump to the accusation that the Horthy era is being invoked?
Gulyas: This was just part of a compilation, I am sorry. We are not even talking about the Horthy era but the Nyilas and Szalasi era. We are talking about the use of the Arpad armband or flag or bandana with a black uniform. This, how should I say, creates an tension in some people and fear in others. And this very much smells like provocation – let’s assume that FIDESZ has nothing to do with it, you and your organization very quickly connected it with a Fidesz-Jobbik initiative. Naturally, Viktor Szabadai, SzDSz Budapest chairman immediately wrote a letter to Janos Fonagy. This all starts to smell very much like a provocation.
Gorka: I will say it again. [The Guard] is not the idea of the UDK. What we are referring to are facts: that the nation is ill, the army is ill, and the country cannot be protected.
Gulyas: But is this how we solve that?
Gorka: I’m not sure about that. It could be with a decent organization but FIDESZ put its money on the wrong horse this time. But to talk about black uniforms: if a SWAT team is dispatched to a bank robbery, do we call the police fascists? Nobody does. Maybe if someone consciously exploits these items, the effects could be negative. But that is not my issue. This will be a Jobbik and a FIDESZ issue.
Gulyas: Do you not think, to use to phrase decent, that the Hungarian political elite is so stupid that it would turn to such an obviously provocative or indecent organization?
Gorka: If you would like to talk about degrees of stupidity, we are talking about a party that has failed three times and then at the party congress re-elects a leader who failed three times already! They think that they will win for a fourth time with Viktor Orban, a failed leader. How stupid can a party like this be? Very stupid.
Gulyas: Excuse me, but the analysis and the research does not exactly support this. The voters may have some aversion to Viktor Orban, but FIDESZ itself is getting great results. The hysteria that is breaking out around the Guard could be an effective way to overshadow these accomplishments.
Gorka: Do you remember what the polls showed regarding Fidesz in 2002? How many percentage points it will win by in 2002? They showed that it would win by 12 percentage points. That is all you need to know about polling.
Gulyas: I am so curious to see what happens. Unfortunately, our time is up but I am sure that we will discuss this again. I do not like conspiracy theories and there are many here in Hungary.
Gorka: Me neither.
Gulyas: I really do smell provocation here. We will patiently awaiting further developments.
Gulyas: Thank you for accepting our invitation.
Gorka: You are welcome. Anytime.