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Wednesday, Apr 11, 2012, 1:27 pm

Rep. Allen West: ‘78 to 81’ House Democrats Are Members of Communist Party

By Matt Bellassai

Florida Congressman Allen West speaks at the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. (Photo courtesy of Flickr user Gage Skidmore)

Tea Party favorite caught on tape channeling Joe McCarthy

Is potential GOP vice presidential nominee Allen West taking a page from Joseph McCarthy's book? The Florida congressman told supporters at a town hall meeting yesterday he’d “heard” that 78 to 81 House Democrats were members of the Communist Party. Cue the media frenzy.

Captured on tape, the short exchange began when one of about 100 audience members asked West, “What percentage of the American legislature do you think are card-carrying Marxists or international socialists?” The crowd bristled and moaned in response, but West went with it. “Good question,” he said, before offering an oddly specific response. The audience shifted uncomfortably.

After the report went viral, West spokeswoman Angela Melvin offered a statement to several inquiring media outlets defending the remark: “The Congressman was referring to the 76 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The Community Party has publicly referred to the Progressive Caucus as its allies. The Progressive Caucus speaks for itself. These individuals certainly aren’t proponents of free markets or individual economic freedom.”

True, a 2010 Communist Party press release mentioned the Progressive Caucus as a (former) ally, but as Business Insider notes:

Because the Communist Party has referred to the Progressive Caucus as an ally does not signal correlation. And it certainly doesn't mean that the Democrats are also members of the Communist Party. No members Congress are members of the Communist Party. And there is absolutely no mention of the Communist Party on the Congressional Progressive Caucus website.

And, according to Politico, a Communisty Party USA spokesperson has called Tuesday's comments a "sad ploy" and "an absurd way to cast a shadow over his colleagues."

Nonetheless, West has made a name for himself as a fiery Florida congressman with a penchant for inflammatory language. In November 2010, he defended his would-be chief-of-staff, Joyce Kaufman, who had pulled out of the job after media attention focused on an earlier violent anti-government statement she’d made, with a bombastic threat against people “on the left.” West told a radio station he was “even more focused that this liberal, progressive, socialist agenda, this left-wing, vile, vicious, despicable machine that’s out there is soundly brought to its knees.” More recently, in July 2011, West sent a particularly vicious e-mail to fellow Florida Congressperson and DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, calling her “vile, unprofessional, and despicable,” “a coward,” “characterless,” and “not a lady,” and demanding that she “shut the heck up.”

According to Business Insider, a spokesman for the campaign of West’s Democratic challenger, Patrick Murphy, said, “that was exactly what McCarthy did — accuse people without much evidence of being communists ... We thankfully put that chapter of our history behind us. Now, I guess if you disagree with someone on policy, you're also a communist."

The exchange, first reported by the Palm Beach Post, happened at a town hall meeting in Jensen Beach, Florida—located in the district in which Congressman West will seek re-election against Murphy this November.

While he campaigns to keep his own congressional seat, West’s name has been tossed around by South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, Gov. Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich and former GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain as a favored pick, particularly among Tea Partiers, for the Republican Party’s VP nomination.

Given the long list of blunders Republican contenders have amassed during primary season so far, it looks like Congressman West would fit right in.

Matt Bellassai is a spring 2012 In These Times editorial intern.

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