LATE UPDATE 3:08 p.m.: Gorka denied the Forward’s report in a statement to Tablet: “I have never been a member of the Vitez Rend. I have never taken an oath of loyalty to the Vitez Rend. Since childhood, I have occasionally worn my father’s medal and used the ‘v.’ initial to honor his struggle against totalitarianism.”
Original story below:
The Forward reported Thursday that a far-right Hungarian group descended from a knightly order founded by a Nazi-allied, World War II-era leader claims White House aide Sebastian Gorka as one of its sworn members.
Two members of Vitézi Rend, or the Order of Vitéz, told the Forward that Gorka took a lifelong loyalty oath to become a full member of the organization.
“Of course he was sworn in,” Kornel Pintér, one of the group’s leaders in West Hungary, told the Forward of Gorka. “I met with him in [the city of] Sopron. His father introduced him.”
“In today’s world it is rare to meet anyone as well-bred as Sebastian or his father, Pali,” Pintér added.
The Order of Vitéz was established by Miklós Horthy, the Hungarian admiral and statesman who oversaw the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Jews to Auschwitz during World War II. Though the original iteration of the Order of Vitéz was banned in 1947, two organizations claim to carry on its legacy today. Gorka is a member of the so-called “Historical Vitezi Rend,” according to the Forward.
Gorka and the White House did not immediately respond to TPM’s requests for comment.
The former Breitbart News-editor-turned-top-counterterrorism-adviser has acknowledged wearing a medal associated with the Order of Vitéz to one of President Donald Trump’s inaugural balls. But he has not acknowledged any personal association with the group, saying the medal was awarded to his father in 1979 in recognition of his anti-communist efforts. Gorka’s father was a spy for the British in Soviet-era Hungary.
Pintér told the Forward that joining the group involves a formal initiation rite in which new members swear loyalty to Hungary and the Order, and promise to follow the group’s leaders “for the rest of my life.”
Hungarian scholars told TPM said that the Order of Vitéz has a complicated legacy there, and that wearing the group’s medal is not necessarily seen as an endorsement of Horthy’s anti-Semitism. In recent years, Horthy has experienced a resurgence of popularity among Hungary’s far-right, who see him as a nationalist, patriotic strongman.
George Deák, an independent historian and an associate at Harvard University’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, called the Order of Vitéz a “tainted” but ambiguous symbol.