White House aide Sebastian Gorka on Thursday denied a report in The Forward alleging that he belongs to a Hungarian knightly order founded by a Nazi-allied leader who oversaw the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.
In a statement to Tablet, Gorka said he never joined the Vitezi Rend, or Order of Vitéz, and only wore a medal associated with the order to commemorate his father.
“I have never been a member of the Vitez Rend,” Gorka told Tablet. “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.”
Members of the Order of Vitéz, which was founded by openly anti-Semitic Hungarian admiral and statesman Miklós Horthy, are permitted to publicly use the initial “v.” to acknowledge their commitment to the group. The Forward noted that Gorka included it both in his 2008 doctoral thesis and in his 2011 testimony before the House Armed Services Committee.
The publication also spoke to two current members of the group who say Gorka swore a lifelong loyalty oath to become a member. Those members said Gorka belonged to the “Historical Vitezi Rand,” one of two splinter organizations that claimed to carry on the group’s legacy after its original iteration was banned in 1947.
The Forward reported that Gorka did respond directly to its request for comment. Neither Gorka nor the White House responded to TPM’s follow-up requests.
Gorka previously drew scrutiny for wearing the Order of Vitéz medal to a Trump inaugural ball and for his ties to members of Hungary’s anti-Semitic Jobbik party. He has maintained that the medal was awarded to his father in 1979 for his work as a spy for the British in Soviet-era Hungary.
Several Jewish groups, which have previously criticized Gorka’s affiliations with the Order of Vitéz and with Jobbik, spoke out about the Forward’s report.
Steven Goldstein, executive director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, called for Gorka’s resignation and condemned the “grotesque anti-Semitism that has infected the Trump White House.”
“How many ducks in the Trump White House must walk, talk and quack Antisemitically [sic] before our country wakes up and sees the greater problem?” Goldstein said in a statement posted to the organization’s Facebook page.
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said he was “deeply disturbed” by the allegations about Gorka’s formal membership in the Order of Vitéz.
“If true, he needs to renounce his membership immediately and disavow their exclusionary message of hate,” Greenblatt said in a statement. “At a time of rising anti-Semitism around the world, it is essential for Mr. Gorka to make clear that he rejects the policies of far-right and nativist organizations such as Vitézi Rend and Jobbik, which have a long history of stoking anti-Semitism and intolerance in Hungary.”