On his Monday morning radio show, Steve West promotes fanatical conspiracies about “Jewish cabals” that are “harvesting baby parts” through Planned Parenthood, that torture and molest children and that run the Republican Party.
On Tuesday he won the Republican primary for a Clay County seat in the Missouri House by nearly 25 points.
“Looking back in history, unfortunately, Hitler was right about what was taking place in Germany. And who was behind it,” West said on a show on KCXL radio on Jan. 23, 2017.
West won the 15th District nomination in a four-candidate race. Besides his radio show, he also has a YouTube channel and a website. Donning a wig and fake beard and calling himself Jack Justice, he has unleashed an array of bigotry including homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and outright racism.
“I’m trying to get sense of why he flew under the radar, and I’m not sure I have a great answer,” said Karen Aroesty, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League. “What is a person who is elected into a position of power going to do with beliefs like this?”
The Missouri Republican Party late Thursday afternoon issued a statement about West’s “disgusting comments”:
“Steve West’s shocking and vile comments do not reflect the position of the Missouri Republican Party or indeed of any decent individual. West’s abhorrent rhetoric has absolutely no place in the Missouri Republican Party or anywhere. We wholeheartedly condemn his comments.”
KCXL did not reply to a request for comment.
West, reached by phone Thursday afternoon, said he wanted to talk about “the issues” and his platform. He declined to speak about statements he’s made that he said have been taken out of context.
“You guys want to make it an issue, you can go there, but I’m not going to comment on that,” he said. He then asked if he could call back in a few minutes, and hung up.
When West called back, he said: “I’m not running as a radio show host, I’m running for state representative. I’m sorry. I’m not going to have this discussion.”
Pressed to clarify his Hitler comment, he questioned its validity until a reporter cited the date and time of the recording. West then said that he’d been taken out of context. He said that he believes all men are created equal, but not all ideologies are equal. Specifically, he said, he finds fault with Islam and Judaism.
He said Islam is a political movement masquerading as a religion and that it’s trying to create an autocratic theocracy in the U.S., and that it should be stripped of all benefits religions receive.
“Jewish people can be beautiful people, but there’s ideologies associated with that that I don’t agree with,” he went on. “Jews today are a remnant of the tribe of Judah that rejected Christ.”
West again asked to speak about issues related to the job of a state representative. When asked about Jewish people in Missouri, he said, “Well, maybe they shouldn’t vote for me.”
At no point did West apologize for or retract his comments. He asked that The Star link to his website within the story and expressed hope that readers would listen to his remarks in full to make up their own minds.
Although West’s most overtly bigoted and offensive statements were sent anonymously to a reporter on Thursday, he had enough “dog whistles” before the election that voters should have known better than to support him, Aroesty said. She said her opinion is coming from a place of principle over politics because the Anti-Defamation League is an apolitical organization.
A dog whistle, she said, is when someone hints at extremist beliefs in such a way that others who hold those beliefs will know, but they retain plausible deniability.
Some example of dog whistles from West’s statements before the election include him saying things like “Islam is a problem for America. ... It is a political movement masquerading as religion and should not receive the benefits we provide religious institutions as well as access to our prisons” and “ Many parents and students don’t want to have to deal with alternative sex ed, and the LGBT clubs and staff at all the public high schools today.”
“It’s a subtle form of hatred,” Aroesty said. “Not open, but it should be watched, in some ways, more carefully than if someone was openly extreme.”
The Anti-Defamation League has been seeing extremist candidates pop up all around the country, Aroesty said.
“There is a level of political rhetoric and anger out in the world today that is providing people with more extremist views a comfort to come forward and share those extremist views,” she said. “I’d like to say he is unusual this year … but there are a whole variety of folks.”
The internet gives so many people a voice, she said, that it’s easy to think that people with extreme, hateful beliefs are everywhere. They’re not, she said — the ones who are out there are just making a lot of noise.
“The fact that Mr. West won the primary should highlight to people — did they really know what they were voting for?” Aroesty said. “One thing I’ve said for years about extremists is that they’re out on the fringe and we should keep them there.”
State Rep. Jon Carpenter, the Democratic incumbent for the district, responded to the news of West’s statements in an email.
“It is my hope that folks who voted for Steve West in the Republican primary weren’t aware of any of this stuff. I sincerely hope that’s true. … I can’t think of a single American political candidate in the 21st century who has engaged in this level of hate speech and unhinged conspiracy-mongering who actually won a primary election,” he wrote.
“I just want everyone who lives in this community to know that they’re welcome here. Muslims, Jews, Catholics, the LGBTQ community, people of all races and national origins, and everyone else Steve West has targeted with hate. His views do not reflect our values. We’ll stand together and love will conquer hate, as it always does.”