I recently interviewed WWE Hall of Famer Jesse "The Body" Ventura, who discussed his legendary pro wrestling career and the updated version of his book American Conspiracies, which is available at Amazon.com. The newly revised edition contains several new chapters and looks at secret trade deals between corporations and select government leaders such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Big Pharma and the oil industry's influence on politicians on both sides of the aisle.
Below is the first part of the interview. Make sure to check back next week for the second and final part, where Ventura talks about what he did for Brock Lesnar, if WWE ever tried to bring him back, why WWE doesn't invite him to WrestleMania, if his problems with Hulk Hogan affected his WCW run, if medical marijuana would help athletes deal with pain, working with Vince McMahon again with the XFL, 9/11 conspiracies, Roddy Piper passing away and much more.
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SkyHorse Publishing released an updated version of American Conspiracies with four new chapters. What process do you go through to decide what gets into the book?
"We look at what's developed, what's happened, what's got the most meat on the bone, what can we investigate, what's high profile, and rip it down to what are they lying to us about? If they put it under the cloak of national security, you need to find out if it's really national security, or is it something they don't want the public to know about?"
Do you get pitched a lot of conspiracy theories you're not interested in?
"I don't pitch anything. No one pitches me anything. I had the show, where we did a total of 24. But me personally, nobody pitches me anything. It's usually a deal where it's government stuff where I have an interest as to why it was done that way or I want answers as to what they told me. I try to stay away from aliens and that type of thing. I'll let the other people look into that. Our government has enough stuff, and humans do enough stuff on earth without looking for extraterrestrial or things like that. We went there on the show because it's entertainment, but I personally have no interest in it."
A common thread in the book among the conspiracies it big government and big money, which ultimately leads to corruption. I think most Americans would agree the money is corrupting our political system. What can we do to change it?
"The answer is as simple as the nose on your face, but it will be as difficult as climbing Mount Everest. The only way to get our country back in my opinion is stop electing democrats and republicans. I wrote a book called DemoCrips and Rebloodicans. Our forefathers warned us that political parties would be the destruction of America if they got a hold, and they more than got a hold. I'll quote Ralph Nader, 'we live in a two-party dictatorship.' When I taught at Harvard, I did a class called 'How pro wrestling prepares you for politics.' It really does. These two political parties are no different than pro wrestling. In front of the cameras and in front of the public, they're adversaries, but behind the scenes they're working together to push the product."
Do you think Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders missed a chance to run as a third-party candidate? It seems if anyone could get traction as a third-party candidate, it'd be one of those?
"If you run as a third-party candidate, you'll get no publicity. The same corporations that own the two political parties, they also own mainstream media. The last democratic debate, CNN and all of the talking heads declared Hillary Clinton far and away the winner. Don't need Joe Biden, Hillary is carrying the mantle, that's what they told us. On the internet, it was the opposite. 81 percent said Bernie Sanders won the debate. Here's how you look for the conspiracy, you start checking Hillary Clinton's campaign donations. They let corporations play in the game. CNN is owned by Time Warner. Time Warner is the seventh largest contributor to Hillary's campaign. Seems like they had an agenda to declare her the winner? Aren't they all being paid by the same entity, including Hillary? You think you're getting fair, accurate reporting? No. Follow the money. Loyalty many times, goes to who pays the bills."
So where should people go for news?
"I do watch mainstream media, but I watch it with great skepticism, knowing the agenda that is always pushed. The internet is a phenomenal place, but you have to make up your own mind and do your own checking. Just because something is printed on the internet or put on TV, doesn't mean it's true. My case against Chris Kyle, American Sniper. People think I'm taking money from the widow and the child. Complete lie. It's been me against an insurance company since day one. Kyle's family hasn't paid a cent, and won't pay a cent. But the perception is carried out there that I'm the villain, when in reality I'm the babyface taking on the big insurance conglomerate. See how it can play? Being the villain in wrestling has really helped me get through that. I know what it's like to be hated and have people dislike you, and that's what made it easy for me to deal with being falsely accuse and hated."
You said you'd open to being a running mate for Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders. They have a unique appeal in that they aren't being paid off and they speak from the heart. Which candidate do you think you line up more with?
"That's difficult to say. Donald Trump has been a friend for 25 years now, and he actually came to one of my fundraisers when I ran for the reform party in Minnesota. Donald and Bernie went into these things knowing it would be easier to jump in and be a Republican or Democrat. I have similarities to both of them. Bernie, they poo-poo him, but everywhere they go, he gets 20,000. That's what happened with me in Minnesota. I got news for you, if people show up to see you in person, you can bank they're voting for you. Both Trump and Bernie are drawing large crowds. Trump is getting plenty of publicity, Bernie not so much. I differ from them, too. I'm completely opposite from Donald on immigration. Bernie, I like things he's saying because there are major things wrong with America when you have this type of income disparity, where the upper one percent of Americans have 90 percent of the wealth, or half the wealth. It's absurd that type of wealth is being held while so many people have help. Take the Walton family that owns Wal-Mart. They make billions of dollars apiece a year, yet their employees have to be government subsidized because they aren't paid enough. That's where the government needs to step in and say 'wait a minute.' You can't be making billions and expecting the taxpayers to subsidize your employees. People talk about minimum wage, I'll go the other way and say why don't we have a maximum wage? Somebody can't live off of $100 million a year? What could you possibly need? In ten years, you'd be worth a billion. Some say that's un-American, but they're making it on the backs of who?"
What'd you enjoy more, wrestling, or being behind the mic?
"Both is a political answer, I focused on both equally. The height of my wrestling career, I never considered being behind the mic. I was focused on being the best wrestler I could be. I only got put behind the mic because I was injured and had clots in my lungs the night before I was supposed to wrestle Hogan in LA. I was on the shelf for six months, and Vince McMahon approached me with an idea. The idea was to put the first villain on the microphone. Vince was right, it got over huge. It got to the point where I was doing both. Vince asked why get thrown around more if I was making the same to talk about it, so I made the transition to strictly being behind the mic, and I don't regret it a bit because I have my health to thank for it today."
There were some guys, even though you were a heel, that it seemed like you had a lot of respect for, Randy Savage being one.
"Well I had respect for everybody. The only real controversial thing where Vince ever stopped me was KoKo B Ware. I heard it through Koko. I wanted to have fun. KoKo had the bird, and I said it was the beast and Buckwheat, and KoKo was Buckwheat's grandson. The NAACP came down on Vince and Vince backed down. I was angry at him for that, because it's discrimination. SNL had Eddie Murphy playing Buckwheat all the time. I went to KoKo and told him what I was going to do and his reaction was 'Body, you do whatever you want, because when you talk about me, I make more money,' so I had his blessing. Vince backed down and he wouldn't let me do it anymore for fear of the NAACP. He wouldn't fight them. That's the only time I saw Vince back down.
You famously tried to get the wrestlers to unionize before WrestleMania 2. What was Vince McMahon's reaction when he found out?
"Well, he threatened to fire me. It didn't matter anyway because I quit. Vince wasn't going to let me do Predator. I said 'Vince, I have a chance to co-star with Arnold, and you're going to tell me I can't? I quit.' I went off and did Predator. That's why they had to open up with Bobby Heenan on Saturday Night's Main Event. NBC came down on Vince and said they thought they were going to do a show with me, and Vince had to come back to me, and I got my deal. I had the cards in my favor and had signed for Running Man that fall. It gave me what I needed to fight Vince. When I was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2004, I said that my biggest accomplishment in wrestling was that I was the first wrestler to make Vince deal with an agent. That didn't get over too well. I had the best job in the world. Who else has a job where you can insult your boss on national TV and it's ok? I only worked one day every three weeks."
Do you still think wrestlers should unionize?
"Absolutely! How backwards could it be? Even when I fought with Vince, it wasn't over him. I had to pay for my own health insurance for me and my family. It was costing me $5000 a year. If we had a union, maybe that could be diminished to $2000 a year. There's strength in numbers. You could have retirement. I took the gamble and sued Vince and beat him in 1990. He still sends me quarterly checks. Anything I appear on, he has to pay me for."
Does that apply to the WWE Network at all?
"I don't know, but I'm going to find out (laughs.) I'm glad you reminded me, I'm going to call my attorney David Olsen about that. I don't know if it does or not, but I'm not being paid for it, and I understand I appear on it quite often."
What kind of extra pay were wrestlers getting in royalties before you sued?
"You got stuff, but what Vince wanted to give you. Nothing was negotiated, no percent was set. Vince determined it all. It's so ridiculous that they still call wrestlers independent contractors so Vince doesn't have to pay social security either. How are you an independent contractor when Vince tells you when and who you're working with, and if you win or lose? Plus you can't work for anybody else."
Are you surprised that's stuck?
"Yeah. He's lucky I didn't run for the Senate. Had I won, I'd have started an immediate Senatorial investigation as to why pro wrestlers are called self-employed when they're not. That saves Vince a ton of money. That's why you need a union. Plus the fact there was a time I wrestled 63 consecutive nights in a row. With a union, if you wrestled so many nights in a row, they'd be required to give you a couple of nights off. The way the business is set up, you're a slave to the money, at least in the old days. I helped bring in contracts, maybe it's not that way now."
You mentioned Hulk Hogan kind of outed you to Vince. How did you find out about that, and how were you with Hulk before that?
"I found out about it at a sworn deposition at my court case. Vince put his hand on a Bible and swore to tell the truth. At a deposition you can ask about anything. I told my attorney how I stood up in the locker room and tried to unionize and the next day I got a call from Vince reading me the riot act. How would he know? There was nobody in the room but the wrestlers, I picked my time. I told my lawyers if they could find out how he learned, I'd sure like to know. I was sitting right in the room and couldn't say anything. My attorney said 'Mr. McMahon, has anyone ever tried to start a union?' and I remember the quote, he said 'Jesse Ventura may have spouted his mouth off about it one time,' so they asked 'How did you know?' and without hesitation, he said 'Hulk Hogan told me.' Right there under sworn deposition, I learned how Vince learned. Hulk continued to deny it, even when Vince went on national TV and was confronted by Larry King. Yet, Hogan continues to deny it."
Have you ever talked to Hogan about it?
"Nope! Why would I? I was so stunned that day. I showed no emotion. I sat in the chair frozen. In my day, it was the wrestlers vs. the promoters. You were considered an office stooge if you went squealing stuff from the promoter, and he came up when I did. As far as I'm concerned, he's an office stooge."
Have they updated their contracts so that other announcers can't receive royalties?
"I think so, I don't know for certain. I didn't work for him, so I don't know. I heard he put in a 'Jesse Ventura clause.' They all have to give up their rights. Vince could have won the case, but it turned out to be quantum merit. When you negotiate with someone, the law says that you can expect to be told the truth during those negotiations. Vince wasn't truthful, because I would ask and Barry Bloom would always ask about videotape royalties, because I got paid for them in Hollywood. Vince kept saying he didn't pay royalties. Had that been true, he'd have won. Nobody requires him to pay them. During discovery, we found out that Hogan, Cyndi Lauper, Mr T. got royalties. Certain people were getting them, then they would lie to everyone else. I was on the stand and my attorney said to me 'had you known (these people) were getting royalties, would you have agreed to work without getting royalties?" and I said 'No, I would not have. If I would have known, I would have wanted them too.' Those people were getting royalties. Why? Because they were coming from mainstream, where you do get paid for it. To get Mr T., he had to give in to that. That cost him against me."
So guys like Bobby Heenan could have went back and sued right? Was the statute of limitations up?
"They could have, but I'm not sure. I never signed a contract with Vince. They all did."
It was just a handshake deal?
"Yeah. I never signed nothin'. I owned the copyright to Jesse "The Body" Ventura before I ever came to work for Vince. So when I came to work for him, I had the government copyright to my likeness. I never drug tested. They came up to me once and said 'Jesse, you have to drug test. Piss in a cup.' I looked at the guy and said 'Jesse don't do that. I'm innocent until proven guilty. You have no probable cause, I don't piss in cups.' He said that everyone had to, and I told him to tell Vince that Jesse's refusing. Never heard a thing more about it. I never urinated in a cup, I never was drug tested, because they have no right to do that without collectively bargaining it with me. If they want me to submit the drug test, you have to bring it up when I make the deal. You can't come to be after the deal and invade my body without probable cause. If I'm not showing up on time and I'm doing a horrible job because I'm drunk or stoned, then you have probable cause. I don't think anyone could say Jesse Ventura did that.
"I got Bruno going on that. God, was that fun. The next day we're waiting to go to the next TV and I say 'Bruno, did you take a drug test yesterday?' and he said 'Of course, everyone did.' I told him I didn't and said 'You're kidding me. The great Bruno Sammartino, and they're going to make you pee in cups to prove you don't do drugs?' Bruno was so angry, I don't think he did one ever again. It took a while to get through to Bruno, but once you did, he understood. I said 'You're Bruno Sammartino. Why are you peeing in cups?'"
He was in his 50s then, right?
"Oh he'd been around forever. He was mad, especially when he found out I didn't do it."
How can fans check out your show, Off The Grid?
"It's right on the internet at ora.tv/offthegrid. I'm on every day. You can watch them at your convenience. Your audience is mostly wrestling fans, right? I have now at my disposal, total control, nobody telling me what to say, and I do a 10-11 minute interview about it. That's what you get on Off The Grid. Jesse The Body Ventura doing 10-11 on something political, even wrestling if it were to rear its ugly head. That's the freedom I have, and why I love doing the show. There's no FCC on the internet. When I got the show, I felt like Martin Luther King, free at last. There was no Vince to tell me what to say, no FCC regulations, I can call BS by the wrong name. The internet is the perfect place for me, and I don't plan on leaving it. Wrestling fans, e-mail Vince McMahon and tell him you want Jesse at WrestleMania, pay him! That'll get you some good heat with the WWE (laughs). Hit them with a barrage!"
Make sure to check out the second part of our interview with "The Body" next week, where Ventura talks about what he did for Brock Lesnar, if WWE ever tried to bring him back, why WWE doesn't invite him to WrestleMania, if his problems with Hulk Hogan affected his WCW run, if medical marijuana would help athletes deal with pain, working with Vince McMahon again with the XFL, 9/11 conspiracies, Roddy Piper passing away and much more.
You can check outthe extended American Conspiracies book at Amazon.com by clicking here. The newly revised edition contains several new chapters and looks at secret trade deals between corporations and select government leaders such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Big Pharma and the oil industry's influence on politicians on both sides of the aisle.