Connections: Bad Company

Our congressman has become extraordinarily buddy-buddy with radicals and extremists

Whether you are a Democrat, Republican, or independent voter, it’s easy to simply assume that Representative Lee Zeldin, our congressman here in the First District, is a reliable, reasonable, traditional member of the mainstream Republican Party. However, given his decision to invite Sebastian Gorka to headline a re-election fund-raiser in Smithtown on June 28, that easy assessment needs to be tossed out the window. Our congressman has become extraordinarily buddy-buddy with radicals and extremists of the ultra-right, bigoted wing of his party.

Mr. Gorka has been in the public spotlight not just for his stridently anti-Muslim opinions, but for his associations with a nationalist group in Hungary that openly expresses nostalgia for the days when their twisted segment of the Hungarian population marched arm in arm with the Nazis. That Mr. Zeldin, who is Jewish, should embrace a bombastic buffoon like Mr. Gorka beggars belief.

Mr. Gorka prefers to be referred to as Dr. Gorka — although there are serious questions about the legitimacy of that honorific, and about his qualifications to claim to be an expert on immigration or anything else. Despite that, he has served for a time at Fox News as a national security analyst, and worked for the Trump campaign in 2015. Along with Steve Bannon of Breitbart News, he held a short-lived post in the Trump White House, but resigned about a year ago, criticizing the administration’s foreign policy for being — get this — inadequately anti-Muslim.

 Mr. Gorka, who was born in Britain to Hungarian-immigrant parents and who immigrated to the United States after marrying an American, continues to argue that Muslims should be summarily banned from immigrating to this country. As does a racist provocateur of a similar ilk, Milo Yiannopoulos, he gets a lift from making offensive remarks. He greeted the election of Donald Trump to the presidency with an inanity: “The alpha males are back.”

 Mr. Gorka likes to peacock around at public events with a medal on his chest that was given to his father as a member of a Hungarian group, Vitezi Rend, that was notorious for enthusiastically collaborating with the Nazis during World War II. His father’s beliefs can be consigned to history but in continuing to wear this emblem of an acknowledged pro-Nazi organization, Mr. Gorka is clearly trying to tell us something. We should hear him. In 2017, he vigorously denied having been a member of Vitezi Rend during his years in Hungary, but his fellow members, when contacted by reporters, said that of course he’d been a member, and that everyone in the western Hungarian branch of the organization knew it.

According to Recoil, which is a “firearms lifestyle publication,” Mr. Gorka, on a daily basis, likes to walk about armed with two pistols, two flashlights, a knife, a tourniquet, and the U.S. Constitution. Given his beliefs, which are completely antithetical to many of the ideas of liberty enshrined in the Constitution, it seems unlikely that he has read very far beyond the Second Amendment. The rest of his Boy Scout kit is laughable, is it not?

Nevertheless, Mr. Zeldin chose Mr. Gorka to be the big attraction at his fund-raiser. That Mr. Gorka is seen as a drawing card in the First District is a sad sign for all of our Republican friends and neighbors, most of whom are, of course, respectable, reasonable, and moderate citizens. I would like to think that, given a chance to reflect on the anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi associations of Mr. Gorka, they would share my disgust that he was put on a pedestal by our own congressman. 

What did the Greatest Generation fight for? Not for this.

Mr. Zeldin is, by all accounts, a perfectly charming and easygoing man who, in person, is easy to like. By his association with a radical nincompoop like Mr. Gorka, however, he has crossed a line. It is time for Republicans in our district to reassert the decency and common sense of their party.

It may be that Mr. Zeldin thinks it is preferable, on the political stage, not to worry about his or anyone else’s Jewishness, not to make too big a deal out of it. But anti-Semitism is on the rise, not just in Hungary, but here, and our congressman just took a giant step onto the wrong side of history.