The former Minnesota governor and pro wrestler offers firebreathing liberal populism in his latest book.
Jesse Ventura has had many lives, having variously been: an underwater demolition diver in the Navy, a motorcycle gang member, a pro wrestler, an actor, and the governor of Minnesota. But his latest evolution is as weird as any: He's reinvented himself as a firebreathing liberal populist, blasting the Koch Brothers, demanding taxes on the rich, citing Howard Zinn, decrying the military-industrial complex, and holding up the Occupy movement as the model for how to fix America's broken politics.
Of course, he's doing this in his own characteristic fashion -- by penning a book that insists the two major parties are just like the two most famous street gangs. As Democrips and Repbloodlicans, co-written with Dick Russell, points out, the colors associated with the parties even match up with the gang signs. And the book departs from standard leftist orthodoxy in a couple other ways, too. He praises Ron Paul and returns to the 9/11 truther themes he's sounded in previous books. He talked to The Atlantic about why he wants party names removed from the ballot, why he refuses to surf in Minnesota, and the song that makes him consider running for president -- despite his fear of assassination. This interview has been condensed and edited.
Why did you write this book?
It's an election year. I believe that the people need to be woken up to the fact that the Democrips and Rebloodlicans -- the Democrips are blue, the Rebloodlicans are red, the same colors as the street gangs -- these guys are worse. Street gangs don't affect but a small portion of the population. What inspired me to write the book, it's an election year. I want people to read this book and then go and vote their conscience. They've destroyed our country. They've controlled the country the last 100 years or so, so they can't push it off on somebody else. They've been in charge. You know the greatest thing we can do right now? Why do we allow gang symbols and gang names on the ballot? You don't even need know the name of the candidates.
So what's the replacement?
Put just the candidates' names on the ballot. Allow the parties to endorse a candidate, just like the teachers union and the firefighters union.
How would people find out about the candidates?
Listen to what the candidate has to say, study the candidate.
But you complain in the book that the corporate media is corrupt and doesn't inform us.
I would rather have people go in and randomly push buttons than what we do now. "Ooh, that name sounds good."
Would it be fair to summarize your book this way: Republicans are corrupt and evil, and Democrats are corrupt and too spineless to stand up to Republicans?
You could put it that way. I would like to put it in the context of pro wrestling. In front of us, they look like adversaries. Behind the scenes, they're wheeling and dealing and going to dinners. They're not divided. They know what they're doing. They just want to keep their power bases and keep the status quo going.
Although you were elected governor of Minnesota on the Reform Party ticket, you write in the book that you've given up hope in a third party. Why?
In order to compete, the third party would have to bastardize itself and sell out just like the others. Look at how Ron Paul got no coverage. He won Minnesota and yet the media doesn't cover him at all. You could tell Mitt Romney was going to get the nomination four years ago. You know how? Did you notice four years ago, after the last election, you started getting all these Mormon ads. They were setting the table so the country would be ready for a Mormon president.
Why do you think the Citizens United decision is so important?
With the Supreme Court ruling that corporations are people and money is free speech, I want the next bank robber to say, "I was just exercising my free-speech rights." What you have now is the fascist states of America. Are you familiar with Smedley Butler?
Only very vaguely. You mentioned him in the book.
Smedley's a two-time Congressional Medal of Honor winner. Smedley said he didn't work for the American people, he worked for the United Fruit Corporation. When they didn't get cooperation in Latin America, they sent in the Marines. The patriotism you see is phony. The men and women in uniform aren't phony, but they're nothing but the strong arm of the corporations. I'm a former Navy SEAL, but today I'd be a conscientious objector. I'm 60 years old. Do you realize we've been at war more than half my life?
You complain that Obama hasn't prosecuted financiers over the economic collapse. Back in the 2000s, the Bush Administration, which you criticize, prosecuted the Enron executives. What's happened since then?
They didn't prosecute them.
Sure they did. Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling went to jail.
That was nothing. Are you familiar with 9/11? Building 7? You know what was in there? All the Enron stuff. I guess that building went down on its own. People get on me because I question 9/11. I spoke to people who survived 9/11 and they tell a different story than what we've been told. Whom am I to believe, Dick Cheney, George Bush, Washington bureaucrats -- or the survivors?
OK, the system is broken and a third party won't work. How can it be fixed?
It would take a huge movement like the [Occupy] Wall Street movement. The mainstream media bastardized the Wall Street movement and made it appear something different from what it was. In the last recession, 99 percent of us have lost wealth, but did you know that the top 1 percent increased their wealth five times? It tells you they create recessions so they get wealthier. Why do you think they were so terrified of Occupy, and why do you think Democrats tried to coopt the movement. It's like the Tea Party, which started out good and then got coopted by the Koch brothers. People should have supported the Wall Street movement even if they disagreed with it, because they were just exercising their right to assemble. In Minnesota, I went down there five times. You know, I only raised $300,000 to become governor. I made more money doing the job than I did getting it -- I made $480,000. They don't want the public to know that it can be done without money. They're going to attempt to never let it happen again.
It's been a tumultuous couple of years in Minnesota, and last year the state government shut down. What are they doing wrong, and how should they fix it?
If you'll recall my last year in office had the deficit following 9/11. I proposed a completely balanced budget. They, the Democrats and Republicans, came forward with their own smoke-and-mirrors budget and lo and behold they have a $5 billion deficit. Had they accepted my budget that would have been $1 billion. They liked gambling. By the way, I hope the state of Minnesota will vote against amending our constitution to ban gay marriage. Government has no place telling you who to fall in love with and who to marry. You can't put civil rights on the ballot. If they pass that I will be so disappointed. You can't put a minority issue to the majority.
You've got strong feelings about so many issues. Why don't you run for president?
I don't want to be assassinated. I'm 60 now. My window of opportunity in life is closing. I'd rather be surfing in Mexico all winter, to be honest. I do travel surfing. I wanted to practice here on the board. You gotta license to surfboard here now. And one top of that you have to wear a life jacket. Tell me if you went out to Hawaii or California, with giant waves, you're not required to wear a life-jacket. You don't get a wave over two feet here.
In the book, you heavily back an independent Ron Paul run, but it doesn't look like he's going to do that, and in fact he's been friendly with Mitt Romney.
I'm disappointed. I wish he would break away from him. I will be voting for New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson. I stand with Ron Paul because Ron Paul stands for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He's the only one who passed the bill to audit the Federal Reserve.
But so many of the things you talk about in the book -- taxing the rich, gay marriage, etc. -- are things you disagree with Congressman Paul on.
It's the big picture. You're not going to agree with a candidate on every issue. Congressman Paul and I disagree on abortion. You shouldn't be a one-issue person .... You know how everyone bitched about Obamacare? Everyone in America should have the same health care as a congressman and a senator, and that's government-run health care. Where does John Boehner get his health care? And yet he won't let us have it. Every citizen should get the same benefits as senators.
I noticed John Adams is sort of the animating spirit of the book and he's quoted multiple times. What drew you to him?
Washington, Jefferson, and Adams all were against political parties. Adams makes the statement that the nation will fall not from an outside adversary but from within. I think we're there. The Founder Fathers weren't perfect. Some of them owned slaves. But they left the Constitution open enough to eliminate slavery. I think all of them realized that down the road it would disappear. We're not listening to them. One of the things I stand for is the legalization of drugs. Did you know that biodiesel fuel -- the best way to create it is with hemp? The Bill of Rights and Betsy Ross's flag are all made out of hemp. The Beatles took LSD and made Sgt. Pepper. Anna Nicole Smith took six prescription drugs and couldn't dial 911. Which is worse?
What do you hope the impact of this book will be?
I think this is the first time in the history in my life where you look at the future that tomorrow may be worse than today. I don't think there's ever been a time in American history. Who's responsible? The Democrats and Republicans. This may be my last time writing. I wrote four books very critical, exposing the government for the fraud they are. Nobody seems to want to listen. I'm 60 years old and I'd rather be surfing.
Really? Are you having a hard time getting an audience for this?
Yeah. Don Imus -- all his producers wanted me. They were so excited. He put the kibosh on it, maybe because he asked for five of my favorite songs. I gave him five Rage Against the Machine songs, and Clear Channel banned them a few years back. [Rage guitarist] Tom Morrello, he's my new musical hero. He is Woody Guthrie, he's Bob Dylan, and he's who the young people need to be listening to. Every time he plays Springsteen's "Ghost of Tom Joad," I start thinking I need to run for president, so I can't listen to it anymore.