Donald Trump made overtures toward the Islamic world during his visit to Saudi Arabia, softening his outward stance on Islam, but his administration recently appointed a recognized anti-Muslim campaigner.
Katharine Gorka, a controversial national security analyst and anti-Muslim activist, has been named as an “adviser” to the Department of Homeland Security’s policy office, after serving on President Trump’s transition team for the department. During Barack Obama’s presidency, Gorka extensively criticized DHS for teaching employees — wrongly, in her view — that Islam is a religion of peace.
Gorka’s appointment is listed in documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the watchdog group American Oversight. Her title, as of April 7, is listed as adviser to the department’s office of policy. The documents also list a previous “temporary transitional” appointment in the chief of staff’s office, with a pay grade listed as GS-15, the highest standard pay for a federal civil servant, indicating a salary of at least $8,600 a month.
David Lapan, the department’s deputy assistant secretary for media operations, confirmed that Gorka’s role in the policy office was permanent and did not require Senate confirmation. Her previous appointment in the chief of staff’s office was temporary and had expired.
Gorka is the wife and frequent collaborator of Sebastian Gorka, the embattled deputy assistant to the president who has come under fire for ties to far-right groups in Hungary. Sebastian Gorka, the former national security editor for Breitbart News, has called profiling Muslims “a synonym for common sense,” and, like his wife, has accused mainstream Muslim civil rights organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations of using “subversive tactics” and having ties to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Before joining the Trump transition, Katharine Gorka was a contributing author to Breitbart, the far-right site favored by white nationalists. In one 2014 column, she wrote that when “Presidents Bush and Obama both publicly declared Islam to be a religion of peace” it “struck a sour chord for many,” and that “American and Western leaders have preemptively shut down any debate within Islam by declaring that Islam is the religion of peace.”
In a 2014 column, she wrote in defense of five Republican members of Congress who claimed in 2012, without evidence, that Muslim extremists had infiltrated the federal government, and that Hillary Clinton’s aide Huma Abedin had ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. The allegations were denounced as Islamophobic conspiracy theories even by other Republicans.
Gorka claimed that the New York Times “provided proof of Muslim Brotherhood influence” after it published a story on the lobbying influence of Persian Gulf monarchies like Saudi Arabia. But far from being connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, the gulf states largely view the group’s brand of populist, political Islam as a threat. The Saudi government previously banned Muslim Brotherhood activism — even designating the group a terrorist organization in 2014.
In 2014, Gorka also pushed legislation sponsored by Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. The legislation listed mainstream Muslim civil rights organizations in the United States as “affiliates” — groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Islamic Society of North America.
With much of its top brass vacant, Trump’s Department of Homeland Security has relied on temporary appointments to fill its ranks. So far, the Senate has only confirmed two positions — the department secretary and deputy secretary — leaving 14 Senate-confirmable positions vacant, and Trump has yet to even nominate assistant secretaries to lead Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Transportation Security Administration.
The documents obtained by American Oversight list more than 25 employees with temporary, transitional appointments.
Correction: May 23, 2017, 4:28 p.m.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Katharine Gorka’s current position in the Department of Homeland Security. She is an adviser in the department’s policy office, not a temporary adviser to the department’s chief of staff. This story has been updated to reflect Gorka’s current role.