The road to Michelle Malkin’s house is lined with red and orange boulders that look as if they’ve been plucked from a superhero comic book. Olive-colored brush covers a hillside lined with oversized homes; ragged scrub juts from the landscape at haphazard angles. For the best-selling author, prolific blogger, and conservative firebrand, it’s the perfect hideout.
Situated in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains, this refuge also appears to be the perfect incubator for the unapologetically blunt opinions Malkin is famous for espousing: She’s written an entire book in favor of World War II internment camps and suggested President Barack Obama’s group of advisers “smells and tastes like a rotten Chicago deep-dish pizza.” During her two decades as one of the nation’s leading conservative trash-talkers, the 43-year-old has been called everything from a political prostitute to a traitor to her Filipino heritage to—as Keith Olbermann famously quipped—“a mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick on it.” New York Times columnist David Brooks has called Malkin a “loon.” Geraldo Rivera said she’s “the most vile, hateful commentator I’ve met,” then added, for good measure, “I’d spit on her if I saw her.”
Malkin’s been stalked, harassed, and threatened with rape and murder, and she’s had to retain security for some of her speaking engagements. Back at her old house in Baltimore, parents refused to let their children play with her daughter. Before she moved to El Paso County in 2008, Malkin wrote a blog post in which she printed the names of antiwar activists who’d reportedly vandalized the vehicles of military recruiters. Shortly afterward, someone posted her address online.
That won’t happen these days. Malkin and her husband have gone to great lengths to protect their family in Colorado, a fact I learned repeatedly in the reporting of this story. “It’s a matter of safety,” Malkin’s husband, Jesse Malkin, told me. “Too many details can put us at risk.”
Even so, on a cloudless morning late this past winter, I make a couple of turns and soon I’m at the base of Malkin’s residence, a beige, two-story stucco house with trees dotting the property. It’s a big place but not the largest on the street and offers a breathtakingly close view of Pikes Peak. I park and then follow the walkway that leads to her front door, push the bell, and wait.
Moments later, Malkin appears. She’s petite and is wearing blue jeans, large hoop earrings, and a chunky green sweater. Her black hair is pulled into a ponytail. She leads me to the kitchen table where we’re surrounded by her children’s artwork. Through a series of massive windows, you can see the pine-covered hillside out back. Down a hall to our right, Malkin’s 10-year-old, home-schooled son is singing in his room. “I wake up every day and I can see Pikes Peak, and think, ‘This is a glorious, beautiful state,’ ” she tells me. “Having the sense of space, the physical imposition of it, the fresh air, the freedom. That resets my button every single day.”
Malkin and her husband nearly lost Fortress de Malkin in the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire, when flames swept down the hills and decimated more than 18,000 acres in 18 days. “We were some of the first people to evacuate, and it was horrible, thinking we might not be able to come back,” she says. In part because of that experience, there’s an even deeper connection between this place and her family. “It’s almost poetic,” she says, “for me to be in Colorado doing my thing.”
Four years ago, Malkin sold one of her political blogs, hotair.com, to the conservative media group Salem Communications for $2 million. The deal was the culmination of almost four years’ worth of work and further solidified Malkin as a queen in the political right’s corner of the Internet. Today, she maintains michellemalkin.com—where she reprints her nationally syndicated newspaper column—and is occasionally featured on Twitchy, a Twitter aggregation site she created in 2012 and sold last year for an undisclosed amount.
Though she recently ended her 12-year run as a regular guest on the Fox News Channel to focus on writing and to spend more time at home with her husband and two children, her brand is as strong as ever. At press time, Malkin had more than one million Facebook fans, and her Twitter account had 701,000 followers—more than Vice President Joe Biden (579,000) or tea party darling Texas Senator Ted Cruz (306,000). Currently, she’s working on her fifth book—this one an ode to American inventiveness and entrepreneurship titled Who Built That. It’s a bit of a departure from the liberals-as-nation-destroying-idiots narratives that have landed her on New York Times best seller lists three times and earned her a lifetime of critics. “I love American dream stories,” she tells me. “It’s cheesy, I know.”
Malkin’s also positioned herself at the center of what’s expected to be one of the most important and divisive off-year elections in recent memory. Even as she spreads the anti-Democrat gospel among longtime GOPers, she revels in her role as a contentious figure within her own party. She’s the self-styled libertarian-conservative whose sharp opinions, Twitter hashtag battles (#DonaldTrumpIsAPhony), and sarcastic columns railing lefty sweethearts such as Stephen Colbert (“Me so stupid. You so funny.”) seem intended to win over a younger generation attracted to impolite, bare-knuckle debate.
What may make her even more relevant these days is the fact the Republican Party is at a clear crossroads. From the corporate bailouts during the last gasps of the George W. Bush administration in 2008 to what today she sees as her party’s capitulation to progressives bent on ruining the country, Malkin’s been unafraid to lunge at anyone she perceives as incapable of standing up for what she calls “true conservative values.” Among those from her own party who’ve faced her fury are her former Fox colleague and Bush adviser Karl Rove—whose super-PAC has spent millions of dollars working against tea party candidates she’s supported—and Ann Coulter, the conservative author and pundit whose outspokenness often devolves into shock-as-value posturing. In addition to having called Muslims “rag heads,” one of Coulter’s more memorable outbursts came in 2007 when she said Democratic presidential hopeful John Edwards was a “faggot.”
“Some people think I just say things to get a rise, that I’m part of the outrage industry, that it’s all manufactured,” says Malkin, who’s written more than 2,000 columns in her career. “My outrage comes from deeply held beliefs, but there are people for whom the criticism is true. I don’t think somebody who believes and lives a conservative life goes around with Tourette’s syndrome saying things like ‘faggot.’ It’s not good for conservatism. But it is good for the individual seeking publicity.”
In 2012, Malkin was among the first notable female conservatives to back Cruz in his senatorial run. This summer she plans to throw her support behind other like-minded, small-government Republicans in races against the old guard. That includes Colorado, where she’s recently endorsed Tom Tancredo—a former five-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives—in his primary run to challenge Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper. Tancredo, who is known best nationally for his hard-line stance on immigration, finished a distant second to Hickenlooper in 2010 as a member of the Constitution Party but rejoined the GOP the following year, lamenting at the time that his old-new party was the only game in town. “We’re independent thinkers, and people want that,” Tancredo says of himself and Malkin, whom he first met more than a decade ago. “Michelle has this incredible mind, and she’s brilliant, and she’s beautiful. She inspires people with her principled stance. You don’t move her. I like that. She’s take-no-prisoners, and that scares a lot of people, especially in the Republican Party.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Malkin shares that view. “I think established Republicans have kept arm’s length from me,” she says. “Even in El Paso County, I’ve been bad-mouthed by these politicians at the same time they want me at their fund-raisers. That’s disgusting. My sense is many of these party apparatchiks have no core conservative values.” She blames state party bosses for the mounting defeats that cost the GOP the governorship, two U.S. Senate seats, and both chambers of the state Legislature. “There’s no passion,” she says of Colorado’s ruling Republicans. “What animates them? At least with the niche, grassroots conservative movement, they’ve got iron-clad principles, bread-and-butter issues people should care about. The right to self-defense, the right to not have the government meddle in your children’s classrooms. Find something.”
There’s a story Malkin tells about her old Subaru that’s something of an allegory about how she ended up in Colorado. She had the vehicle back when she was a rising star at Fox News, making regular appearances on the cable network, guest-hosting The O’Reilly Factor, and riding Amtrak back and forth from her home in Baltimore to New York City while juggling her writing and her family life. As she tells it, the year was 2007 and she’d just arrived home from a taping in New York. “We lived on this big hill, and I pull up and see my son in one of the windows upstairs,” she remembers. “I get out and start running for the door.” In her rush, she forgot to engage the car’s parking brake. Malkin looked back just in time to see the Subaru rolling backward. “The driveways were stacked, so we were above the one next to us,” Malkin continues. “The car hit a tree right before it could fall onto the next driveway. I ran over and my neighbors’ kids were playing down there. If that tree wouldn’t have been there….” The neighbors laughed off the incident, but it was a wake-up call for Malkin. “Something had to change,” she says.
Perhaps the only thing in her life that hasn’t changed over the years are her political beliefs, which she credits to her parents, Filipino immigrants who came to the United States in 1970 to seek greater economic opportunities. Malkin, then Michelle Maglalang, was born in 1970 and grew up in a small town near Atlantic City, where her mother taught public school and her father was a neonatologist at Atlantic City Medical Center. “Michelle developed from her surroundings,” says Carol Duffy, a family friend whose daughter grew up with Malkin. “That part of south New Jersey was pretty conservative at the time. And then her parents were hard-working immigrants who had these strong values around studying and family. But I think there was something else that made her who she is: heart, maybe luck of the draw. Who knows, but you could tell she was special.” Malkin wrote for the newspaper at her Catholic high school but planned to pursue a career as a concert pianist. She enrolled at the elite Oberlin Conservatory of Music in 1988 but decided it’d be difficult to stand out among so many talented students. She became an English major and found her calling at a campus magazine run by her future husband.
Her first notable story—co-authored with Jesse Malkin—trashed the college’s affirmative action policies. Outraged undergrads soon dubbed her the “Eva Braun of Oberlin.” “She loved pushing buttons,” says Jesse, who was raised in Berkeley, California, but was undergoing his own political transformation at the time. “There was a toughness, an intellect about her that was built-in. She saw her words could have real power.” That she was negatively spotlighting a system designed to benefit students like her seemed as inconsequential to her then as it does today when she writes about the need for tighter restrictions on immigration. “I’m an American,” she says now, “and that’s all I’ve ever seen myself as.”