Tempers flared in the Rose Garden of the White House on Thursday as an outspoken Playboy magazine writer nearly came to blows with conservative activist and former Donald Trump aide Sebastian Gorka.
The encounter happened in full view of more than 100 right-wing social media stars who were at the White House for a ‘summit’ focused on grievances against Twitter and Facebook.
A Secret Service agent ultimately intervened to separate the two men.
Playboy’s White House correspondent Brian Karem, who doubles as a CNN political analyst, started the melee by telling the conservatives that they were ‘a group of people that are eager for demonic possession.’
‘You are a journalist, right?’ Gorka shouted from across the lawn.
‘Come on over here and talk to me, brother,’ Karem responded. ‘We can go outside and have a long conversation.’
Gorka baited him, announcing as reporters looked on that Karen was ‘threatening me now in the White House! You’re threatening me in the Rose Garden.’
Gorka – who has said he was once a part-time British soldier – steamed across the Rose Garden.
By now firmly in Karem’s face, he boomed: ‘You’re a punk! You’re not a journalist! You’re a punk!’
‘Go home!’ Karem shot back. ‘Hey Gorka! Get a job!’
The assembled activists shouted ‘Gorka! Gorka! Gorka!’ as Secret Service agents took positions near both men.
‘Just for the record,’ one social media influencer sniped, ‘he’d kick your punk ass.’
Karem is best known for berating former White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders in a televised 2018 exchange about Trump’s family separation policy at the border.
‘You throw children in cages! You’re a parent! You’re a parent of young children!’ he yelled, in footage that rocketed around the world. ‘Don’t you have any empathy for what they go through?’
On Thursday Karem appeared ready to explode again until a Secret Service agent intercepted him.
Another activist – Brandon Tatum, a black conservative blogger – jawed at Karem minutes later, saying he had ‘threatened Gorka just a minute ago. You told him to go outside.’
‘I told him I would talk to him,’ the CNN personality responded. ‘I said I would talk to him. I didn’t threaten him. I’m standing right here! … I didn’t threaten to kick his butt.’
‘Everybody knows what that means,’ Tatum shot back. It’s an embarrassment.’
‘Yes you are,’ Karem countered.
Gorka later said in a statement to right-wing news website the Daily Caller: ‘Brian Karem is a washed up has-been who allegedly writes for a soft-porn magazine and who verbally abused Sarah Huckabee Sanders for years. Someone had to take him on.’
Trump has turned taunting reporters into a contact sport, decrying journalists as purveyors of ‘fake news.’
The limited portion of Thursday’s social media summit that was open to reporters included complaints that conservatives are purposely silenced on the larger digital platforms, giving mainstream reporters more room to run unchallenged.
Joy Villa, a Trump-backing media personality, blasted reporters before Thursday’s argument heated up.
‘We’re citizen journalists,’ she said. ‘We respect you guys but you’ve got to stop reporting fake news.’
‘None of us wants to do interviews with you guys. None of us wants to talk to you,’ she said. ‘The president doesn’t want to. We don’t need any of that.’
‘Let us have our voice! We have an unbiased opinion,’ she told Karem, who lectured her about ‘legitimate journalism.’
‘Verify your facts, and then you can call yourself a reporter,’ he said.
As White House journalists were hustled out of the Rose Garden by White House press ‘wranglers,’ Gorka and Karem were seen arguing again at the doors to the Palm Room.
Gorka later posted on social media that he had been ‘threatened.’
The near-brawl came after the conservative activists had first met for a summit on social media then been invited by Trump to watch his Rose Garden statement admitting defeat in his attempt to ask about citizenship status in the 2020 Census.
He had railed against social media in a freewheeling speech accusing Silicon Valley giants of suppressing right-of-center views.
Ironically, Twitter went out worldwide on Thursday as attendees gathered for the social media summit in the White House East Room – but came back up before remarks in which he accused the tech brand of making it intentionally difficult for people to follow him.
The summit was billed as an attempt to promote transparency and fairness. White House reporters were thrown out and the live stream cut when Trump started to take questions.
In a free-wheeling speech akin to his performances at campaign rallies, Trump praised conservative social media figures for ‘the c**p you come up with,’ got applause for calling the mainstream media ‘fake news,’ and bemoaned his own apparent difficulties with Twitter.
He invited bloggers Diamond and Silk up on stage to speak, hailed the work of Project Veritas director James O’Keefe who has caught Google executives on undercover camera appearing to confirm claims of anti-conservative bias – something disputed by Google – and was starting to take a question from a former adviser turned broadcaster Sebastian Gorka when the livestream was cut.
In the course of the speech he claimed to be a victim of censorship himself.
‘I lot of bad things are happening. I have people, they come up to me: “Sir, we want to follow you. They won’t let us on,”‘ he claimed.
‘And it was so different than it was, even six, seven months ago. I was picking up unbelievable amounts of people, and I’m hotter now than I was then. ‘It used to take me a short number of days to pick up 100,000 people. I’m not complaining.
‘We’re like at 60-some-odd million. I was picking them up 100,000 people every very short period of time,’ he said.
‘Now it’s, I would say, 10 times as long. And I notice things happening, when I put out something – a good one that people like, right? A good tweet – it goes up.
‘It used to go up, it would say 7,000; 7,008; 7,017; 7,024; 7,032, 7,044, right? Now it goes 7,000; 7,008; 6,998. Then they go 7,009; 6,074. I said: “What’s going on? It never did that before.”‘
The speech, to a friendly audience, resembled a performance at one of his rallies.
And he used it to make a new, incendiary charge against Democratic 2020 candidates: that they were pushing ‘something worse than socialism, Communism,’ and wanting to turn the U.S. into ‘Venezuela.’
A source inside the room told DailyMail.com that duo Diamond and Silk spoke while the platform was down. So did House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and GOP Rep. Dan Crenshaw.
Representatives from Twitter, Facebook and Google were not invited to the White House event that was overshadowed earlier in the week by a decision to invite, and then disinvite, a conservative political cartoonist accused of using an anti-Semitic trope.
Trump said he’d be holding a separate meeting for them later in the month. ‘they see the unfairness of what’s happening,’ he insisted in his remarks. ‘Have a big meeting and a real conversation,’ he said.
On Thursday, the president accused Twitter of engaging in a conspiracy to suppress his message and the number of followers he’s getting.
He railed against the ‘fake news media,’ as well, claiming that CNN and other outlets are trying to silence his message. ‘We’re not going to be silenced,’ he said.
Trump repeatedly insisted that it’s a bipartisan issue.
‘I am not speaking for our side. I don’t even know if you’re on our side,’ he claimed, even though the guest list was carefully-curated. ‘Big tech must not censor the voices of the American people.’
The White House itself was accused of censorship this week.
Graphic artist Ben Garrison said in a statement that he had a discussion with the White House ‘and we came to the conclusion that my presence at the Social Media Summit would be a media distraction from the President’s message.’ Both parties decided Tuesday that he should not come, he writes.
‘They were nice about it, but naturally, I’m disappointed,’ he said, at first.
But Garrison says he was driven to defend himself after the White House told a news outlet that his invited had been ‘rescinded,’ violating the pact it had made not to discuss the situation.
‘I was asked to remain silent about the whole thing. I said I would remain silent and I did remain silent,’ he said. ‘But then, overnight, they released a statement saying Ben Garrison will no longer be attending.’
He said the White House’s conduct was ‘disappointing,’ as he’d been promised that Donald Trump’s aides would be ‘ignoring the entire thing.’
‘It is obvious to anyone with common sense, I am not anti-Semitic,’ he said, blasting the Alliance Defense Fund for tarnishing his reputation by claiming that he is.
The White House had not released a statement at the time of Garrison’s message, though. In fact, presidential aides repeatedly told DailyMail.com that they couldn’t comment on the controversy.
Politico first reported that the cartoonist who’d posted a copy of his invitation to Twitter wasn’t coming to the event anymore and cited a senior aide as the information source.
The article did not how the arrangement came to be, however, the piece’s headline said Garrison’s invite had been ‘pulled’ by the White House.
Sources familiar with the situation would not talk to DailyMail.com about what had happened, although the fact that Garrison was not coming was confirmed.
It wasn’t until Garrison’s public statement that the chain of events was fully known.