THE COMPANY ALLEN WEST KEEPS…. Even in a year with an excessive number of extremists seeking key offices, Florida congressional candidate Allen West (R) stands out as someone who seems unhinged to an almost dangerous, out-of-control degree.

West first gained notoriety during his military service in Iraq, when he was forced to retire from the Army for engaging in abusive interrogation techniques. More recently, he’s incorporated violent rhetoric into his campaign speeches, and made demonstrably ridiculous claims about his own background.

Last night, the story got considerably worse. NBC News ran a report documenting West’s background associating with a violent gang of criminals, which the Justice Department believes is involved in drug running, arson, prostitution, robbery, and murder.

West has had personal dealings with the Florida chapter of this violent gang, and has even defended them in emails (despite having lied about those emails).

At this point, the two questions that come to mind are: (1) where do Republicans find guys like this to seek federal office? and (2) why on earth are candidates like these considered acceptable by Republicans in the 21st century?

Keep in mind, the GOP establishment doesn’t seem embarrassed by West’s candidacy at all. He’s been endorsed by Eric Cantor and Sarah Palin, and just this week, the NRCC touted West’s candidacy.

And as of now, West is favored to win in Florida’s 22nd congressional district.

It’s as if some kind of contagious madness has spread throughout much of the country.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.