Former pro wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura pulled off a rare upset in 1998, becoming the fifth person in five decades to win a governor’s race as neither a Democrat nor a Republican. Since leaving the Minnesota statehouse in 2003, Ventura has stumped for third-party candidates, authored books including "Don’t Start the Revolution Without Me" and "American Conspiracies," and publicly toyed with running for president in 2016. A decade after hosting a short-lived MSNBC show, last month Ventura launched a new show on Ora.TV, broadcast from “an undisclosed location” in the Baja Peninsula of Mexico.
In a Tuesday interview, Ventura, who reportedly explored a 2012 presidential bid on the Libertarian Party ticket, defended his push to abolish the income tax, urged a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and said the treatment of Guantánamo detainees was “identical to what they did to Nelson Mandela.”
“The destruction of the unions,” warned Ventura, “could likewise lead to the destruction of free speech at the workplace.” A condensed version of our conversation follows.
You said on your show, regarding ["Duck Dynasty" star] Phil Robertson, that “what he said was wrong, but I do agree with his right to say it,” and you warned of the consequences of [moves] “to start censoring people because they say unpopular things.” Do you believe that Phil Robertson being taken off of his show should have been illegal?
No, I don’t think necessarily illegal, or anything like that. But I don’t think that it was the proper thing to do. Because as I’ve always stated in the past, the First Amendment’s there to protect unpopular speech …
I don’t begrudge him the stupidity to say it … You certainly don’t want to have some type of language police out there that tell us what we can or can’t say. I’m not for that at all.
Do you believe that there should be legal protections against people losing their jobs based on their political opinions, whether it’s things they say outside of work or things they say at work?
No, I don’t think you should lose your job over it. Absolutely not. I think that as long as you don’t say it on the job … [and] you’re not representing who you work for … I do not think you should lose your job over what you say, as long as you say it as an individual, and you’re not stating that anything else is endorsing your opinion.
Would you support a law, then, that would ban firing people based on their political activity or political expressions outside of work?
Isn’t there already laws that do that?
Currently under U.S. [federal] law, assuming you are an at-will employee, you can be fired for conduct outside of work … For example, someone was fired for having a John Kerry bumper sticker on their car and their boss didn’t like it.
Well then, I guess we shouldn’t be so quick to destroy the unions, should we?
Is that an issue where your views have evolved over time?
No. But I’ve watched in the last decade or so, all the union busting, and how they’re destroying all the unions -- which are the strong arm for the workers, where they negotiate and collective bargain to where you won’t get fired if you say something improper ….
We need to look at the bigger picture of this issue, and realize that the destruction of the unions could likewise lead to the destruction of free speech at the workplace.
Did you support the proposed Employee Free Choice Act to make it easier to get union recognition?
I support any type of collective bargaining …
Unions can be abusive, they can also get out of hand. Anything that’s run by people can also become destructive. People need to realize that. So you need certain containments on all levels. You need containment with the government. And certainly you can’t let a union destroy a business.
You said on your show, “The rich get richer, the poor get poorer,” and then immediately after you said we should “abolish the income tax and go to a national sales tax.”
Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that lower-income families spend much more of their income than wealthier families do. A family with an income of $17,563 spends more than that each year – they spend more than they take in. Whereas a family with an income of $247,261 spends just about half of their income each year. Do you think that would change with a sales tax – the fact that wealthier families hold on to more of their money?
You don’t hold onto more of your money – you simply make more. It doesn’t mean you’re holding onto it – you make more.
The point being: You can create anything you want. As I’ve stated, you can determine that that family making $17,000 a year, well, if that’s the poverty line, you give them a credit card, and they get their first $17,000 worth of purchases -- if you determine that free of charge, they don’t have to pay. Follow me? You can adjust it any way you want to do it, so that it’s not a burden on poor people.
Let me explain to you my philosophy. Wealth is not determined by how much money you make. Wealth is determined by what you spend. You can make a million dollars a year, but if you live in a small little studio apartment, you drive a beat-up Volkswagen, you’re hardly living like a millionaire, so why should you be taxed like one?
Now, on the flip side, if you make a million dollars, and you buy the penthouse, and you buy the Mercedes, and you buy the yacht -- well, then you’re living like a millionaire, and will thus be taxed like one. You follow me? Wealth is determined by what you buy, and not by what you make.
So a millionaire who spends almost no money in a year, why shouldn’t –
Baloney. Where do you get that nonsense? That millionaires don’t spend money? They buy everything you buy, and then some.
I’m asking about your example, of the millionaire who lives in a very small apartment and spends very little money. Why shouldn’t they get taxed on the income that they have coming in?
Because they’re not living like a millionaire. It’s just numbers on paper, my friend. They’re not living like a millionaire.
If you’re living in a studio apartment, and you’re driving in a little beat-up Volkswagen, you’re hardly living the lifestyle of a millionaire, are you? Well, why should you be taxed like one then – if you’re not living like one?
You can take your excess money and start investing it. You can take your excess money and do a lot of things. That would help spur the economy and make it better. Instead of giving your money to the government in an income tax, [in] which the wealthy of the wealthiest find nothing but loopholes …
With the national sales tax, you would never be audited again. You wouldn’t have to ever face an audit. You turn the Internal Revenue Service around: Instead of having the Internal Revenue Service watching you, you have them watching the businesses and the government, ensuring they’re collecting and spending your money properly …
You as an individual would never have to keep another shred of tax evidence. You would never have to face an audit again. And I’ve been audited twice. I know what they’re like. They’re not fun.
So the millionaire who’s living in that little studio apartment and has the beat-up car – if the government taxed them almost nothing – would that lead to the rich getting richer?
You know, you seem to be stuck on this hypothetical little situation here. How often are millionaires not going to live like millionaires? Not too often. Do you think Donald Trump doesn’t live like a millionaire? I think he does. I think the rest of them do too.
You seem stuck on this, that if one of them decided to live like a poor person, and didn’t have to pay multitudes of taxes -- that somehow that’s wrong? No, that’s right.
You’re not a millionaire unless you live like one. It’s that simple.
In one of the press releases for your show, you decried, “The fact that the company responsible for two chemical spills in West Virginia’s drinking water is trying to skirt out of lawsuits by claiming bankruptcy.” Do you believe the situation in West Virginia makes the case for more regulation of that industry, or less?
Well, any time you have spills, and if there’s a situation where it’s because of ineptness, then you need more regulation. I’m not that familiar with that situation.
I’ve been off the grid for a while.
You said “the spending of the money is obscene” in elections, and that Sheldon Adelson “is capitalizing on the destruction of America through the corporate buyout of our complete political system.” Are there laws that you would support to restrict campaign spending?
No, I wouldn’t restrict campaign spending. I would just make it to where the candidate is completely responsible, with open books, so that everything comes from that candidate. All money spent comes from the candidate, and it’s open.
So to give you a hypothetical: If I ran for president, and if Donald Trump, Vince McMahon and Mark Cuban all gave me $10 million apiece to run, well, open disclosure. I have to disclose to you, the public: Yeah, they gave me this money …
We’ve got to get rid of these PACs, this special interest, and all this corporate that’s taken over our system, and make the candidate responsible for every ad and every dollar spent in that campaign.
When you say “get rid of these PACs,” how would you do that?
The only way you could get rid of them now -- now that the Supreme Court [issued its Citizens United decision] stating that corporations are the same as people -- the only way you can get rid of that is to amend the Constitution. Now, there’s a movement to do that, and I would support that movement. Because I don’t think that corporations are people.
And the earlier Supreme Court decision, in Buckley v. Valeo, restricting the ability to restrict spending on the grounds that it is protected by the First Amendment – would you overturn that decision also?
Well, I find it interesting when they say that spending of money is protected by the First Amendment. Well, I’m waiting for a bank robber to use that the next time he robs a bank: He was just exercising his First Amendment rights.
So why not cap contributions then?
Well, because then you’re limiting what someone can raise and spend. Just make it full disclosure. Then you as a citizen --
How about my other thing? How about all presidential candidates have to wear NASCAR racing suits [showing corporate sponsors] so that we can see who owns them …
We’ll all know what they stand for by what the patches are.
You’ve said that you’ve gone “off the grid” so that the drones can’t find you. Why do you think that drones would be looking for you, in particular?
No, I don’t – I’m having fun with it, because the United States is now under a lockdown. You’re all under surveillance with the NSA. So it’s really just a play on words that I use: I’m off the grid, so the drones aren’t watching me...
So how do you know a drone ain’t watching you?
You said on your show that the “shutdown was despicable” and that “it was a classic example of the two political parties putting their party before the country.” What specifically did you want the Democrats to do to prevent the shutdown?
I wanted both of them to understand that if you did that in the private sector, you’d be fired …
So therefore all of them deserve to be fired, because they didn’t get the job done.
So should the Democrats, then, have been willing to make changes to the Affordable Care Act that Republicans were demanding in order to keep the government open?
No, I don’t care what the -- I can’t tell you what the Democrats should do -- I’m not a Democrat. I can’t tell you what the Republicans should do -- I’m not a Republican.
I can tell you what they both should do, and that is keep the government running …
The country comes first, not your political party. They should have done whatever it would have taken to keep the government running.
After something that’s tremendously unpopular like the shutdown, when you say we should fire everybody in Congress, do you think that incentivizes brinkmanship? If everyone is going to equally be blamed, does that create an incentive for tactics like being willing to shut down the government?
I don’t know. But how do you like the government you have right now? Are you happy they shut down? You think that’s what we’re there to do?
Excuse me – we hired them. We’re the boss … We’ve forgotten that. We now think they’re the boss and we work for them. And that’s why we need a revolution in the country -- so that we can get it back the way it’s supposed to be, where we’re the boss. And when they don’t do what we expect them to do, then we remove them and we put somebody in who will do what’s expected. And that’s your job.
What would that “revolution” look like?
It’ll never happen. Too many lemmings.
What is it that people should do that they aren’t?
Well, because people aren’t worried about it. I can’t control them. Why do they continue to elect people to 21 terms of Congress? That’s obscene …
Is there anyone that you like in the U.S. Congress?
Yeah, Angus King. Sen. Angus King from Maine, the former independent governor from Maine. I like him a lot.
And why is that?
Isn’t it obvious?
Is it just the fact that he was elected as an independent, or is it something that he’s done since being in the Senate?
Both. The fact that he was independent and didn’t require either of these parties, that makes him my ally. We used to hold the independent governors’ caucus on Constitution Avenue, on a park bench, because they wouldn’t provide us a building …
He got done with being governor and he went back to the private sector – that’s what I support. That makes him a statesman and not a politician … Angus King is a statesman like me. We are not politicians.
What’s he done since being elected to the Senate that you’ve liked?
I don’t know. I haven’t kept track. Why would I care?
What kinds of things are you discussing on your show that you think aren’t getting discussed on shows in the U.S.?
Well, one of the things was the arrogance and the hypocrisy of Barack Obama and George Bush going to the funeral of Nelson Mandela. Astounding to me …
Because Mandela was a political prisoner held in isolation and tortured all these years, and both of these presidents do that to people. They put them in prison, they torture them, and they hold them with no lawyers or court date -- identical to what they did to Nelson Mandela. How dare they go there and honor this man, when they’re doing to people exactly what was done to Mandela?
Who are you alleging that’s been done to?
It’s called Guantánamo -- have you heard of it?
Are there particular people that you believe are political prisoners being tortured under President Obama?
No, I don’t know anybody there. But they’ve never been charged with a crime, they’ve never had their day in court. We’ve just locked them up and kept them there … Now how dare these two presidents, who have people locked up in Guantánamo, they won’t give them a day in court, they’re just holding them there until they die. And they have the gall to go to Nelson Mandela’s funeral?
... If I behaved like them, I wouldn’t be there.