Vish Burra has made a name for himself in the political world as a provocateur and enabler of controversy. His association with scandal-ridden Congressman George Santos (R-NY) has put him in the spotlight as a key player in the establishment of the new right, a movement that rose to prominence around former President Trump. Meet Vish Burra, the man behind George Santos.
Vish Burra was drawn to work for the newly elected Congressman Rep. George Santos (R-NY) as he saw him become embroiled in a scandal. When asked by TPM about the reason for his interest, Burra was quick to respond that the controversy surrounding Santos’ lies about his personal history and campaign finances intrigued him.
“Of course,” Burra remarked over the phone Friday evening. “That’s my brand.”
As the director of operations for Santos, Burra finds excitement in turmoil and relishes in disputes. Despite the daily presence of reporters outside Santos’ office, Burra remains steadfast, standing firmly behind the embattled politician. Unlike the typical Capitol Hill staffers who shy away from the media, Burra is no stranger to the spotlight. He has a history of being a high-profile activist and has previously been in the midst of controversies, such as supporting Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) during a scandal and playing a key role in the Hunter Biden laptop affair. In his conversation with TPM, Burra spoke about his political beliefs and past experiences, including leading a controversial Republican club.
Burra’s physical appearance, with his bald head, beard, and broad shoulders, makes him easily noticeable in a crowd – a characteristic he enjoys. Before joining Santos’ team, Burra was a frequent guest on right-wing podcast and web broadcasts. In one of these interviews, he discussed his philosophy of “activism and institutional infiltration” with YouTuber Silas Amunga. Burra compared his approach to two katanas to the neck, using manga metaphors to describe his style.
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“For those out there who watch ‘Dragon Ball Z,’ you know, political activism is kind of like … trying to summon a spirit bomb,” Burra said. “You need to sit there, and you need to gather the energies, organize the energies, and the resources, and the power into a spot where you can control it, manipulate it fully, and then you aim it out and shoot … and destroy.”
The comparison to anime is fitting as Burra’s politics exhibit the aggressiveness, twisted humor, and thirst for attention characteristic of the online alt-right during the Trump era. As a child of South Indian immigrants, Burra views his involvement in Republican politics as a form of trolling.
“Talking about the quiet part out loud, we are not the demographic that should be at the forefront of defending these, quote en quote, ‘values,’” Burra said in the interview with Amunga. “So, when we do it, it’s like an extra shitpost.”
The journey that led Burra to becoming a MAGA provocateur and a member of Santos’ staff started in New York City. It took him through a well-established Manhattan Republican organization, a lavish event attended by white supremacists, the guidance of an anonymous mentor, and the “war room” of former President Trump’s strategist Steve Bannon.
Burra was raised in Staten Island, the conservative and quirky fifth borough of New York City. As a child, he struggled to focus his energy. He attended one of the city’s three prestigious specialized public high schools before being transferred to another program, where he earned his GED.
“I was smart enough to be above the others, but I was too interested in other shit to sit down and study,” Burra said.
Burra, 31, became increasingly unable to keep out of trouble as he grew older. Burra built what he characterized to TPM as a drug peddling “empire” throughout his undergraduate years. It all came crashing down in the middle of 2014, when he was caught with almost two pounds of marijuana and a tiny amount of hallucinogens. Burra stated that he got into the business to gain “respect”.
“I wanted people to realize that I was the best in the room,” he explained.
Burra’s drug bust occurred not long before Trump initiated his first presidential campaign. Burra noticed a growing attraction to the Republican political scene. Burra was moved by Trump’s contradictory brand of hypercapitalist anti-establishment populism.
“I’ve had my own red pilling experiences slowly over time, but it all clicked with Trump,” Burra said, using an online right phrase for awakening.
Burra’s “red pilling” also involved challenging widely held beliefs about racism in this nation. Because he never encountered employment barriers in Staten Island, which is predominately white, he claimed that he never “bought into” the concept of discrimination. Additionally, he supported Trump’s tough attitude on immigration and made the argument that the immigrants of his parents were fundamentally different from those whose immigration Trump would like to restrict.
“The justifications and the reasons why immigration made sense in my father’s time is not the situation today,” said Burra. “The mentalities are different of, like, the immigrants who come today and the immigrants of before.”
Although most economists concur that immigrants benefit the overall economy, Burra has a pessimistic view of individuals who would send money home or eventually go back.
“My father came to this country, landed in New York, decided he never wanted to leave and wanted to build here. Immigrants that come today come here because the dollar converts better in their local currency, and then they decide to invest that back home,” he continued. “And then when they retire they go and live there like kings.”
Burra was drawn to Trump and the MAGA movement because of the program and the opposition of his family and friends. According to his account, some of his close friends “revolted” and referred to him as a “racist” when he voiced doubts about Trump’s Democratic Party opponent Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. This made Burra’s position more rigid.
“Then I thought, OK, he needs to win to show he’s right because I think I’m right,” Burra said of Trump, adding, “You know, that’s very human.”
Soon after President Trump took office in 2017, Burra delved deeper into politics. He attended his first gathering of the Staten Island Young Republicans and also visited the New York Young Republican Club, which boasts of being the country’s oldest and largest and its connections to Presidents Lincoln and Taft. The club made headlines for hosting a gala in December 2022, attended by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Donald Trump Jr., Roger Stone, Steve Bannon, conspiracy theorist Jack Posobiec, and the white nationalist couple Peter and Lydia Brimelow, as well as a recently elected Congressman from Long Island who would soon become embroiled in controversy. The following week, The New York Times published an expose that sparked questions about George Santos’ resume and revelations about his largely fabricated life story he told during his campaign.
However, the organization that hosted the event was not the same one that Burra had joined. No, not yet. According to Burra, despite its illustrious past, the New York Young Republican Club was “underutilized” during the start of the Trump period, with stuffy, rarely attended gatherings.
“That’s where I started making my plans, and my moves, and started using my street smarts and my guile to like organize and get in front of people … just kind of like showing that I’ve got the verve, I know what you want, and you’ve got to roll with me to get it,” said Burra.
In the 2022 YouTube video, Burra implied that alcohol played a significant role in this plot.
“One thing I do understand about New Yorkers is we love to party, and we love to get together and drink, hang out, and have fun,” Burra said. “That’s a way to organize young people that I know works personally. … I could organize 50 people around eating a Snickers bar in New York if you told them there’s a cocktail.”
Inside the club, Burra collaborated with Gavin Wax, an activist he refers to as his “partner in crime.” By 2018, the pair had taken over the club’s leadership, with Wax serving as president and Burra as vice president. Wax, in an emailed comment to TPM, dismissed claims of the organization’s ties to white nationalists and lauded Burra.
“The New York Young Republican Club takes pride in being a forum for open and constructive dialogue. We host speakers of diverse viewpoints at our events, and we do not deny access to guests based on thoughtcrimes the media alleges them to have committed,” Wax wrote. “I have been proud to work alongside Vish to make the New York Young Republican Club the largest and most successful organization of its kind. We are proud of our objective successes, and we are undeterred by our opponents’ critiques.”
While Burra certainly is not scared to talk about himself and is not frightened of controversy, he refuses to comment on any of the numerous issues surrounding his new employer.
“I’m not responsible for communications,” Burra said. “I’m only responsible for operations.”
Burra revels in the spectacle of journalists gathering outside Santos’ office every day and swarming around the Congressman every time he appears, often with Burra by his side. This is a testament to how the new right that rose around Trump is making its mark in Washington. Burra is capitalizing on the aggressive, controversy-seeking nature of the movement and using it as a means of defending Santos from the never-before-seen scandals he faces. For Burra, the whole thing is just another opportunity for humor.
Burra seems to enjoy the attention, and he claims that Santos does too. He characterized Santos as finding the absurdity of the situation amusing. However, it appears that Burra and the Congressman are in on a joke that is lost on everyone else.
The George Santos controversy was first reported in a little newspaper, but nobody seemed attentive. This is how North Shore Leader broke the George Santos scandal.
“Of course he is,” Burra said when asked if Santos enjoys the daily skirmishes outside his office. “Because, like, it’s such a farce. It’s all a farce. All the lies that Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren, all these people, have told and they’re going to give him crap? Like, you know, it’s ridiculous.”
Regardless of the lies Democrats have spread, Santos is by far the only politician to have been exposed for having a wholly bogus backstory in the current era of Washington.
However, it is challenging to contest Burra’s main point regarding Santos’ participation in Congress.
“One part of this is going to be, like, you know, just exposing the farce for what it is,” Burra said.