Allen West isn’t in Congress anymore, but you wouldn’t know it at first sight. Arriving in one of Harris Hall’s dingy basement rooms, the Tea Party firebrand looks ever the politician, wearing a prominently-displayed badge from his Army days on his grey tux.
He’s surrounded by an entourage of several College Republicans and his hurried-looking press secretary, Brittany Zanin. West looks – and is – busier than ever. He’s the head of his own Super PAC, the author of an upcoming book, and a paid talking head on Fox News, among many other things.
But in an exclusive interview with THE CHRONICLE prior to his speech as part of the College Republicans’ Freedom Week, West shrugged off his new role as the head of a one-man Tea Party empire.
“Me? I don’t have an empire. I’m just a regular guy,” he says. “I think I have an incredible ability to speak truth to the American people and come up with solutions to a lot of the problems that we see happening – and it’s a heavy responsibility.”
Despite recent Tea Party congressional losses in Virginia and Alabama and West’s own failure to be reelected in his home Florida district in 2012, West is betting on the Tea Party’s long-run success.
Like he does with most topics, the former lieutenant colonel speaks about the Tea Party’s current state in military terms. To West, the conservative movement’s decentralized structure “makes it very easy for your adversary to divide and conquer you and attack you.” The Tea Party needs a “focal voice” to unite them, he says, and he doesn’t seem to think Ted Cruz is a prime candidate (West says his “tactics and strategy would have been different” for the government shutdown.) So who will this “focal voice” be in 2016?
Like any good politician, West doesn’t want to address the presidency – for now. Asked by THE CHRONICLE when he’d like to run, West laughs and shoots back: “that’s a loaded question. That’s [like asking], you know, “how often do you beat your wife?”
“Aaaaahh,” goes Brittany, West’s press secretary, exasperated at West’s politically incorrect expression. West gets serious.
“No one should ever say that I’m running for president,” he says. “If God were to lay it upon my heart, I’ll pray about it, I’ll talk to wife and my kids about it, and we’ll go from there.”
Although few consider him a GOP headliner for the presidency, West is one of the Tea Party’s superstars. And more than any other Tea Party candidate, his rise to popularity has been based on his outspoken beliefs on Islam; he’s a prominent advocate of the “Shariah-creep” theory, which stipulates that radical Muslims, led by shady Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups, are slowly imposing Shariah law in America – a prospect West finds realistic.
“Yeah, it very much so could happen,” he says. “All I think you got to do is drive not too far away from here to Dearborn, Michigan and see you already have a little bit of that creep. We have honor killings that are happening in the USA.”
But West doesn’t believe his outspoken stance on Islam is bigoted. He hits back against those who accuse him of Islamophobia, citing his trademark timeline of Islam’s supposedly inherent aggressiveness towards the West.
“If people don’t like me because of the fact that I know history, I can go back and quote from 610AD all the way up to the present, I can talk about all of the different parts of Islamic conquest,” he says. “If that upsets people that’s fine.”
West’s good-vs-evil, West-vs-East historiography is well-known. In his former Florida home district, he is a hero to fervent anti-Islam activists. It’s no surprise, then, that West’s new book capitalizes on his role as an all-American protector against both liberalism and Islam. “Guardian of the Republic: An American Ronin’s Journey to Faith, Family, and Freedom,” will be published in April.
The very title “American Ronin,” says West, comes from his fascination with martial Japanese culture. “As a warrior, as a soldier, I’ve been fascinated with the samurai culture,” he says. “The Ronin concept is very interesting, I explain that in the book and how it applies to me.”
West isn’t done with the military metaphors. When he describes the purpose behind his lecture at a liberal campus like Northwestern’s, he compares himself to a paratrooper (one of the many insignias on his lapel) infiltrating enemy territory. “What do paratroopers do? They jump in behind enemy lines,” he says. “They disrupt, they cause confusion, but they always maintain their goals and objectives.”
West says he’s talking to college students to reveal their dismal future in Obama’s America.
When Northwestern students walk across the stage and graduate, West explains, all Obama’s lofty rhetoric will do is “get you to end up in your parents’ basement.”