Members of a Hungarian ultranationalist group with ties to the World War II-era Nazis have said they are proud that a top Trump administration adviser wore the group’s medal at the inauguration of US President Donald Trump.
Sebastian Gorka, a former editor at the far-right Breitbart News and now a deputy assistant to the president, was photographed and interviewed at Trump’s inauguration in January wearing the uniform and medal of Vitézi Rend, a Hungarian order of merit that was once closely associated with Nazi Germany.
NBC News visited Hungary to look into Gorka’s connections with Vitezi Rend and found that its members were delighted at Gorka’s public association with the group, whose name means “Valiant Order.” In a report published Saturday it said at least three people asserted that Gorka was a “well-known member.”
“When he appeared on US television… with the medal of the Vitez Order… it made me really proud,” Vitezi Rend spokesman Andras Horvath told the television station.
The medal was awarded to Gorka’s father, Paul, for his efforts in fighting against Hungary’s post-WWII Soviet-aligned regime. Gorka says he wears it to honor his father’s memory.
Other than at the inauguration, Gorka, who serves as an adviser to Trump on terrorism, has worn the medal and uniform in the past, as seen in an undated photo on his Facebook page.
The order was founded in 1920 by Miklós Horthy, who served as regent of Hungary until 1944, and comprised his supporters. Horthy was an ally of Adolf Hitler and collaborated with the Nazis throughout most of World War II. During the war, confiscated Jewish property was distributed to members of the order by the Hungarian government.
It was outlawed by the communist regime in Hungary after the war, but now a number of private organizations claim to be its successors.
Although Vitézi Rend has not been known to engage in violence, the current-day order maintains all of the nationalist and even racial principles of the original organization established by Horthy.
Horvath, whose group is the largest of the Vitezi Rend-descended groups, says the organization is not anti-Semitic, but admits it has no Jewish members.
In March representatives of Vitézi Rend told The Forward magazine that Gorka took a lifelong oath of loyalty to their organization.
The US State Department lists Vitézi Rend as a Nazi-linked group, which could render members ineligible for visas. Gorka became a US citizen in 2012. He was born in Britain in 1970 to Hungarian dissidents who fled their country following the failed 1956 uprising against the Soviet-aligned regime. He moved back to Hungary in 1992 and lived there on-and-off until moving to the US.
Gorka called NBC investigation “fake news” and added that he had “completely distanced” himself from white supremacist and Nazi ideology groups.
Andras Heisler, the Hungarian vice president of the New York-based World Jewish Congress, told NBC that members of Vitezi Rend likely assisted in killing some Hungarian Jews during World War II.
For Gorka to wear the medal “isn’t a good message for a democratic society,” he said.
Last month, following media reports that Gorka was a member of Vitezi Rend, the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect called for a probe of his ties to far right.
In a statement to NBC News the US civil-rights group said, “How many ducks in the Trump White House must walk, talk and quack anti-Semitically before our country wakes up and sees the greater problem? Who among us wears a medal of a Nazi-sympathetic organization to remember loved ones?”