Tag Archives: racism

What Happens When a Bike-Friendly L.A. City Council Candidate Turns Out to Be an Internet Troll?

One day after Republican New Hampshire State Representative Robert Fisher was revealed to be the creator of radically misogynist Reddit forum “The Red Pill,” a progressive bike activist running for a Los Angeles city council seat across the country faced a surprisingly similar uproar.


Somi’s New Album Is a Pan-African Love Letter to Harlem

The first time I heard Somi's music, I was in the car with my mother. She was buzzing with excitement because she'd discovered the artist earlier that day when they played one of her songs on the loudspeaker at Pier 1. My mother's music taste can be hit or miss: one day she's bumping some obscure Bootsy Collin's track, the next day she's playing lame elevator music. But when she cranked up the volume to Somi's "Kuzunguka," I was stunned.

Somi's sound transported me to that sweet intersection between the sultry vibes of America jazz and the earthy vibrant sounds of East African music. The combination makes perfect sense, given the fact that Somi is a woman who was raised in the United States by parents who hail from Rwanda and Uganda. For more than 15 years, Somi has been mining her global black identity for music that speaks to the vast beauty across the African diaspora. And right now, her voice is more important than ever, considering that every aspect of her person is under siege in America.

As woman, she faces a president who boasts about sexual assault. As a black person, she faces a legacy of state violence that dates back to chattel slavery. And as a descendant of immigrants, she faces a country that is on the verge of succumbing to xenophobic paranoia. But from the pain of these struggles, she's crafted the perfect salve: her sixth album, Petite Afrique. The album's name is a reference to Harlem, where Somi planted her roots more than a decade ago. Harlem is a source of inspiration because the New York City neighborhood embodies both the links and fractures that exist between African-Americans and African immigrants living in America. Unfortunately, Harlem's unique black culture is one that is rapidly disappearing as gentrification takes hold of the city.

On the new album, Somi's voice is powerful and soars like a modern day Nina Simone. But her lyrics also strike a chord. With blunt references to the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality, the project is a perfect illustration of some of the biggest issues impacting black people today. In this frenzied and fearful political and social climate,  Petite Afrique lends a breath of fresh air to those feeling under represented or misunderstood.

To get a better understanding of the inspiration and ideas behind her excellent new album, I gave Somi a call. Here's what she had to say. 

VICE: How did this record come together?
Somi: At first, I wasn't going to make this an album. I was just thinking about this quiet kind of erasure of the African immigrant community here in Harlem. There are so many things about that community that have made me who I am.

When you say "erasure," can you give me an example?
Three years ago, there was this mosque on 116th and Frederick Douglas. It was a huge center for the community. It was just such a crucial part of the neighborhood. I would pass it every time I was going to the train. Now, they are turning it into condos.

How does your music address that phenomenon?
The music gives voice to the community in a way that provides some type of agency. We don't always feel that our voice will matter. That is something I was reflecting on prior to deciding Petite Afrique would become an album. And now, for the album to come out in this political climate that is trying to normalize, xenophobia, islamophobia... It just makes me feel more encouraged to share this work. I'm glad to use my voice for those who might be feeling disempowered.

Photo by Robert Adam Mayer

How do you feel as a woman of color who is also the daughter of immigrants in Trump's America?
I definitely didn't vote for him, let me just state that. I consider myself an American, but I feel under attack, I feel under assault with every new policy in this administration.

The song "Black Enough" really stuck out to me on the album.
With that, I wanted to address bidirectional interracial tension [between African immigrants and black Americans]. We are the same people. We are of each other. But we have forgotten that because of time. When I say, "lines erased through blood and water," I'm actually talking about the trans-Atlantic slave trade. We don't know what our relationship is. It's about how we define blackness through our own communities.

In that song, at the very end you sing, "They can shoot my children, too. Green cards don't save you." What are you getting at?
We can sit here and talk within the black community about who is black enough and who is African enough, but really we are all black bodies negotiating the same politics. It's about understanding that we are all in the same fight. It's about African people recognizing that we have a shared history, therefore a shared experience no matter how much time has passed.

What message do you want fans to get from this project.
I need people to have a conversation about xenophobia, islamophobia, and gentrification. I want people to recognize the identity of immigrants and have a meditation on the humanity of immigrant communities. I want people to just recognize communities like [the one] in Harlem, although it's disappearing. 

Buy Somi's album on iTunes

Follow Janae on Twitter .

Lawsuit Alleges Fox News Bosses Forced Black Employees to Arm Wrestle White Co-Workers

A letter drafted by former Fox News Network employees suing their past employer alleges that black employees were forced to arm wrestle their white co-workers.

The seven former employees behind the letter are set to join a lawsuit that alleges "top-down racial harassment" is prominent behind the scenes at the popular news network.

The initial suit was filed by Tichaona Brown and Tabrese Wright in March and focuses on reported "top-down racial harassment." It is leveled primarily against Fox News comptroller, Judith Slater, and alleges racial discrimination and harassment against Brown, Wright and other marginalized employees.

None of these claims have been proven in court.

The letter, obtained by New York Magazine and initially sent to the network's lawyers, paints the picture of a dysfunctional and toxic work environment. The letter makes the claim that Slater demanded her black employees hold arm wrestling matches with white employees.

"Forcing a black woman employee to 'fight' for the amusement and pleasure of her white superiors is horrifying. This highly offensive and humiliating act is reminiscent of Jim Crow era battle royals," the letter reads, according to the New York article.

The lawsuit alleges that Slater also stated that all black men were "women beaters," that they wanted to hurt white people, and mocked the speech patterns of black employees. Slater's employment was terminated from Fox News after the allegations were raised. The lawsuit also extends to other employees who are also alleged to have engaged in the behaviour and allowed it to continue.

In a statement at the time of Slater's firing, the network stated that, "there is no place for inappropriate verbal remarks like this at Fox News."

The allegations come at a time where a magnifying glass is being placed on the work culture of the news network, after several high profile employees made disgraced exits.

Recently the network's shining star, Bill O'Reilly, was canned after reports emerged that he had settled numerous lawsuits that allege sexual harassment—action was taken after a large contingent of advertisers pulled their work from O'Reilly's show. Prior to that, long-time head of the network, Roger Ailes, took leave among accusations of sexual harassment.

Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.

Online Racism Makes IRL Dating Hell for Gay Asian Men

"I'm not racist. I just have preferences." On dating and hook-up apps for gay men, this seems to be a common justification from guys who state phrases like "No Asians" in their bios or while chatting. Now I totally get that these apps are primarily for sex and people have preferences, and blah, blah, blah, but really: How these things are said with such casualness shows the insidious powers of language.

Being so upfront and flip in denying conversation with an entire race is, let's face it, pretty racist. And this isn't just Grindr; online dating sites offer pretty much the same dynamic toward gay Asian men. It's gross how someone could be so upfront about a dislike for a race: "Sorry. You're cute, but no Asians for me." (Sorry, but apologetic openings don't redeem you as a good human being.) Short and to the point with why I wasn't wanted, I started feeling like the majority of guys didn't have any interest in me because I am Asian. Eventually, I became fed up and got off apps, and I continue to put little effort in online dating.

I recall the first few months being app-less, going out more with friends and not looking to hook up, or even find Prince Charming to sweep me off my feet—just interacting with the gay community IRL to see what would or could happen. But even offline here in "progressive" Vancouver, the attitude toward gay Asian men is disappointingly reflective or a result of treatment received online.

The one that still stands out for me to this day was when I met a guy through a friend, who I eventually asked out for coffee. It seemed to go well, and before I knew it, we had spent a couple of hours talking at the cafe. When we were leaving, he said to me that he wasn't looking for anything more than being friends—that he was a "no rice, no spice kinda guy" when it came to intimate relationships. A phrase that is typically used online was said to me in person with such casual bravado, and I was basically left speechless (until after the fact, when I thought of many worthwhile responses.)

This is a very blunt example of how online discrimination can be felt in real life, because as I spoke to other gay Asian men in Vancouver for this story, they all mentioned that even though racism toward Asians is so upfront online, they've felt it in real life on a more subtle, but just as hurtful, level.

For this reason, Alex, a 28-year-old writer and first generation Chinese Canadian, said it makes discrimination more difficult to process and confront. "People are much less willing to voice their 'preferences' for race in person. If anything it's more subtle, more ambiguous," he told me. "I'll be walking down the street, and people will look through me as if I'm not there. No one will check me out. But I'll notice, for example, white guys checking out other white guys."

The ways Asians are treated online directly correlate with Alex's reasons for feeling less desired. He questions his own physical attractiveness in the eyes of white men and wonders if his Asian heritage is what keeps him from catching the eye of other men. "But after being told time and time again online that I'm unattractive due to my ethnicity, I can't help but believe that that's the reason. All the time. Either way, feeling invisible is the norm for me," he said. Because of this, Alex dissociates himself from gay communities, keeping to himself and not going out much.

The other result is feeling too visible for being Asian, or being exoticized or objectified for your race. On dating apps as a gay Asian man, receiving messages akin to, "Looking for azns only, Asians+++," or the most memorable one I've received, "Let me serve your Oriental noodle," are just as much a norm as it is being turned down for being Asian.

Because of this, I was weary with talking to guys in real life, worrying that they didn't care who I was as a person but instead only about how Asian I am. And I found this apprehension to be shared among others. "The digital world really lays the groundwork for what is possible, and people are not afraid to speak out, and from that, we get a sense of self-doubt," Kevin, a 23-year-old art director of Southeast Asian descent, told me. For example, if a guy comes on to Kevin, he admits to also questioning whether it's because he is Asian or if the guy is interested in him as a person, regardless of race: "You question how much he values you, what facets of you he values, and what you're worth is based on."

It's tricky trying to understand your worth as a gay Asian man, or any person of color, when the gay community can be so dominantly focused on the oh-so-desirable Adonis-bodied white man. The way gay Asian men can be spoken to (or ignored) online causes some second-guessing in interactions with (white) men, especially when it comes to being more than friends.

It works the other way as well, where being associated with a gay Asian is seemingly taboo.
I spoke to Daniel, a 30-year-old second-generation Chinese Canadian who works in social justice, who shared his experience of the early stages of dating a man. "When I first started dating my ex (who was white), he asked me, 'What do you think people think of me now that I'm dating an Asian? What do you think people are saying?'"

Daniel adds that there were many occasions where someone he was dating said that he wasn't looking for anything serious, so he would casually date, but then it would be called off, only with the other guy immediately being in a serious relationship with a white guy.

There's no doubt that experiencing online racism affects esteem when apps and websites are out of the picture. All of this is quite intangible, and "it's hard to quantify racist experiences that you encounter in intimate relationships, and from the queer community sometimes. It's just how we feel or are made to feel, really," added Daniel.

The only real obvious proof that can be seen are the toxic messages online ("No Asians," "I'm a no rice, no spice kinda guy," etc.) and how gay Asian men feel discriminated against, exoticized, or ostracized in real life. It goes to show the power of language—how communicating online in brief and toxic exchanges can be detrimental to one's daily life on the street, interacting with people, and so forth.

"The gay community is much like high school, in that it consists of various cliques that seldom interact with one another—in this case, it'd be white and whitewashed gays being the popular, in-crowd, while I'm hanging out with the other Asians," argued Alex. "On a larger scale, I think sexual racism is one of the reasons why the gay community is so fragmented and segregated today."

For all the hilarious and witty ways LGBTQ individuals use language to spread joy and humor to relate to one another, I was—and slightly still am—disappointed with how some gay men can string together certain words without giving a second thought to how they impact others.

Follow David Ly on Twitter.

Muslim Schoolgirls in Paris Are Fed Up with French Politics

This article originally appeared on VICE France.

In 2012, current French president François Hollande vowed he would make young people's lives better within five years. Five years later, the results are mixed. Near the end of 2016, the unemployment rate among young people had declined by 1.7 percent, to 23.8 percent. That's somewhat encouraging but still well above the national average of 9.7 percent. During his time as president, young people in France have protested with the same vigor as they did under right-wing governments—just think about the strikes against new labor laws or recent protests against police brutality.

With this in mind, I wondered how those able to vote for the first time in France's upcoming presidential election this weekend feel about the choices offered to them. So to find out, I went to a high school in Paris to talk to some 18-year-olds.

The area the school is in, Porte de Vincennes, actually has two schools right next to each other—Lycée Hélène Boucher and trade school Maurice Ravel. Feeling a bit lost among so many kids and trying to guess who was over 18, I randomly approached a group of three girls chatting on a bench. I asked them about the difference between the two schools. "Hélène Boucher over there is more of a white school," one of the girls told me, "while Ravel is more mixed. We're from Ravel." The girls I spoke to are black, and two of them were wearing headscarves. Naturally, their experience as non-white girls in France plays into their perception of the current political climate—so our conversation often turned to that.

Djenaba and Houza are 18 and are almost entering college. They were both torn for a while about their next steps after high school—whether they should study something that would allow them to help people or go after a job that would earn them tons of money. They also had to consider if there would even be any jobs waiting for them when they finished.

Houza eventually landed on social studies as her first choice, with her second choice in human resources. Djenaba chose social studies and a degree in health. The two are now waiting to hear back to see if they've been admitted to their first or second choices. The only thing certain about their future is that there are some grueling finals waiting for them at the end of the school year.

They don't feel very connected to any presidential campaign in this race. Houza said she only follows the news through Snapchat but doesn't know much about politics or the candidates. She thinks she might vote for Socialist Party candidate Benoît Hamon. "He seems nice, but he wants to legalize weed, and that worries me a bit, she said. "People will probably go crazy."

The third girl in the group is their friend Dalaba, who is already in her first year of studying law at the Sorbonne. She added: "Well, people who smoke just because it's illegal will probably quit doing it. If you come here in the morning before class, there's always a big intoxicating cloud."

At college, Dalaba studied centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron's plans to start a committee made up of citizens, to which the president is accountable. She thinks it's "not a bad idea." 

The girls are all convinced of one thing: Whatever politicians' promises are, they never keep them. At home, no one talks about politics. Their parents don't really follow the campaign and are not convinced a new president will change anything for them. The girls have televisions at home, but they don't use them (only their old brothers do, to play Xbox, or their younger siblings, to watch cartoons). They all agreed that voting for conservative candidate François Fillon—who was investigated for hiring his wife as a parliamentary assistant and paying her an obscene amount of money for the job—isn't an option.

"Fillon should be in jail, right?" Houza asked. "I don't understand what he's still doing here."

When I brought up far-right National Front candidate Marine Le Pen, the three girls shrieked, "No way, never!" in unison. That said, Djenaba thinks there's one positive aspect to Le Pen: "She's the only one who is straightforward," she said. "She's not hiding the fact that she doesn't like us, like the other candidates. You know she'll do what she says she'll do."

A few weeks after our first chat, I met up with Houza and Djenaba again in a cafe to pick up where we left off. When I asked them what they think is most unfair in French society, they both mentioned racism. Houza's parents are from Mayotte and the Comoros—small islands off the eastern coast of Africa. Djenaba's parents are from Senegal. Both girls are Muslim.

"We're not directly affected by racism personally, but it's everywhere around us," said Djenaba. "If a black person is arrested, that person's sentence is harsher than for a white person who's committed the same crime."

"I started wearing the veil outside of school since I was 15," said Houza. "At first, I was scared that it would be the only thing people would see of me, and my mom was a bit worried, too. But in the end it didn't change anything for me. But I know girls who have been assaulted for wearing the veil. But who knows—if I had been white and I had seen black or Arabic people do bad things, I might have been a racist, too."

Houza and Djenaba both agreed that it's a serious issue that entire groups of people are being judged by the actions of a few. "Like, I would never think all policemen were the same," said Djenaba.

Both agreed that politicians create problems where there aren't any. "After hearing so much about Islam all the time, I thought there must be an enormous number of Muslims in the country," said Houza. "So I was really surprised when I heard on TV that we're only 7.5 percent of the population." 

Neither of the two feel that all the debate around religion and immigration fairly represents reality—in the neighborhoods where they live, they see immigration as a positive thing. "There's a bit of everything where we live—Senegalese, Malian, Arabic, Asian, and they're all friends," Djenaba explained. "Our moms chat and exchange recipes." Both of them love life in their neighborhoods—the parties, the different cultures. "It's a bit like a big family."

The two feel they've experienced discrimination at school, with teachers being less encouraging to them in trade school than at other educational levels. "I feel like we are labeled. I studied economics originally, but I found it hard, and I was immediately told I had to change to trade school," said Houza. "I did it, but in the end, it's a lower level, and I'm not very motivated or challenged."

Houza and Djenaba's parents want them to study for as long as they can. "We want to climb the ladder, but it's always easier for rich people to succeed," said Houza.

"When I went to an open house at Assas University [a law university in the sixth arrondissement of Paris], I honestly left early because I felt uncomfortable—all the guys my age were wearing a suit," said Djenaba. She'd never want a job just for the money, even though not everyone in her life agrees. "My mom says that being a nurse isn't good enough."

Torn between wanting to help others but also wanting a career where she could go abroad—maybe to the US or in the Comoros—Houza was a bit late with applying to schools. "Around midnight the day before, I realized the deadline was approaching, and I rushed to write my cover letters," she said, adding that she thinks the same thing will happen with the elections—a lot of pondering and then a last minute decision.

"And if I stress out too much in the polling booth, I might just leave the ballot blank."

Lead photo: Djenaba (left) and Houza (right), students at Lycée Maurice Ravel in Paris. All photos by the author

Please Stop Smearing Victims of Police Brutality

Sometimes I wish I were a bit more desensitized, because whenever a grainy viral video of police brutality hits the internet, I can't help but internalize it. After seeing so many of the same nightmare scenarios play out on YouTube, I sometimes envision myself being shot by the cops and the cameras: slumped in the front seat of my car with blood spreading across my white T-shirt like Philando Castile; bullets spinning me around like a ballet dancer before I topple to the asphalt like Laquan McDonald; or failing to win a fatal footrace with three bullets like Walter Scott.

The most recent addition to our nation's shameful library of violence perpetuated by the state isn't as grotesque as those previously mentioned—in fact, it wasn't even lethal. But it has still managed to sear its way into my psyche. And a big part of that isn't just the abuse documented, but the way it's being covered by my colleagues.

On Sunday, as you've almost certainly heard by now, an Asian-American doctor from Kentucky named David Dao was in his seat on a United Airlines flight in Chicago when the airline forcibly, and brutally, removed him. The carrier claimed to have randomly chosen Dao and three other passengers to vacate their seats so employees could travel in their place on an overbooked flight. But when Dao refused to give up his spot, reportedly claiming that he felt targeted because of his appearance, police officers violently accosted him.

A cellphone video of the screaming doctor being dragged down the airplane aisle with his belly exposed promptly went viral. But just when the visual of the bloodied middle-aged man being manhandled by the cops started to inspire a genuine conversation around the misuse of force by police, traffic-chasing media companies started running click-y articles with headlines like: "Doctor Dragged Off Flight Was Convicted of Trading Drugs for Sex" and "David Duo, Doctor Dragged Off United Flight, Was Convicted of Multiple Felony Drug Charges in 2004."

Naturally, it was internet tabloids like the New York Post and TMZ and a local newspaper in Kentucky, the Courier-Journal, that first dredged up Dao's "sordid history." But plenty of others soon followed suit, presumably chasing traffic. After glancing at a host of these stories overrunning my newsfeed, I couldn't help but wonder how the public is served by learning about the legal and criminal issues faced by Dao more than a decade before he became the victim of one of the most sensational abuses of force by officers documented on video this year. What about the still-unnamed officers who lifted Dao out of his seat and caused him to bleed all over himself like the Penguin in Batman Returns?

After all, as depressing as the video of Dao is, it is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the legacy of violence perpetuated by law enforcement in the city of Chicago. Last year, the city had to pay out more than $5 million in reparations to 57 mostly black people who had been victims of state-administered torture. These people were beaten, suffocated, and had their nuts shocked with cattle prods. And let's not forget the police shooting of 17-year-old Chicagoan Laquan McDonald, who police hit with 16 shots as he was apparently moving away from them.

The fact that some journalists have chosen to focus on Dao's personal character as opposed to the records of the officers who mercilessly humiliated him or the tax-payer funded department for which they work has helped upend my self-flagellating habit of internalizing these news stories. Today, I'm not just thinking about myself potentially being in one of these violent altercations with the state, I'm also thinking about what they would say about me after it all went down.

If I were to be knocked around and humiliated like Dao on a plane; or worse, pumped full of lead like John Crawford was in a Wal-Mart, how would they frame me? As a young man from a loving family with a promising future, or a degenerate alcoholic who promoted gross sex acts and drug abuse in his work? I wonder which Instagram photo they would chose to be the thumbnail to all of the articles detailing my police-involved clash. Maybe it'd be the one of me standing with my arm wrapped around my mom on the morning of Easter Sunday just after I begrudgingly accompanied her to church. Or perhaps it'd be that ironic picture I took once at a Crown Fried Chicken in Brooklyn, mugging in front of a smuggled 40 oz. of Ballentine and a plate of glorious golden wings and fries, rocking a skully and some overpriced and oversized streetwear.

It's in playing this macabre game of what-if that I realize: Even in death, a realm that ought to be stripped of all of life's bullshit, there is still a difference in the way I see that photo with the 40 oz. and the chicken and the way they would see it when it came sliding down their newsfeed paired with a headline about "resisting arrest." I can hear the analytics homies in any given newsroom now, chiming in on their Slack group chat about which pic is going to get the most clicks. And besides the grainy cell phone video, most of the information about the shooting and me would come straight from the police themselves—the fools who just lit me up.

Who is Wilbert L. Cooper and did he get what was coming to him? The answer might ultimately come down to the whims of a white editor dude who hadn't heard of Rick James before watching Dave Chappelle and always laughed at that skit for the wrong reasons.

Throughout that process of turning brutality into content, every choice matters. Because when a story breaks, it's the writers and editors who have the power to shape and shift the narrative to the point that a tragedy can no longer seem like a tragedy. In Dao's case the story of police abusing their power transmogrifies into a tabloid about a doctor with dubious ethics and peculiar sexual proclivities.

This kind of thing has been going on forever, but the first time I wrestled with it was in the wake of the shooting of Trayvon Martin. While Martin was not killed by the police, George Zimmerman's ultimate acquittal reflects the same institutional propensity to brutalize people of color with the impunity that we see in extrajudicial violence across the country.

This year marked the fifth anniversary of Martin's murder. And many people continue to mourn it. Unsurprisingly, there are many others who are still proselytizing the idea that the candy and beverage the kid bought before he was gunned down were intended to be mixed up in a batch of "purple drank," a codine-laced cocktail. If it wasn't the "lean" to harp on, it was his hoodie, a garment that when worn by black boys is apparently as just threatening as waving a deadly weapon. The goal of all the hoodie and lean chatter on forums and right wing websites is to try to portray Martin as some kind of hardened gangster, who's untimely death makes the world a better and safer place. This lie is built on a myth that has been sold since the days of chattel slavery, that blacks are inherently criminal. It's a falsehood that we have contend with everyday, whether we are staring down the barrel of a police officer's gun or our life is being boiled down to a handful of misbegotten transgressions in a New York Post column.

Although Martin was the first time I actively recognized this phenomenon, he and Dao are far from the only people whose characters have been put on trial. In 2014, they did it to Michael Brown, too. A Missouri cop conspicuously shared a random photo of a young black man totting a gun in a menacing manner, claiming that it was Mike Brown when it was clearly not to anyone who doesn't believe that all negroes look alike. The New York Times buoyed this narrative when they went on about how Brown "was no angel," as if his alleged criminal history had any sensible bearing on whether or not the unarmed teenager deserved to be shot and killed in the street by the Ferguson Police Department. Even the question of whether or not he robbed the bodega the day he died is unrelated to whether his shooting by police was justified. If past transgressions were a legitimate reason for police to kill (or in Dao's case, rough up) a citizen, then how does Dylann Roof, a white guy who mercilessly murdered nine black folks in a Charleston church, make it safely back to the police station?

I could rattle off scores of other names of brutalized people and the corresponding red herrings rolled out to scapegoat the police violence they suffered, since these smear campaigns happen like clockwork any time everyday people actually start to critique our justice system. And how could we not be critical of it? American cops manage to kill black people at 2.5 times the rate they do whites. And they kill more people of all races in a matter of days than most countries kill in years.

Despite what our new Attorney General Jeff Sessions purports, this pattern of violence is not the result of a few "bad apples." Instead, it is systemic—the justice system is rotten to the core with racial bias and general brutality towards all of its citizens, people like you and me. And the biggest problem with character assassinations like the one currently being waged on Dao is that they they derail us from having frank conversations about how to finally break that system down.

Follow Wilbert L. Cooper on Twitter.

The Awkward Links Between a Trump Aide and Hungarian Nazis

On the evening of Donald Trump's inauguration, Sebastian Gorka had plenty of reason to celebrate. The 46-year-old had left his native Hungary in 2012 after trying—and failing—to make his name as right-wing nativist politician there. He had much more success in America, where he had become a conservative commentator who focused on denouncing Islam in the name of national security. He had been on the outer rim of the political world, but Trump's ascension meant that a lot of people like that were suddenly part of the inner circle. The next day, Gorka was set to take a position in the White House working with top adviser Steve Bannon as part of a group suspected to rival the National Security Counsel in terms of influence.

In an interview he gave with Fox News that night, Gorka donned a black braided vest adorned with medals—odd considering he's never served in the military. But what some European viewers realized and the Jewish Daily Forward later unpacked was that he was actually wearing something called a "bocskai" that's popular among extreme right-wingers in Hungary. What's more, it was decorated with a symbol that belongs to a group that is affiliated with Nazis, according to the US State Department.

Gorka has never been shy about his views. He made his name with a book about how Islam was an existential threat to the West and worked as a Breitbart editor from 2014 to 2016. Now the deputy assistant to Trump, he calls himself an "irregular warfare strategist"; his wife, Katharine Gorka, is the president of a right-wing think tank who, while a Trump transition team member, pushed for the Department of Homeland Security to rejigger its Countering Violent Extremism program to focus solely on Islam.

His ideology seems to be the main reason he's in the White House. Other people in the counterintelligence field have criticized him as a hack who's never published any articles in peer-reviewed journals. He's also been arrested for bringing a gun to the airport, may have edited his own Wikipedia page, and was once called out for misleadingly implying he testified as an expert witness during the Boston Bombing trial. But now Gorka is trying to put out a series of fires that sprang from a series of articles in the Forward that claim he's sympathetic to anti-Semitic groups.

This all started back in March, when leaders of a group called the Vitézi Rend (Order of Vitéz) said that Gorka had sworn a loyalty oath to them. The order was founded in 1920 by Hungary's interwar leader Miklós Horthy, and membership was originally based on one's military ranking. Although Horthy himself was an anti-Semite and Jewish people were not allowed to join the order, Laura Jakli, a professor at Berkeley who studies Hungary's far right, say it's not so cut and dried. Jakli says not all of the member's orders collaborated with the Nazis, and some of them were even in conflict with the Arrow Cross Party, the group that would go on to commit the Hungarian Holocaust. The Vitézi Rend was eventually disbanded by the Soviets, although a new version called the Historical Vitézi Rend came into existence in 1992.

"In terms of an American equivalent, I don't think it's quite fair to compare to the KKK, nor to a simple Skull and Bones type secret society," Jakli told me. "It has strong nationalist roots, but isn't explicitly racist in the same way as the KKK." She agreed with the characterization that they're like the Sons of Confederate Veterans—a group that's ostensibly based on history and uses that to underplay its racist history.

Articles about the Forward's revelation are careful not to call Gorka an undercover Nazi—saying instead that he's "linked" or "has ties." Several other writers , as well as Gorka himself, entirely denied these allegations, which are far more explosive than the more prosaic stuff about Gorka being a bit of a blowhard.

The US State Department says that Vitézi Rend members can't legally emigrate to the United States because it's considered Nazi-adjacent; some Democratic Senators have asked the Justice Department to look into whether Gorka lied on his citizenship application. But even though he wore the medal to Trump' inauguration and signed his dissertation with a "v." middle initial—a calling card of members—Gorka says he's not a member but merely does that stuff to honor his father, who was tortured by Communists.

What's undeniable is that Gorka has expressed sympathy for blatantly fascist activity taking place in Hungary. He first made a name for himself there by writing newspaper articles for a weekly called Magyar Demokrata that the US State Department has called a publisher of anti-Semitic content. The paper is a sort-of mouthpiece for the Jobbik party, which is rooted in a philosophy called Turanism—a Central Asian nationalist movement that's centered around Hungarians possessing a specific racial lineage that includes Jesus Christ.

"These are people who believe that Hungary should return to its greater glory," said Lawrence Rosenthal, the director of the Center for Right-Wing Studies at Berkeley. "It's as far right as we see these days with the possible exception of Golden Dawn in Greece."

In 2006, Gorka tried to form his own political party called the New Democratic Coalition from the scraps of Jobbik and the Fidesz party, which lost the national election that year. This failed almost immediately, and Gorka pivoted to punditry. The following year he was a guest on EchoTV—kind of like the Hungarian version of Breitbarttalking about the existence of a then-new paramilitary organization. The Hungarian Front was the official militia of the Jobbik party and was founded in part by the channel's biggest host, Sándor Pörzse. A small-scale operation, it was mostly known for parading around in Nazi symbols, launching anti-Roma vigilante patrols, and harassing people. The Hungarian Front was forced to disband by the government in 2009 because it violated the constitutional rights of minority groups.

In a clip unearthed this week by the Forward, Gorka is asked if he support the group's existence, to which he replies yes, because it was in response to a "great societal need."

The debate over Gorka's father's role in an ultra-nationalistic group aside, approving the formation of a semi-militarized force tied to a political party is pretty much the most damning thing you can do, according to Rosenthal of Berkeley's Center for Right-Wing Studies.

"The classic definition of Fascism—what distinguishes it from other kinds of political movements—is precisely the marriage of a political party and a private militia," he told me. "In my view, that is what's most alarming about the allegations."

Follow Allie Conti on Twitter.

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A Waiter Was Fired for Asking Customers if They Were Legal US Residents

Everyone has been carded at a bar before, but Diana Carrillo had never been asked for her proof of residency just so she could get a drink. That is exactly what she says happened to her and a group of Latina friends on March 11, when they visited Saint Marc Pub-Cafe in Huntington Beach, California, as the Washington Post reports.

"My sister and my friend were seated first and the waiter asked them for their 'proof of residency' when they ordered a drink," Carillo wrote on Facebook after the incident. "My friend in disbelief repeated what he said and his response was, 'Yeah, I need to make sure you're from here before I serve you.' Not knowing that this happened to them, my friend and I were then seated and he returned to the table and asked us for our 'proof of residency.'"

Carrillo and her friends complained to the manager, who said that he would let them switch tables and be served by a different waiter, but the group was distraught and decided to leave the Orange County restaurant. 

Carrillo soon took to Facebook to vent about the slight, after she didn't know how to deal with it in the moment. "We've never encountered that kind of discrimination, we didn't know how to respond," she told ABC 7. "A lot of people have asked us, 'Why didn't you say something to the waiter? Why didn't you speak up?' But until It happens to you, you don't even know how to respond."

Carrillo's Facebook activism apparently paid off, as management terminated the waiter in question.

"In no way are the actions of this former employee representative of the Saint Marc brand nor are they reflective of the opinions of anyone else on our team, including executive management," a representative wrote on the company's Facebook page. "We have always celebrated being part of the diverse Huntington Beach community, which means valuing all guests and treating every individual with respect."

The eerie dining incident comes at a time when many immigrants, legal or otherwise, are worried about their status in the country thanks to President Donald Trump's travel bans and aggressive deportation policy. In this case, Saint Marc agreed to donate to a charity of the offended guest's choice, and Carrillo chose Orange County Immigrant Youth United.