Congressman-elect Allen West was interviewed on Fox News Sunday this weekend. He was surprisingly mellow. The barn-burning campaigner who called for an armed march on Lexington and Concord was nowhere in evidence. Despite interviewer Chris Wallace's best efforts at incitement, West remained poised and polite, explaining that, yes, while it is true that a vast left-wing machine is bent upon destroying good patriots like Joyce Kaufman, what's really important is a return to our "conservative, constitutional" values. Which sounds kind of nice.
It's tempting to believe that the new year has awoken some heretofore unsuspected spirit of bipartisan comity in Allen West's heart. The new year is, after all, a time for optimism, a time to believe that the best is yet ahead, that the coming 12 months will be kinder, more fruitful, more jam-packed with opportunity than the 12 that came before. Unfortunately, in the final weeks of 2010, no such optimism incubated among the dedicated liberals at People for the American Way, or PFAW. As the year withered away, they unleashed a barrage of increasingly hysterical screeds about the impending Republican takeover of Congress. Among them was an unsettling document titled "The Ten Scariest Republicans Heading to Congress," which, if read in the proper mood, will convince you that the United States of America has been hijacked by crypto-Nazi thugs, that the institution of representative democracy is doomed, and that the next Congress will be dominated by incurably violent sociopaths who cannot tell your average Democrat from the average suicide bomber.
Some of the report is exaggerated. Much of it is not. Naturally, Allen West, who will shortly replace Ron Klein as the representative of Florida's 22nd District, features prominently on PFAW's list. A serious look at their amassed Westian links paints a picture of Allen West that is very different from the one seen last night on Fox News and much stranger than even PFAW seems to know.
By his own admission, and as PFAW has noted, West is a "right-wing extremist" with a pronounced hatred of compromise. But that is an understatement. And now that a considerable cross section of religious conservatives, Tea Partiers, and right-wing mediafolk have expressed their desire for an Allen West presidential candidacy in 2012, it may be worth giving West's beliefs a more in-depth examination.
Three of Allen West's utterances reported upon in the PFAW article deserve particular attention. The first, below, is West's oft-repeated assertion that there are precisely 36 terrorist training camps in the United States. The second comes from an interview conducted one year ago in which West claimed to hate "big tents," "inclusivity," and "outreach." The third, which may be found in Westworld, Part II, is West's explanation for his support of the state of Israel -- a support West bases not upon the intrinsic value of Israel's democratic and liberal character but upon a long-discredited, racialist interpretation of the Bible's Old Testament.
Several of PFAW's links point to the above video, filmed at a 2009 speech in Jupiter, in which Allen West addresses the problem of illegal immigration. West is a fine but digressive speaker. He is also more than a little paranoid. During his discussion of illegal immigration, he calls the Obama administration's opposition to gun ownership "tyrannical," even though Barack Obama is not opposed to gun ownership, and compares Obama's push for amnesty to the rise of Adolf Hitler, even though Obama has never pushed for amnesty. Among several other bold promises, West claims that when he arrives in Washington, D.C., he is going to tell Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts to "pack your crap and get out." (As to the wishes of those in Massachusetts' Fourth District, who have elected Frank by wide margins in every election since 1980, West is serenely indifferent.)
The video is full of similarly surreal moments. One of the most surprising arrives when West claims, rightly, that our porous Mexican border is a national security issue but then bafflingly denies that the United States is in any way responsible for violence relating to Mexican drug cartels. The claim is ridiculous on its face. Ask yourself: Does the patronage of legal drug consumers contribute in any way to the wealth and power of pharmaceutical companies? If so, how is that any different from America's consumption of billions of dollars worth of Mexican drugs? The question never occurs to West's audience, which applauds with the mindless abandon of a laugh track.
This is a fine example of West's idiosyncratic rhetorical style, but it is not the audience's favorite. The audience cheers loudest when West is silliest, conflating the War On Illegals with his War On Islam.
"The number-one language being learned by Hezbollah Islamic terrorists right now is Spanish," he says:
No one's telling you about, if you go along to some of these little base camps they use along our border, you're finding Arabic translation into Spanish, translated into English. They're coming across our border. And at this time, regardless of what the president says, we are at war with a very vile enemy. And that enemy is radical Islamic terrorism. And they are here in our country. There are 36 training camps. There are one, there's one in northern Florida, there's two in my home-state of Georgia, there's even two outside of Washington D.C. And for those of you who take your summer vacations in New York, in upstate New York there's a place called Islamberg.
What West means by "Hezbollah Islamic terrorists" is anyone's guess. Hezbollah has only recently cemented and legitimized its presence in its home country of Lebanon. If Lebanon, still smarting from its recent conflict with Israel, has already begun some kind of imperial incursion into Mexico, it ought to be bigger news. And if West was telling the truth about terrorist training camps in Northern Florida, we must hope he has since taken a break from rabble-rousing to alert the proper authorities. A more likely scenario: West was speaking about Camp Kahlil, a Muslim summer camp for children aged 12 to 18 years, the website of which features a recording of Barack Obama speaking in New Hampshire about such radical subjects as "prosperity" and "opportunity."
Though Camp Kahlil is a Muslim camp, it is not an Arabic Muslim camp, as West's frightened listeners must have imagined. It is, rather, a camp full of black Muslims, the majority of whose families converted to the faith during the civil rights era. They are approximately as frightening as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and exactly as American.
Like visitors to Camp Kahlil, the inhabitants of Islamberg are black Muslims who have coexisted peacefully with their conservative neighbors in the town of Hancock since the village's formation in the 1980s. The Islambergers are Sufis -- a declension of Islam that has yet to spawn a single terrorist organization and the practitioners of which are derided as infidels by the Wahabbists and Salafists against whom West fought before he was kicked out of the Army.
Immediately after warning his listeners of the perils of Islamberg, West says: "If we don't get serious about securing our border, we're gonna lose this country." What, within this context, might he mean? Lose the country to whom? To Islamberg? To Hezbollah? Was West referring to our border with New York (which is porous indeed, except during rush hour), or to some little-known border with Lebanon?
West doesn't bother to explain, and he doesn't have to. Any collection of facts, press-ganged into hysterical propaganda and stated authoritatively, will suffice for West's purpose -- which, if this video is representative, is not to illuminate, but to obfuscate. Most of his fans will never know the difference, and the rest won't care. He may be a dissembler, they will think, but he is our dissembler.
And to what end? What's worrisome is less West's indifference to such annoyances as "truth" and "nuance" than the purpose to which his rhetorical skills are set. All politicians over-simplify. All politicians propagandize. Some do it to win elections; a few do it to emphasize the United States' promise and potential for unity. West's purpose seems both stranger and more obscure. What could be gained by turning a group of Americans in Jupiter, Florida, against another group of Americans in Hancock, New York? West's intention seems to be to separate the country, not from Mexico, but from its own constituent parts, out of some misshapen variant of patriotic ardor. It does not seem to matter to West that Islamberg, in our 11th-oldest state, is full of natural-born United States citizens. Their inherent Americanness is not enough for him.
When one is absolutely righteous,
there is no end to enemies. When one is always correct, everyone else must be wrong.
Even if such perfection existed, it would be obnoxious. Which is why humility is a skill most of us must acquire before the world considers us grown-up. Allen West has not acquired it. "There are three words I hate to hear used," West told The Weekly Standard in 2009. "I hate 'big tent.' I hate 'inclusiveness.' And I hate 'outreach.' I think you stand on the principles which made you great, which transcend everybody in America, and people will come to it."
But what of those who don't "come to it" -- "it," presumably, being Christianity, capitalism, conservatism, and a generational hatred of Islam? Or those who disagree about what "it" might mean? One may have wished -- and many did wish -- that West's exclusionary rhetoric in The Weekly Standard was some kind of aberration; tough-guy talk meant to stir interest in his campaign. It wasn't, as West proceeded to demonstrate again and again. Those with differing theories of governance were not fellow patriots, or even honorable opponents: They were "maliciously" turning the United States into a "Third World socialist cesspool." Universal health care, exotic religious beliefs, atheism, liberalism, support for a two-state solution in Palestine: These were not concepts espoused by principled people with whom West happened to disagree, but signs of moral depravity. When there was an outcry over West's choice of radio host Joyce Kaufman as his chief of staff -- because Kaufman had once called for the lynching of illegal immigrants -- those raising the alarm were not citizens voicing a concern, but part of a "vile, vicious, and despicable" left-wing machine. And when, on his way to a speech, West spied a bumper sticker on a car advocating the peaceful coexistence of the world's religions, he took a good, long look at the driver. Because that bumper sticker, West explained, was treasonous.
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It is disheartening to hear such sentiments from anyone but never moreso than from a military man whose country is joined in a difficult war by forces from such socialist cesspools as Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Canada, and France. If, as West claims, social and economic liberals harbor hatred for the United States and wish ill upon her servicemembers, then the leaders and happy inhabitants of such nearly "socialist" states must be downright satanic. We oughtn't be surprised if they are sabotaging the war effort as we speak.
West has lately been named to the House Armed Services Committee, and will almost certainly be appointed to the Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities subcommittee later this month. There, he will be expected to work with our allies to fight common enemies -- which will prove difficult, if West believes, as he must, that the Swiss and French are our common enemies. Not that West has ever called them such, but still -- words have meanings. If so-called "socialist" policies are evil, and if "evil" truly exists, it surely cannot metamorphose into a moral good somewhere over the mid-Atlantic. West knows that; he is no relativist. He's an idealist.
It is too early to know how idealism of this kind will play on the world stage, but it isn't too early to guess. The merest vestiges of common sense are all that is necessary to understand that repeatedly offering hysterical moral appraisals of political and ethical stands at odds with those of the American right is a poor way of expressing solidarity with our allies -- to say nothing of American service-members who might have voted for Barack Obama or Ron Klein. At best, it is an inefficient way to make friends. Yet West will soon be expected to make many, many friends, and many, many compromises -- in most cases, with men and women whom he reviles as not unpleasant, not wrong, not even morally suspect, but villainous. He will see villainy across the aisle, and he will see villainy across the ocean. If we are to take West at his word, we must assume he will attack such villainy, both here and abroad, with any weapon at his disposal. It could get ugly.
Click through to read Westworld, Part II.