The spokesperson for a Hungarian ultranationalist group, whose founder oversaw the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews during World War II, said he was “proud” to see White House counterterrorism adviser Sebastian Gorka wear the group’s medal, as he did at an inaugural ball on Jan. 20.
“When he appeared on U.S. television … with the medal of the Vitez Order … it made me really proud,” Vitezi Rend spokesman Andras Horvath told NBC News, the network reported Saturday.
Gorka has said that he wears the medal in honor of his late father, who was a member of the group, and his struggle against the post-war communist rule of Hungary. Horvath told NBC that Paul Gorka, Sebastian’s father, was at “an advanced level” of the Vitezi Rend, also called the Order of Vitez.
The current White House staffer pointed NBC to a statement he gave to the online publication Tablet, in which he denied ever being a member of, or pledging loyalty to, the order.
That statement, made to Tablet on March 16, came after another publication, The Forward, reported that two leaders in Vitézi Rend told them that Gorka was a sworn member of the order.
Hungarians who used to know Gorka, including a local political ally of his, also told NBC that Gorka was a member of the order, though the network clarified they did not offer any proof aside from their recollection of him making no effort to hide his membership.
“Everybody knew that he was member of the Order of Vitez,” Csaba Gáspár told NBC. He ran against Gorka for mayor of the small town of Piliscsaba in 2006. He came in second place, Gorka came in third.
”I knew that Sebastian Gorka was a member of Vitezi Rend, even then,” geologist Gabor Solti told the network. He ran for town council on Gorka’s ticket in 2006.
Solti eventually served as mayor of Piliscsaba from 2009 to 2010, NBC reported, and Gáspár served from 2010 to 2014.
“It was common knowledge he was a Vitezi,”Erika Laszlo told NBC. She chaired a Piliscsaba environmental group during the 2006 election.
The Forward also reported, on April 3, that Gorka and the political party he led at the time, New Democratic Coalition, had in 2007 supported another far right party’s effort to form a ultranationalist militia that was later banned for violating the rights of minorities. Two members of the militia were found guilty in a number of racist murders of Roma people in 2008 and 2009.
Gorka has also recently faced questions about his service in the British Army, after a Jezebel investigation found multiple wildly differing characterizations of his time in what was then called Unit 22 of the Territorial Army.
Read NBC News’ full report here.