Top White House aide Sebastian Gorka abruptly departed from a Georgetown University cybersecurity conference Monday afternoon after undergraduate students subjected him to a round of tough questions.
A senior counterterrorism and cybersecurity adviser to President Donald Trump who came to government by way of Breitbart News, Gorka was invited to speak on a panel titled “News, Alternative Facts, and Propaganda: The Role of Cyber in Influence Operations.” Several attendees told TPM he appeared on the defensive from the start, using his prepared remarks to accuse journalists who use anonymous sources of engaging in fake news campaigns.
Jared Stancombe, a program manager for a global health care supplier, told TPM that his full-throated comments prompted attendees to check their mobile phones for information about his background. They found a number of articles about Gorka’s ties to the Order of Vitez, a Hungarian knightly order founded by a Nazi collaborator.
“After his tirade, which visibly made people uncomfortable, I saw people begin to pull up his bio and recent stories on his affiliations … ,” Stancombe said in an e-mail. “People began to look at each other, while the panel continued with other speakers.”
Gorka has adamantly denied belonging to the group, though he acknowledges his father was a member and that he sometimes wears the Order’s medal.
Tensions escalated once the question-and-answer session began. Students from J Street U, the Jewish Student Association, and the Muslim Student Association, many of whom carried signs expressing disapproval for Gorka’s ties to the Order and rhetoric about Muslims, came prepared to press the Trump aide on his views.
Roey Hadar, a senior at Georgetown, told TPM that he asked Gorka if he believed “harsh anti-Muslim rhetoric in the media and in government” fueled extremism and legitimized groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
Gorka replied that Hadar was “committing cultural appropriation and arrogance,” according to Hadar’s account and those of several journalists present.
Andrew Meshnick, Hadar’s roommate who helped organize the protest, said Gorka was similarly “combative” and “defensive” in response to his question about how Trump created “fake news” by alleging, without evidence, that Obama national security adviser Susan Rice committed a crime by requesting that some names in intelligence reports be unmasked.
After a total of five students directed questions at him, Gorka departed, saying he wanted to give the rest of the panelists an opportunity to talk.
“He just stood up and walked out,” Meshnick said. “He was sitting in the middle of the panel and there was no evidence he was supposed to leave early. It was clear he was uncomfortable. He was huffing and puffing and just very angry.”
A Georgetown spokesperson said that Gorka was scheduled to leave at 1:30 p.m. ET, though it wasn’t announced to the audience.
“Before the panel began, Mr. Gorka alerted event organizers that he needed to depart by 1:30 p.m,” the spokesperson said. “Event organizers started the audience question and answer segment earlier than anticipated to ensure adequate dialogue while all panel participants were still present.”
Meshnick and Hadar said that the protesters remained respectful throughout the event and did not disrupt Gorka’s remarks.
“We just wanted to subject his views to scrutiny,” Hadar said. “I don’t think he’s subjected to skepticism very often given the kind of public appearances he usually makes.”
Hadar shared a short video of the event on his Twitter feed:
— Roey (@roeyhadar) April 24, 2017