It was 6:41 p.m. Tuesday when Michael S. Smith II’s social media criticism of a top White House national security adviser boiled into a feud.
Smith, a terrorism analyst who lives in Charleston County, was at home, starting to cook dinner when his phone rang. On the other end was Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to President Donald Trump.
"Why is there such vitriol pumping out of you constantly, every day now?" Gorka asked a few minutes into their conversation, according to a recording of the call provided to The Post and Courier.
Their exchange went on for more than 20 minutes, growing heated at times as the two men began to speak over each other.
Smith has in recent weeks been a vocal critic of Gorka’s position in the White House. He's said the former Breitbart News national security editor is unqualified to have the president’s ear for sensitive decisions, and he started using the hashtag "#FakeTerrorismExpert" on Twitter last week.
"It’s so strange. I look at your Twitter feed once or twice a day, and again, it’s half a dozen tweets about me, and I’ve never met you," Gorka said.
"Wow," Smith shot back. "Are you defeating jihad by monitoring or trolling my Twitter feed?" he said.
Throughout their conversation, Gorka offered to meet with Smith in Washington to air his criticisms, and at one point, he appeared to offer to resign his post "if you can convince me that I have no place in national security." Smith says they had previously been introduced by a top counterterrorism official who cited him as an expert on terrorist groups' online recruitment efforts.
But Smith said that offer came couched with the threat of a lawsuit — one made before he started recording.
At one point in the recording, Gorka is heard saying he wanted to talk to Smith to understand his viewpoint before deciding to "show these materials to legal counsel."
Smith said he started recording their conversation after hearing that threat. He said the call was made from a cellphone — not an official White House line where it would be logged — so he wanted to have a record of their interaction.
"Put yourself in my shoes as somebody ... " Smith said, cut off mid-sentence after only tentatively accepting the invitation.
"No, put yourself in my shoes,” Gorka said. "I’ve never met you, and I’ve never attacked you, and your Twitter feed is an incessant berating of my professional acumen."
Gorka and a White House spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday. The recording of Smith’s call was first reported by Newsweek.
By Wednesday night, Gorka’s offer of a face-to-face meeting had been rescinded. Earlier in the day, Smith was quoted in a Wall Street Journal article about Gorka.
Smith, who is in the business of tracking the self-proclaimed Islamic State on social media, has emerged over the past few years as a leading commentator on the rise of the terror group. The College of Charleston graduate has worked as a consultant for the news media, members of Congress and national security officials.
Smith said he voted for Trump in South Carolina’s Republic primary and the general election. He said he considered taking a position in the Pentagon at the request of then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. On Thursday, he posted a screenshot of an email from Flynn on Twitter.
Last month, however, he decided to pursue a doctorate instead, citing a university he declined to name. He said he was deterred by the central positions of Gorka and Stephen Bannon, the president’s assistant to whom he reports.
"These people are claiming to possess expertise (and) experience sufficient to be advising the most powerful man in the world on the most important portfolio part of his agenda," Smith told The Post and Courier.
"If you saw a 14-year-old driving a school bus loaded with kids down the street, wouldn’t you want to try to do something to prevent a disaster from happening?"
The feud comes as Gorka has become a more prominent voice in the White House. In the last week, the The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post have published detailed articles chronicling his rise as an outsider working for the conservative Breitbart website, to Washington’s inner circle.
Gorka's role has come under greater scrutiny for his views on terrorism. He told the Post, for instance, that he rejects the traditional consensus that factors like tribalism and U.S. foreign policy have contributed to the rise of terrorism, instead blaming "religious ideology."