A chief target of the groups is CAIR, the nation's largest Muslim civil rights organization and, according to the counterjihadists in South Florida, the Muslim Brotherhood's smiling public face in the United States. No one has borne the brunt of the Sunshine State Holy War more than Nezar Hamze, a former car dealership employee who became the organization's regional director in 2010.
Hamze, who's half-Lebanese and a registered Republican, is built like a lineman and sports a flattop. His political leanings were solidified when as an elementary-school student he wrote a letter to President Reagan and got a handwritten response. A regular at county Republican meetings, his attempt to formally join the Broward Republican Executive Committee was rebuffed in 2011 when activists accused him of being a terrorist.
Hamze has had a series of run-ins with West. At a town hall meeting in Pompano Beach last winter, Hamze, Koran in hand, challenged West on his assertion that Islam was a "totalitarian" belief system.
"He has no problem lying," says West's Democratic challenger. "He has no problem distorting the truth. There's no place for that in our country."
West responded by ticking off a detailed timeline of conflict between Muslims and the Western world. "Something happened when Mohammed enacted the Hijra and he left Mecca and he went out to Medina," West said. "It became violence." Hamze was shouted down with cries of "Taqiyya alert!"—a reference to the Islamic principle that activists claim instructs jihadists to lie about their true intentions.
"I've been on the battlefields, my friend," West told him. "Don't try to blow sunshine up my butt."
"He uses his high-school-insult-type strategy; it's not unique to Muslims—he does that to everybody," Hamze says. "Anyone who doesn't agree with him, he turns on the high-school-boy-insult mode. And everyone loves it."
West's a fan of the World War II miniseries Band of Brothers and the real-life unit it followed, the Army's 101st Airborne Division. So when Hamze later wrote to his congressman asking him to denounce extremists, including Geller, following the July 2011 Norway terrorist attacks (she had figured prominently in gunman Anders Breivik's manifesto), West didn't have to reach far for a response. He simply cribbed from the 101st's defiant one-word letter to the Nazis, who had requested the Americans surrender their position at Bastogne:
WEST DIDN'T JUST ride the tea party's wave in 2010—in many respects, he is the movement's political avatar. Three years ago, West's second congressional campaign was catapulted forward at a tea party rally where he captured activists' hearts with one of his trademark fiery (critics would say unhinged) speeches aligning their cause with that of the American Revolution. "As a great man said in December 1776: 'These are the times that try men's souls. When the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will in this crisis shrink from his duties.' If you're here to shrink away from the duties, there's a door—get out," he told activists during his last campaign. "But if you're here to stand up, to get your musket, to fix your bayonet, and to charge into the ranks, you are my brother and sister in this fight."
West acknowledges the centrality of race to his political appeal. "If I were still that inner-city young black man in Atlanta, maybe…on drugs, with a bunch of children from different mothers, not out working, I would be their poster child," he says of the left. As it is, he's their nemesis—a black man who's left what he calls the "21st-century plantation." Although he's clashed with his base on occasion—condemning, for instance, Newt Gingrich's proposal to reinstate poll tests—to tea partiers, he's a one-man counterpoint to the notion that racial animus has any place in their movement. The irony is that West's acceptance comes largely from his willingness to castigate another American minority group: Muslims.
West implores his followers to read Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals to understand what they're up against—and learn how to tackle it—and has adopted Glenn Beck's conspiratorial whisperings about progressivism. A few days before we met at the synagogue, he'd implicated the entire Congressional Progressive Caucus as card-carrying communists, and he's not backing down. He never backs down.
"At first glance, I go, 'That sounds a little out there,'" says Eleanor Duffy of Jupiter, Florida. "I hate all that melodramatic stuff. But there are a lot of communists. Because I respect him, I'm willing to look at it. If Allen West said it, I'm going to look into it."
Only once has West truly been challenged on his tea party bona fides, and then only briefly. When House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) wanted to inspire his fellow Republicans to swallow their pride and vote to raise the debt ceiling last summer, he brought them together in the Capitol and showed them a short clip from The Town, the Ben Affleck flick in which a band of Boston gangsters dress up like nuns and rob a bank. In the scene in question, Affleck's character makes an appeal to a friend: "I need your help. I can't tell you what it is. You can never ask me about it later. And we're gonna hurt some people." His friend pauses for a beat, and responds: "Whose car we gonna take?"
West rose, and, amid the 242-man House Republican caucus, volunteered his services: "I'm ready to drive the car."
Tea partiers, including Trento, called the debt ceiling vote a betrayal, but in the end the backlash was minimal. Allen West can't betray the tea party; Allen West is the tea party.
PATRICK ERIN MURPHY, the 29-year-old vice president of an environmental cleanup firm, would like nothing more than to make West a congressional has-been.
He "really just spews hatred," the political novice who's running against West says when we meet at his Palm Beach Gardens campaign headquarters in April. "He has no problem lying. He has no problem distorting the truth. There's no place for that in our country."
"And," he adds, "the latest one about the progressive caucus being communists—you can't say something like that and not expect consequences." Palm Beach Democrats have adopted West's jabs as a badge of honor, literally; volunteers at the opening of Murphy's campaign office wrote "communist" on their name tags and addressed each other as "comrade." "I never saw so many communists in the same room," Murphy joked to supporters.
It will be a close race, though money won't be an issue for West. One benefit of regularly accusing the opposition of high treason is that it opens up wallets across the country. He had $3.3 million on hand after the first quarter, an enormous sum for a House race. Murphy, meanwhile, has so far banked nearly $2 million—more than almost any other Democratic House challenger in the country.
"We call a Fuckin' Muslim Terrorist a Fuckin' Muslim Terrorist," Miami Mike tells me, "and FUCK that politically correct shit which is bringing down this country…"
In late January, following Florida's redistricting, West opted to shift from the redrawn 22nd District to the more politically favorable 18th. Murphy followed him—a bad move, according to West, who compares the race to the Battle of Cannae during the Second Punic War. "If he goes back and studies Hannibal, you may not want to follow a very savvy person that just avoided an ambush, because obviously they got something that's waiting for you," West told Roll Call.
Of note: Hannibal—and his elephants—won the battle but lost the war.
IN WELLINGTON, West has a six-man security detail, volunteers in New Balance kicks and floppy hats with cloth flaps in the back in the style of the French Foreign Legion. They don't look especially capable of stopping anyone from doing anything, but they do have one thing going for them: They are absolutely not members of the Outlaw motorcycle gang.
The Outlaws are what are known in biking circles as "1 percenters," so named not because of their affluence but because unlike the 99 percent of bikers who are peaceful and law-abiding, they're out to raise hell. An all-white motorcycle club—one of its insignias used to feature a swastika—the Outlaws are infamous for their violent crimes, racism, misogyny, and (paradoxically) undying support for Allen West.
During the 2010 campaign, it came out that West had penned a monthly column, "Washingtoons," for a Florida-based biker magazine called Wheels on the Road, which featured Outlaw ads and bulletins along with occasionally racist and misogynist content. West had appeared with the Outlaws at campaign events and even used them for security during press conferences. His opponent tried to make an issue of it, but in vain—in part, says the editor of Wheels on the Road, because West couldn't possibly have been an actual Outlaw: "Every biker knows that there are no blacks allowed in the Outlaws."
The editor, a thickly bearded man who goes simply by "Miami Mike," calls West a friend and says the appeal for bikers goes beyond the congressman's affinity for motorcycles—it's an attitude thing. "We call a Fuckin' Muslim Terrorist a Fuckin' Muslim Terrorist," Miami Mike tells me in an email, "and FUCK that politically correct shit which is bringing down this country and which will get a lot of people killed by some deranged Fuckin' Muslim Terrorist with a bomb strapped to him (or herself) in Midtown Anytown USA."
In West, they've found a politician who actually gets it.
WEST FINISHES HIS speech in Wellington, thanks the crowd, tips his Navy SEALs baseball hat once, and exits through the back of the hatch-shell amphitheater. The crowd swarms the exit, hoping to catch an autograph or just a final glimpse of Congress' biggest badass.
West fires up his bike and wheels away. We watch him glide off, a solitary figure melting into the distance. The middle-aged woman beside me can't contain herself. "I can't believe he just goes on the road by himself, and he's not concerned that someone's gonna follow him and shoot him," she says.
Does she really think someone would go after Allen West?
"You never know," she says, not skipping a beat. "People are crazy today."