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Jesse Ventura on Politics, Keith Richards, and Why He’s an Atheist
When you read any of Jesse Ventura’s half-dozen books, it’s helpful to hear his voice -- the same assertive, direct, soberly outraged, and somewhat sinister voice he uses during the opening narration for his TV show, truTV’s Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura. His polished Minnesota dialect compliments these vocal qualities, grounding his observations in a way that makes him sound intelligent and determined.
In his new book, DemoCRIPS and ReBLOODlicans: No More Gangs in Government, Ventura argues that both parties are street gangs warring with each other for power over the country and the American people.
“Dues are paid by members of the gang; all decisions are made within the gang; there’s hierarchy within the gang,” Ventura writes. “And why do we allow them to use a fun word like party? When you say party, you think of a joyous occasion.” He believes all political parties should be abolished. Candidates should run on their names only. And the only way a third party can survive is if it becomes as corrupt as the two main gangs.
Ventura’s no fool when it comes to performance. He’s more than a TV personality. Before he was elected the governor of Minnesota in 1999, he was a professional wrestler, and before that, a Navy SEAL-turned-member of an outlaw motorcycle club in San Diego.
He’s appeared in a number of movies and TV shows, and has lectured at Harvard University. When I mention to Ventura that he taught one of the most popular courses at Harvard, he quickly cuts in to correct me: “It was the most popular. My class was the biggest class in Harvard history.” What was the subject? “Third-party politics. John F. Kennedy School of Government. Who else can talk third-party politics? You can’t get a Democrip or a Rebloodlican to do it.”
I spoke to Ventura on the phone for about an hour one afternoon in June. When I told him I am a writer at Highbrow Magazine, he asked if it was a publication that he could buy on the newsstand. When I explained that it is an online magazine, he apologized for his ignorance and confessed that he doesn’t much care for computers, at which point we began talking about frustrations with technology.
You spend a lot of time off the grid in Mexico. Do you carry a cell phone?
I’ve never owned a cell phone and now it’s my life’s mission not to have one. I wanna be able to put it on my grave: He Never Owned a Cell Phone.
You said it would be nice if the presidential candidates wore NASCAR suits so you know you owns them, which is a brilliant idea. If this were put into action, what logos would Obama and Romney be wearing?
Goldman Sachs. That would be as prominent as Goodyear is on Jimmy Johnson.
Both of them?
They’d all have the same patches, really. Because if you go to both conventions, you’ll see the same lobbyists paying them off, so they win either way. It’s like a stacked deck of cards. They’ve already paid off both sides, so it doesn’t matter to them who wins because they own whoever it is, be it Barack Obama or Mitt Romney.
You endorse Ron Paul for president in your book.
Yeah, but the problem is Ron apparently is gonna go to the convention and that’s gonna be the end of him. I mean, his son just endorsed Mitt Romney. How outrageous is that? I tell you, if my son did that to me, I’d put him over my knee and give him a spanking. But I don’t have to worry about that because my son would endorse me, so it’s really irrelevant.
Getting back to Mitt Romney, one of the main things he talked about early on was that he knew how to create jobs, but now that everyone is showing interest in how he made his fortune with Bain Capital, he says he doesn’t want to talk about that.
Oh yeah. Because their job was to take over companies and fire people. Bain Capital did the exact opposite [of creating jobs]: They got rid of workers and put them in the unemployment line. He’s just like George W. Bush. [He] became a born-again Christian at age 40, so we weren’t allowed to talk about anything that he did before age 40. Same thing. I think if I ran for office, I would do the same: I would become a born-again Christian right before I ran, and then I could tell everyone, “Well, you can’t talk about anything I did before I became born-again.”
It’s surprising that Romney’s relationship with the Mormon Church hasn’t been given more attention.
The worst one is the magic underwear. I mean, that should disqualify him from the presidency alone. If he believes you have to wear blessed, magic underwear to have sex with your wife, that alone should disqualify him. You want a president that believes bulls**t like that?
When you were governor, you refused to declare a National Prayer Day. I bet the right-wing fundamentalists were furious.
Absolutely. The Minnesota media just grilled me. They went, “How come every other governor is declaring National Prayer Day and not you?” And that’s when I said, “What do you need me to tell you to pray for?” I’ve come out of the closet now: I’m an atheist. And I’m proud to say it. I’m a follower of George Carlin.
We lost a great voice when we lost George, but here’s what George believed in: George worshipped the sun. And I do too. Because the sun, and I’m paraphrasing George, gives me heat, the sun gives me food, the sun makes me warm, the sun does everything I want. It’s a wonderful thing, and most of all, every morning I can get up and see it come up, which gives it great credibility — knowing the sun exists.
Don’t get me wrong: Other people are free to believe in God; they’re free to practice their religion; I don’t begrudge them that. That’s the one thing I give kudos to President Obama for. When he took office and he did his state address, he listed Christians, Muslims, Jewish [believers] — he went down the line, and the last thing he said was “and non-believers.” I jumped out of my chair, I said, “My God, we’re legal now.” The president has finally acknowledged that there are people who don’t believe in a supreme being.
It was Mark Twain who said if Jesus were alive today, the one thing he wouldn’t be was Christian...
Exactly, and not only that, do you think Jesus would support these wars?
And yet, our Christians do. Not only that, they seem to be wanting to drive us to Armageddon, too.
compare the fundamentalist Christians to fundamentalist Muslims, who also seem to want to bring about the end times.
And that’s dangerous for all the rest of us. To me, when you look through the annals of history, who causes all the wars and what are they caused over? Religion.
Many wars have been caused by religion, but you know …
Name me one that hasn’t been.
Well, mostly I think of the wars of the 20th century. You could argue there’s an overall religiosity behind wars of the twentieth century but…
Even Vietnam, I learned, was caused by religion. Every war is pretty much based on religion.
And it’s ironic because the common thread that runs through every major religion in the world is the Golden Rule. Do unto others.
Yeah, treat others as you would want to be treated. But nobody follows that rule. And let me state clearly: An atheist has just as much value of life — and probably more — because we don’t believe there’s a hereafter. Why would we want to make things horrible if we think we only get this one go-around?
I’m interested in conversion stories. Was there a defining moment when you became an atheist, or was it a gradual progression toward that perspective?
It was a gradual progression, but the defining moment was when I saw Christopher Hitchens on Bill Maher’s [show], and he was wearing a funny T-shirt that said “I’M AFRICAN-AMERICAN.” Because if you go back, and if you believe in evolution, the first known man came out of Africa. And if you trace us back that far, aren’t we all African-Americans? He had that T-shirt on and Christopher said, “It’s time for us atheists to come out of the closet.” It is time for us to stand up and proudly say that we are atheists. So I said, you know what? He’s right.
But let’s get back to this idea about religion being the source of all wars. Do you think that’s the case with Iraq?
You know the scariest thing that I heard come out of George W. Bush’s [mouth]? He was in front of the press, getting ready to take us to war [with] Iraq, and one of the reporters said, “Did you consult your father?” (meaning the previous president, George H. W.). And Bush turned to the reporter and said, “No, I consulted a higher father.” You mean this guy wants us to believe God is telling him to go to war in Iraq? I got angry over that. How arrogant.
Well, I can tell you this: I’ve been on the planet 60 years...and God ain’t never said one word to me. In 60 years.
Did you ever talk to him?
What good would it do?
No! I mean, I was baptized Lutheran. I used to pray. Never got an answer.
Nothing at all?
In 60 years. And I’m not worried about it because if he does exist, I think he’ll accept that I’m a free thinker. I believe God would be very much like the George Burns’ character in “Oh, God!” He’s given us everything we need ,but we’re on our own. He’s also given us brains to think with. And I shouldn’t say “he.” Who says he’s a he?
Fair enough. Let’s talk about DemoCRIPS and ReBLOODlicans. What’s the main thing you want people to take away from your book?
That the wealthiest people increased their wealth five times during the last recession. How much money do these people need?
Some of the figures in this book are staggering...
How about the insider trading of the Democrats and Republicans in Congress? Their average rate of return is 12 percent. That’s better than Warren Buffett gets.
You quote Newt Gingrich’s sugar daddy, Sheldon Adelson, the eighth-richest person in America, as saying “I’m against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections. But as long as it’s doable, I’m going to do it.” When I read that quote I was really struck by it. And then, on his show last week, Bill Maher said the exact same thing when he spoke of his million-dollar contribution to Obama’s campaign. It’s this sort of an attitude of “Well, if it helps my team win and the ref can’t legally call foul, then I’m gonna do it”?
And let’s call it what it is: it’s a bribe. If we do it in the private sector, then we go to jail. The only way you can go over the Supreme Court is to amend the Constitution, and there’s a movement out there right now to add an amendment to the Constitution stating clearly corporations do not have the same rights as people, and that money is not free speech.
Are we living in a police state right now?
Yes. I foresee martial law in the future.
Do you think part of that is the result of the National Defense Authorization Act being signed into law?
Absolutely. They’ve now turned the military loose inside our country. They can arrest you and they can hold you without a trial or a lawyer indefinitely.
If they determine you have ties to terrorists.
And who makes that determination? They do. Not a judge, not a lawyer, not a jury — they do.
You say in your book that the military is “the muscle arm of the corporations.” Would you encourage someone to enlist and serve?
I enjoyed my time in the United States Navy. It’s what made me who I am today. [But] that’s something each individual has to decide on their own, but I will tell you this: being a former Navy Seal and [considering] the knowledge I’ve acquired [over the past] 60 years, today I would be a conscientious objector.
To any kind of service?
Any kind of war. My country’s been at war for over half my life, and nobody wins. People simply die. The only people that win are the corporations and the people that profit from them. But again, I wouldn’t encourage or discourage anyone from their choice.
I wanted to talk about your TV show Conspiracy Theory. What are you investigating next season?
[Laughs] We’ve already completed the whole season, it was done in November and normally they go on in January and amazingly, they haven’t gone on.
You tell me.
Did something in this season scare them?
Yeah. This season’s the most controversial we [have ever done]. I’ll tell you what happened on one. We were covering a particular subject and one of the interns called a former colonel in Georgia and his quote back was “Young lady, don’t you realize that people that look into this end up dead?” That’s a direct threat.
The girl quit my show. I don’t blame her; she was getting married in a couple months. Well, we went on with the show. I brought in a whistleblower named Dr. Fred Bell. When I was done interviewing Dr. Bell, he looked at me and he said, off the air, ”You know that I have a CIA handler, don’t you?” And I said, “That doesn’t surprise me.” And here was his quote to me, he said, “Well he’s gonna go ballistic when he finds out I talked to you.” Well, guess what? Two days later he was dead in his hotel. And that’s true. And that’s what’s in the show.
So they’re not going to air it?
I don’t know. They haven’t yet.
Can you tell me more about the subject of that episode?
Oh, I’d rather not.
What did you do when you found out Dr. Bell was dead?
I reported that to the Minneapolis Police Chief, the whole background, everything that happened — never heard back from him. All we heard was “natural causes.”
I noticed you dedicated your book to Hunter S. Thompson, who you say is “a real journalist and a man who warned us.” What did he warn us about?
If you read Hunter’s work way back in the ‘70s when he followed Nixon on the campaign trail, many of the things Hunter wrote about back then came true. You’ve gotta read his stuff.
Are there any journalists working today that you’d put in the same league with him?
The closest would be Matt Taibbi, the guy who exposed Wall Street for Rolling Stone. But of course, Matt isn’t quite as colorful as Hunter.
You have a lot to say about the Bill of Rights and the Constitution....
Did you know that the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution, and Betsy Ross’s flag are all made out of marijuana?
I didn’t, but now I’m glad that I do.
We eradicate marijuana and we eradicate the Bill of Rights and the Constitution at the same time.
What was the last movie you saw that really sucked you in?
The last one was Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean: [Dead Man’s Chest] when he had Keith Richards, who stole the film. Keith Richards in that scene where Johnny looks up and says “How’s Mom?” and he holds up the shrunken head? Oh my God, I was on the floor of the theatre, laughing. Keith stole the film. He has two or three lines, and he steals the film. As you can tell, I’m a huge Keith Richards fan.
You were Keith’s bodyguard for a while.
I actually bodyguarded all the rock bands that came to St. Paul in ’78 and ’81. I was recovering from minor knee surgery and it was a fun thing to do. Foreigner, Springsteen, Grateful Dead, Bob Segar, the Stones twice.
This interview is edited and excerpted from a longer taped transcript.
Christopher Karr is a contributing writer at Highbrow Magazine.
Photos: truTV; CreativeCommons.org.