By: Jonathan Allen and Darren Samuelsohn
December 16, 2011 12:28 PM EST
In a handwritten note to a fellow lawmaker, Rep. Allen West reiterated his charge that Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels would “truly be proud” of the “Democrat Party” because of its use of “lies and deceit,” escalating an already tense battle over his use of Nazi comparisons.
On Thursday, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), the most senior black lawmaker in Congress, wrote to West, one of two black freshmen on the Republican side, to say that he was disappointed in a remark that West had made to reporters earlier in the day.
“He was a vicious notorious anti-Semite who went down in history as propagandist for Hitler. I beg of you to help raise the level of congressional discourse so that we can engage in vigorous debate without resort[ing] to personal attacks,” Conyers wrote on congressional stationery.
West returned fire later Thursday in a note embossed with his name and a congressional seal.
“Mr. Conyers, The Democrat Party does indeed have a vicious propaganda machine. It espouses lies and deceit and the Master of deceptive information would truly be proud,” West said, referring to Goebbels. “I have been personally attacked and denigrated on countless occasions. I do not appreciate your letter … Truth is Powerful Sir! Steadfast & Loyal, Allen.”
The Goebbels remark could have repercussions for West, who represents a part of South Florida that has a significant Jewish population. He came under attack in 2010 for saying that his opponent’s campaign tracker, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, had employed “Gestapo-type intimidation tactics,” but easily defeated then-Rep. Ron Klein, who is Jewish.
In an exchange with reporters in the House speakers lobby on Thursday afternoon, West invoked the Nazis again.
“If Joseph Goebbels was around, he’d be very proud of the Democrat Party, because they have an incredible propaganda machine,” West said. “Let’s be honest, you know, some of the people in the media are complicit with this and enabling them to get that type of message out.”
And, West scribbled his dismay on Conyers’ original note: “I am disappointed in the Democrat Party. Do I hate women? Do I hate children? Do I want to see handicapped Americans fend for themselves? Truth is Powerful. Lies & Manipulative language hurt!,” he wrote.
Democrats jumped on the line.
In addition to the personal note from Conyers, which, like West’s response, was provided exclusively to POLITICO, West’s remarks were denounced by several Democratic lawmakers, including Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who has an obvious vested interest in dragging down West’s re-election campaign.
“Congressman West needs to immediately apologize for insulting the memories of the millions who lost their lives during the Holocaust,” Israel said in a statement released by the DCCC. “Comparing political differences today to the worst Nazi propagandist diminishes what happened to millions of Jewish families during the Second World War. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Congressman West has made this type of hateful remark that makes a mockery of what millions of Jewish families suffered.”
But West’s note to Conyers suggests he has no intention of apologizing to anyone.
In his first months in the House, West became a go-to freshman for reporters in search of incendiary quotes. But until this latest episode, he appeared to have taken a milder tack.
As propaganda minister for the Nazis, Goebbels’ orchestrated book-burnings and a successful media campaign to turn non-Jewish Germans against their Jewish neighbors in service of Adolph Hitler’s effort to exterminate Jews.