Allen West uncut: ‘I finally get to be a regular guy’
Allen West is on a mission.
"We are going to expose the other side for the racists that they are!" boomed West to a small audience crammed into a hotel conference room in National Harbor, Md., in March. The black Republican former congressman was there to raise money for the Allen West Foundation, a group he established after losing a tough re-election effort last year.
West hopes to spend $6 million on the midterm elections in 2014 to support and mentor 12 conservative candidates who are either minorities or have served in the military. While he commends the Republican Party for its attempt to bring more minorities into the fold, he seems to lack faith in its ability to pull it off. According to West, Republicans didn't give him the time of day when he first asked for support.
"There's fertile ground there, and I'm not going to sit back there and wait for them. I'm going to do it myself," West told Yahoo News. "I don't want people to have to struggle as I did. I want them to know that there's a place that they can come to for assistance so I can be an advocate for them to help them out."
Despite being knocked out of his seat after a single term by then-28-year-old Patrick Murphy last year, West has retained his rock star street cred with movement conservatives. When he attended the Conservative Political Action Conference in March, where he gave the rousing, early-morning speech, fans besieged him with requests for pictures and autographs.
During his brief tenure in the House, West quickly developed a reputation for shooting from the hip, plunging headfirst into noisy disputes with Democrats that made for fine cable news catnip. But now that he's no longer in office, West is free to take his rhetoric to a whole new level.
"I finally get to be a regular guy," West said. "It's great."
During his speech at the conference, for instance, West pointed to the American triumph over Naziism in World War II as an example of how the nation would survive President Barack Obama’s presidency. "When an unstoppable Nazi regime and war machine threatened to extinguish the light of free nations, we triumphed," West told the audience of conservative activists. "And ladies and gentlemen, when Barack Obama packs his bags and makes a hasty retreat back to Chicago, we will persevere."
It’s not standard practice for statesmen—even former ones—to drop the name of Hitler and the sitting president in the same breath, but West said he was making an important point. "You can say whatever you want; what I'm saying is that we've had challenges," West had told Yahoo News after the speech. "We have a president that is managing the demise of America. Our economic demise, our energy demise, our national security demise. If we can't talk about that as a challenge, I don't care what people say."
In his new life as a private citizen, West co-hosts an online talk show that launched earlier this year on the website Pajamas Media, which gives him hours to pontificate—and spout off about anything he wants.
During discussions on the show with co-hosts Michelle Fields and John Phillips, West doesn’t hold back from taking shots at media figures and politicians. On a recent episode, he called New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg a "gnome" and joked that short people "should not be in political office." In another episode, he called MSNBC host Touré Neblett a "coward" and a "punk." He also mocked Fox News' Brit Hume for wearing a pink shirt on TV.
"Not a fan of salmon?" Phillips asked him after a brief rant about Hume’s clothing.
"Eating salmon," West replied. "Not watching, you know, a guy dressed in salmon."
Later, West described the horror he faced watching a Calvin Klein ad with a male model in underwear. "I was like ewww, you know?" he said.
"Am I an anti-gay person?" he once asked Fields and Phillips during a discussion about same-sex marriage on the show. (West supports civil unions, but not changing the definition of marriage.) They both assured him this was not the case. "But that's what the media will say about me," West responded. "Well, they say a lot of things," Phillips said. West turned and looked directly into the camera. "Bastard," he said, ambiguously.
During another show, West offered his solution to Cyprus' banking problems. "If they had the Second Amendment in Cyprus," he said, "there is no way they could do this."
Fields, who sits across from West on the show and often laughs nervously after West makes some of his more off-color comments, said West acts like a new man in the aftermath of his race with Murphy.
"I feel like his guard has come down," Fields told Yahoo News. "He's so much more relaxed and so much more personable now that he's on the show. It's probably just the stress of the election that got to him, and now it's wonderful that we have an opportunity to see who Allen really is."
West is making no immediate plans to run for office, but says he may re-enter the arena "when the time is right." What that means exactly is up to interpretation. (He's fond of pointing to another young politician, Abraham Lincoln, who, like West, served only a single term in Congress. So stay tuned.)
For now, he plans to focus on his new organization and growing the audience of the online show. And no one, he says, will tell him what to say.
"I'm gonna say what I want to say anyhow, but yeah, the interesting thing is I have a platform," he said. "Losing a congressional race does not mean that you've defeated me."