Meet white nationalism’s newest hero: Viktor Orban

The Hungarian prime minister has become white nationalists' model leader.

Over the past few years, Hungary's Viktor Orban has become a hero to white nationalists on both sides of the Atlantic. (CREDIT: AP/VIRGINIA MAYO)
Over the past few years, Hungary's Viktor Orban has become a hero to white nationalists on both sides of the Atlantic. (CREDIT: AP/VIRGINIA MAYO)

Late last week, as the rest of the country settled into their Thanksgiving break, Rep. Steve King (R-IA) opted for something else. King tweeted out a quote from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who posited that a “nation which expects its biological survival from immigrants won’t survive.” Orban, added King, “has uttered an axiom of history and of humanity. Western Civilization is the target of George Soros and the Left.”

For King, it didn’t matter that Orban’s quote flew in the face of concepts of modern nationhood, which — from London to Ottawa to Canberra — thrive through immigration. Likewise, it didn’t matter that the account King elected to retweet, which first posted Orban’s quote, belongs to a group whose founder has, among other things, praised Adolf Hitler.

Rather, for King, all that mattered was that a modern Western leader was pushing authoritarian, nativist messaging with fascistic undertones that were all but impossible to miss. Indeed, in praising Orban’s concepts of “biological survival,” King became the latest far-right actor across the U.S., and across the broader West, to find a lodestar in Orban – and a model for what they would like to bring to bear in Donald Trump’s America.

Hungary remains, technically, a democracy, with routine elections that are largely free and fair. However, through new legislation targeting independent media and non-governmental organizations, as well as leading a campaign marred with blatantly anti-Semitic undertones, Orban, alongside his Fidesz party, has crafted an authoritarian model that other Western actors – ranging from hard-right Republicans to orthodox white nationalists – have publicly praised, and publicly envied.

“Hungary really is the core of the new sort of Visegrad alternative to Brussels and liberalism,” Nick Griffin, perhaps Britain’s most prominent racist politico, told Budapest-based journalist Lili Bayer earlier this year, referencing Central and Eastern Europe’s recent lurch toward illiberalism. Or as Paul Ramsey, one of the U.S.’s most notorious white nationalists, tweeted earlier this year, “Orban is a hero of Western Civilization.” (Ramsey denies he is a white nationalist, despite all evidence otherwise.)

A quick glance through Ramsey’s Twitter feed helps illustrate how American white nationalists have come to view the Hungarian government over the past two years. For Ramsey, who has styled himself as one of the quasi-intellectuals of white nationalism, there are few actors worthy of more praise than Orban, the most prominent European leader to endorse Trump’s presidential campaign.

To Ramsey, not only has Orban “never cucked,” but the Hungarian prime minister is a both a “leader in the fight against globalism” and the “Donald Trump of Europe.” Added Ramsey, Orban is, alongside Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, a “her[o] to the Alt Right.” (It’s worth noting that former Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka previously worked in Hungary’s Defense Ministry – and also maintains his own ties to Hungarian fascists.)

Ramsey declined an interview with ThinkProgress, but released a video following ThinkProgress’s questions in which he claimed that that “the mainstream media” is covering white nationalists’ affection for the Hungarian prime minister because “they’re trying to damage Orban.”

White nationalism’s home

Ramsey, alongside King, Griffin, and a host of other Western white nationalists who have gravitated to Orban’s Budapest, appears most enthralled with Orban’s staunch anti-migrant policy, which has seen his ruling Fidesz party buck Brussels when it comes to refugee resettlement. Said Orban earlier this year, “We’re not aware of any examples of successful integration.”

“Comparing Orban to Putin might once have been hyperbole. But … it is hyperbole no longer.”

“The broader Western far-right is focused on immigration, and in Hungary the main actor proposing such rhetoric is the governing party,” Bulcsu Hunyadi, an analyst with Political Capital, told ThinkProgress. “The international far-right very much admires Fidesz because it’s in the position to enact policy on migration.”

However, white nationalists’ admiration for Fidesz’s and Orban’s leadership extends beyond simply the prime minister’s salvos against migrants. For these white nationalists, Orban’s stature has only risen as his government has curtailed the country’s independent press, targeted Hungary’s NGO infrastructure, and injected anti-Semitic undertones that have done away with any subtlety.

Budapest not only managed to shutter the country’s largest broadsheet newspaper last year – all while continuing to fund outlets that republish sites like InfoWars – but, in a nod to Moscow’s efforts to target non-government organizations, has pushed to stigmatize groups receiving external monies as “foreign-funded” ventures. Indeed, Budapest has pushed precisely the same line of argument as the Kremlin in targeting those independent groups receiving funding from non-nationals, be they from Brussels, Norway, the U.S., or elsewhere. As Kremlin-linked gadfly Sergei Markov recently told The Daily Beast, Hungary “is the only place in the [European Union] where leaders are so brave as to pronounce what everybody thinks of immigrants and liberals.” Or, as analyst Dalibor Rohac wrote in Foreign Affairs this summer, “Comparing Orban to Putin might once have been hyperbole. But … it is hyperbole no longer.”

Kleptocratic connection

As with Putin, Orban’s rule has paired a kleptocratic entrenchment with a broader economic corrosion. The country, increasingly mired in corruption scandals and crony deals, has become a “sort of Potemkin economy” – one that is “deteriorating inside,” the head of Transparency International in Budapest told Bloomberg. (Hungary has dropped 10 slots in Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index over the past four years.) Per a former minister, the country has become “a mafia state, like Russia or Azerbaijan.” Links with Russian security services, from the far-right Jobbik party to hard-right actors in rural Hungary – even to funds sourced directly to Russia – have added that many more questions to the growing affinity between the two countries.

“[Orban] is an island of right-wing leadership,” says Richard Spencer.

Much like Moscow, and the recent moves from the White House, Budapest has used rank nativism – and outright racism – to mask moves to entrench corruption. As a recent, blistering editorial from Bloomberg noted, Orban’s Hungary has started “to resemble the repressive Communist regime” that once controlled Budapest.

Most recently, Orban has turned his sights on George Soros, the Hungarian philanthropist, and his continued funding of pro-transparency organizations. While Soros has become the latest bete noire of the international far-right, his presence, and wealth, has taken on a special significance in Hungary.

Not only has the government attempted to shutter the Central European University, founded by Soros, but a recent, government-led campaign against the financier has come drenched in blatant anti-Semitism. Wrote journalist Emily Tamkin in Foreign Policy, “Orban himself does not come out and say that Soros is bad because he is Jewish. But many believe he doesn’t need to.” (Disclaimer: This reporter has written in the past for EurasiaNet, which was once funded by Open Society Foundations, which was itself founded by Soros.)

As with Trump, one of Orban’s most ardent supporters has been Breitbart, which has, led by assistant editor Jack Montgomery, effectively become a mouthpiece of the Hungarian government. According to the Budapest Beacon, Breitbart – which has already run dozens of articles on Hungary this year – has even been squatting on the Breitbart.hu domain, which would make Hungary the only country beyond the U.S., U.K., and Israel to host a Breitbart site.

For good measure, American white supremacists have also begun trumpeting Montgomery’s praise of Orban, with the white supremacists behind the Virginia Dare site pushing Breitbart’s coverage to their followers.

American white supremacists at the Virginia Dare website have begun promoting Breitbart's fawning coverage of Hungary.
American white supremacists at the Virginia Dare website have begun promoting Breitbart’s fawning coverage of Hungary.

Orban’s illiberalism

Orban’s lurch into illiberalism seems like something of a natural outgrowth from his 2014 claim that the days of liberal democratic models as a means of success are over. As Orban said, the “Hungarian nation is not a simple sum of individuals, but a community that needs to be organized, strengthened and developed, and in this sense, the new state that we are building is an illiberal state, a non-liberal state.” In case anyone was unclear, the prime minister then cited countries like Turkey, China, and Russia as models worthy of emulation.

“These are people with an almost medieval view on the world, and they find a safe haven in Hungary.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was around this juncture that Budapest appeared to come into its own as a destination for the international far-right. “The first time I remember I started looking at why Budapest would be a hub [for the Western far-right] was in 2014 or 2015,” Bayer told ThinkProgress. As she noted, in 2014 Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute attempted to host a conference in Budapest, only to be scuttled by Hungarian authorities. Orban, at the time, said his government would pursue “all legal means” to prevent the conference, which attracted dozens of white nationalists from countries including the U.S., Sweden, Germany, Canada, and Russia – and scheduled a talk with Alexander Dugin, a neo-fascist ideologue whose writing is taught at Russia’s General Staff Academy.

Orban’s government, for what it’s worth, has shown a willingness to bend to international pressure when it comes to the far-right figures holing up in Budapest – but only if their presence becomes too prominent, as with the 2014 conference. “If these guys are getting too active, too publicly active, [Hungarian officials] actually have to do something,” the Carnegie Endowment’s Balazs Jarabik told ThinkProgress. “They don’t want this coverage.”

As it is, Spencer was summarily banned from the country, one of the dozens of European countries he can no longer enter. However, his deportation from Hungary hasn’t dampened his affection for Orban – even if Spencer doesn’t necessarily see Orban, who hasn’t yet broken Hungary from the European Union, as the ideal model. “Hungary is a nation that has a sense of itself,” Spencer told ThinkProgress. “[Orban] is an island of right-wing leadership, but he can’t stop the refugees. … I do support Viktor Orban, but I also don’t want to pretend he’s the answer.”

And despite Spencer’s departure – as well as the expulsion of far-right British activists like Griffin and Jim Dowson – Budapest, as Ramsey indicates, remains something of a magnet for the West’s far-right. Daniel Friberg, who partnered with Spencer to create Alt-Right.com, continues to run Arktos Media while living, at least part-time, in Budapest. Described by The Atlantic as “the preeminent publisher of the alt-right,” the company’s products include texts from Dugin and fascist Julias Evola. As Hungarian political analyst Peter Kreko told The Atlantic, “These are people with an almost medieval view on the world, and they find a safe haven in Hungary.”

“We already are the biggest alt-right company in the world,” Friberg, who has an extensive criminal record, told ThinkProgress. Friberg noted that Orban’s government could “broadly” be “termed alternative right,” and that he has “always been immensely supportive of the government.”

To be sure, these white nationalists don’t appear, publicly, to have any close ties with Orban or his inner circle. But by the same token, if Trump’s Twitter feed is anything to go by, a lack of proximity to leadership doesn’t necessarily mean a dearth of influence. After all, there are reasons Ramsey, Friberg, Dowson, and Griffin all passed through Budapest – and why they’ve all been outspoken in their praise of the type of leadership Orban and his government have installed over the past two years.

So, too, is there a reason American politicians like King – who has exhibited no hesitation in pushing racist material to his followers – has gone out of his way to lavish praise on Orban, even when Budapest moves to shutter higher education. According to the Iowa representative, Orban is not only “lead[ing] the way” and “charting the right direction for Europe,” but he is, additionally, the “Winston Churchill of Western Civilization.” For King, Orban is “deeply well informed and reasoned” – a claim King backed up by linking to a Kremlin propaganda outlet, all in the service of praising the most authoritarian leader the European Union has to offer.