Opinion

Why Is Alt-right Favorite and Academic Fraud Seb Gorka Starring in an Israeli Counter-terror Conference?

He's out the White House, but Sebastian Gorka is still the same anti-Muslim fearmonger with primitive and misleading ideas that still pose a threat to American values and social cohesion

Then-White House adviser Sebastian Gorka waits with Kellyanne Conway for President Donald Trump to board Air Force One. Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. July 25, 2017
Then-White House adviser Sebastian Gorka waits with Kellyanne Conway for President Donald Trump to board Air Force One. Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. July 25, 2017 JONATHAN ERNST/REUTERS

Sebastian Gorka, President Trump’s justifiably much maligned terrorism advisor who was recently fired from the White House is addressing the annual international terrorism conference at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, a school founded by my academic mentor, Ehud Sprinzak. The fact that someone so lacking in credentials is lecturing to a room of Israeli generals and specialists has raised the eyebrows of terrorism experts from Georgetown to Georgia State, and NYU to Berkeley.

Even American conservative media outlets, supportive of the Trump administration and not known for their criticism of Gorka acknowledge his "vision of Islam is at best rudimentary and unreconstructed and naively juvenile." As recent article concluded: "His representations have been frankly so primitive that they could never seriously translate into useful policy."

Read more: After Sebastian Gorka's Departure, White House Official Hints He Was Fired | Liberal American Jews Are 'Basically anti-Israel,' ex-Trump Aide Gorka Says | Trump's National Security Adviser Gen. McMaster Reportedly Rejects 'Radical Islamic Terrorism' Term | Sebastian Gorka, Accused of anti-Semitism, Greeted Like Superstar at JPost Conference 

Mr. Gorka no longer has access to the President. But even in office, his lack of security clearance thankfully mitigated any influence he might ever have effectively wielded on policy.

His lack of security clearance (perhaps on the grounds of his recent U.S. citizenship, his extensive ties with foreign persons (in Hungary) and his moot claim to have been a member of MI6)  combined with the fact that no other government agency wanted him (other agencies could perhaps have sponsored a lesser clearance than White House requirements) left Gorka with no portfolio, acting as nothing more than a media bulldog. (Gorka had declared his willingness to be Trump's "pit-bull") defending any presidential decision related to national security.)

However once Gorka started freelance opining about Cabinet members and told Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to know his place, his days were numbered. 

Now, as he returns to his previous role as a B list media commentator and national security editor for Breitbart, we can question what impact, if any, he will continue to have on the perceptions of the American and global public.

A few comments by way of introduction: The vast majority of terrorism professionals from both the left and the right do not consider Gorka a peer or an expert in terrorism.

Stephen Sloan, a retired professor from the University of Oklahoma, served on Gorka’s dissertation committee and told CNN he would not consider Gorka to be an expert by any stretch of the imagination - and Sloan himself would self-identify as a Gorka supporter.

In 2014 Gorka became the chair of military theory at the Marine Corps University Foundation (not the Marine Corps University, which Gorka routinely claimed). Thomas Saunders, a former Morgan Stanley executive and prominent Republican donor, bankrolled Gorka’s position. Saunders is a relative of Gorka’s wife, Katharine

Trump's volunteer 'pit-bull', Gorka routinely underplays the violent nature of America's far right.
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Detractors have examined the quality of the University of Corvinius dissertation itself, and found it to be inadequate by most academic standards.

Daniel Nexon, a professor at Georgetown University, analyzed the entire document in a series of blog posts and found it to lack any rigor, unique contribution, or substantiated claims. He concluded: "It's not remotely something that I would consider scholarship. It does not deploy evidence that would satisfy the most basic methodological requirements for a PhD in the U.S."

Other scholars like Andrew Reynolds examined the composition of the committee itself, only to discover that two of the three members did not themselves have a PhD and thus would not be eligible to serve on a dissertation committee at serious universities. His conclusion: "Gorka is a fraud – a charlatan of the most brazen hue – a snake-oil salesman whose supposed Ph.D dissertation would have never passed muster in America or Britain andwas approved by a fraudulent panel of examiners."

All of the academic critiques were in addition to the investigative series by The Forward’s Lili Bayer into Gorka’s rather shady affiliation with the Vitézi Rend, an organization that has ties to the extreme right, Hungary’s hard right leader Victor Orban, and during World War Two, the Nazi Party.

Read more: Why Are American Jews Giving a Platform to Gorka’s anti-Muslim Hate? | Sebastian Gorka’s Ties To Nazi-Allied Group Stretch Back Decades | Why Are Jews Rehabilitating Jew-killing Fascists to Defend Sebastian Gorka? | Should American Muslims Keep Trying With Trump? 

A number of people raced to defend Gorka, especially those affiliated with the Heritage Foundation, where Gorka funder Saunders is on the Board of Directors, including national-security expert James J. Carafano

Other defenders included notable right-wing leaders of the American Jewish community. Gorka’s position on Israel aligned comfortably with the U.S. Jewish community’s extreme right and as part of his attempt to fend off allegations of being anti-Semitic, not least his links with the Nazi-associated Vitezi Rend (whose pin he wore on his lapel at Trump's inauguration) and his staunch defense of the president for not mentioning Jewish victims on Holocaust Memorial Day. These allegations appeared to prompt Gorka to over-compensate to prove his pro-Israel, pro-Jewish bona fides.

While one can easily dismiss Gorka as a master of empty bombast and lacking influence even when situated in the most powerful nexus of influence in the world, he remains able to do damage in ways that aren’t immediately apparent.

Despite his firing he has no intention of taking a back seat. In his own typically overblown and self-serving style, Gorka recently predicted, on Breitbart radio, “With Steve [Bannon] back at the helm, it’s like the last scene from Star Wars. Do you remember what Obi Wan Kenobi said to Darth [Vader]? ‘If you strike me down, I will be more powerful than you can ever imagine.’ The Breitbart piece characterized Steve Bannon and Gorka as warriors against the "globalist cabal" trying to undermine Trump's policies.

Gorka’s lectures by invitation to the police, the intelligence community, and media appearances to the general public are littered with Islamophobia and false allegations about the nature of Islam and its goals.

He routinely underplays the danger posed by the extreme right, neo-Nazis, sovereign citizens, and other groups affiliated with the violent alt right - who have committed more attacks in the U.S. than jihadis. His new bugaboo is to try and reframe the Antifa movement as terrorists.

He disseminates false information to the significant audience who follow his regular appearances on Fox News. While several Fox hosts are said to have refused  to allow Gorka on their show, he appears regularly on the more editorial, less newsy Hannity and Watters World shows.

But the real danger he poses is this: Gorka’s dog whistles to the alt right and his active and persistent stoking of Islamophobia actually undermine domestic security.

In the vast majority of cases, tips, and information preventing Islamist attacks comes from other Muslims with whom law enforcement agencies build long-term, sensitive relations. But the overriding tactics and goal of Breitbart, the White House and Sebastian Gorka is to alienate American Muslims. This hurts our national security. The volume of attacks that have been preempted or prevented have relied heavily on Muslim informants, friends or colleagues of the plotters, and this population remains crucial to continue to limit the scope and scale of terrorism in the United States.

In other countries, where Muslim populations do not come forward with information, they may harbor the attacker(s) or constitute a significant bystander effect. This is precisely where Gorka can be the most 'effectively' disastrous: By increasing tensions within communities, by decreasing people’s willingness to help and by exacerbating the schisms already evident and growing within the United States.

It is for this reason, the threat to both national security and social cohesion, that Gorka’s message is dangerous and subversive. It is why the security and terrorism professionals were vocal in their opposition to him in office in the White House and why, even though he is the butt of many jokes, his impact outside is anything but amusing.

Mia Bloom is Professor of Communication at Georgia University. Her books include Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror (2005) and Bombshell: Women and Terror (2011). She is a former term member of the Council on Foreign Relations and has held research or teaching appointments at Princeton, Cornell, Harvard and McGill Universities. Bloom has a PhD in political science from Columbia University, a Masters in Arab Studies from the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a Bachelors from McGill University in Russian, Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. Twitter: @miambloom