If there's one thing that's been consistent about Jesse Ventura over the years, through his many professional highs and lows, it’s that he always finds a way to piss people off.
The former Navy SEAL (he was a member of Underwater Demolition Team 12), wrestler, Minnesota governor, and author of The Marijuana Manifesto is like a one-man controversy machine, whether he’s slamming organized religion (which he called “a crutch for weak-minded people”), spreading 9/11 conspiracy theories (Dick Cheney “allowed it to happen to further their agenda,” he said), or comparing recreational hunting to war (“until you've hunted man,” he said, “you haven't hunted yet”).
Ventura is back in the headlines again, thanks to a new gig on Russian television. The World According To Jesse, hosted by a man known in his wrestling days as “The Body,” is funded by the Russian government, although Ventura claims that no less an authority than Vladimir Putin promised him he won’t be censored. In a promo for the show, Ventura talks about freedom while wearing a leather vest with his own image on the back, and riding his hog across a deserted highway.
“You know why they get offended at me? It’s simple. Because I make people uncomfortable. I bring up topics they don’t want to talk about.”
Ventura is also continuing his lawsuit against late Navy SEAL and American Sniper author Chris Kyle. In the 2012 memoir, Kyle claimed that during a gathering of SEALs to honor Michael Monsoor, a SEAL killed in Iraq in 2006 who posthumously received the Medal of Honor, he got into an argument with a man he identified only as “a celebrity I’ll call Scruff Face.” The unnamed person was loudly criticizing the Iraq War, saying the SEALs “deserve to lose a few” because of their involvement in the overseas conflict. “Being level-headed and calm can only last so long,” Kyle wrote. “I laid him out. Tables flew. Stuff happened. Scruff Face ended up on the floor.”
It eventually came out that “Scruff Face” was Ventura, and he sued for libel. In 2014, a federal jury awarded Ventura $500,000 for defamation and $1.3 million for unjust enrichment. The verdict was overturned by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2016, and earlier this year the Supreme Court denied Ventura’s appeal. Case closed? Not quite. Ventura intends to bring the case back to court yet again, even though the guy he’s technically suing hasn’t been alive for almost five years.
Task & Purpose caught up with Ventura as he was preparing for his keynote speech at the upcoming Cannabis World Congress & Business Exposition — he takes the stage this Thursday, June 15, at the Javits Center in New York — to talk about weed, the Russians, how the United States sometimes acts like Nazis, the iffy moral ground of suing widows, and why there hasn’t been a justifiable war since World War II.
Let’s start with marijuana. You’ve been arguing for legalizing weed for years. Why is this issue so important to you?
As you learn more about marijuana, you realize that this plant is unbelievably tremendous. It’s medical purposes seem to be unlimited, It’s the least dangerous recreational drug, in my opinion, No one has ever died from overdosing on marijuana. You can’t do it. If you do die, you’ll go down in the history books.
But why are you so passionate about it personally?
Because it’s given me my quality of life back. Someone extremely close to me developed epileptic seizures. This person was seizing two to three times a week. It’s terrifying. Your life is gone, because you don’t know when the seizures will hit. Well, this person went on four different pharmaceutical medicines, and none of them worked, and they all had horrible side effects. So we drove to Colorado to try medical marijuana. This person has not had a seizure since. Not one! My goal now is to make marijuana legal across the United States of America so that other people don’t have to suffer.
You think that’s realistic? Will we have total legalization in our lifetime?
I hope so, but it won’t happen under Trump. When he talks about making America great again, is he talking about moving us backwards instead of forwards? It seems he wants us to go back to the 50s. That’s ridiculous. We’re human beings. We’ve been to the moon, now we want to go to Mars.
Are you still considering running for president? You’ve been hinting about it for years.
I always think about it, but then you look at the amount of work involved, and I look at the age I am now. I’m 65.
“…first of all, Chris Kyle is a liar. I want that brought right out. He threw me under the bus.”
So what? Trump is 70.
Being the president ages you. Look at some of these past guys when they came into office, how young they look. By the time they get out, they’ve aged 20 years.
So it’s not worth the stress?
I don’t know. It might be. I have to make sure I want the job before I go after it. Trump is finding out right now that it isn’t as easy as he thought it would be. If you accept the job, you have to do the job. You know what Trump’s problem is, in my opinion? He doesn’t understand that our government constitutionally has three major forms of power to check and balance each other. He can’t just fire people anytime he feels like it. He’s not on The Apprentice anymore.
What do you make of accusations that the Russians meddled in our election?
Let me put it to you this way. If Hillary had won, you wouldn’t be hearing a thing about it.
Okay. But do you believe it happened?
It doesn’t matter. How many elections have we interfered in? We’re the pot calling the kettle black. Is attempting to kill Fidel Castro an interference? We tried that at least a dozen times. The hypocrisy to me is astounding. How can the United States be appalled that someone tried to influence our election when it’s standard operating procedure for us? Now, let me do a shameless promo. This is the kind of talk you’re going to get from The World According to Jesse on Russian television.
Since you work for the Russians now, shouldn’t we take your opinions about Russian interference with a grain of salt?
Listen, let me explain something. My mother and father were both World War II veterans. My mom was a nurse in North Africa, and my father had six Bronze Battle Stars. He fought in North Africa, Normandy, Battle of the Bulge, Remagen Bridge, and Berlin. He saw it all. My dad didn’t talk about the war much, but you know what he did talk about? The friendships he had with the Russians in Berlin. Our allies! Now, the question that has always haunted me, how did they become our enemy before the war was even over? It’s because of Allen Dulles and the CIA, who were controlled by Wall Street. Wall Street would rather get in bed with Nazis or fascists than socialists. That’s why Russia immediately became our enemy.
But we’re talking about modern-day Russia. Putin seems like a terrible leader and a borderline Bond villain. Do you trust him?
When people ask me about Vladimir Putin, cause I met him, do you know how I describe him? He’s a very patriotic Russian. Shouldn’t the president of Russia be a patriotic Russian? Shouldn’t his best interests be in Russia? That’s kind of his job.
But that doesn’t make him a good person, does it?
My point is, we’ve been enemies of Russia my entire life. Let’s try friendship for awhile! That’s one of the reasons I took the job at Russian television. I’m 65, I have to pick out my battles now. You want my funny answer?
Jesse VenturaWikimedia Commons photo
In light of the U.S. government’s plans to build a wall on our southern border, you’d think we’d want to be friends with Russia. After all, they’re white.
Wow. I’m not sure I’d call that funny.
I say that tongue in cheek, but look at the Mexican situation. We’re scared to death of the brown-skinned people. We want to build walls to keep them out of here. I love Mexico and I love the Mexican people, so I take great offense when we do that up here. These are the hardest working people I’ve ever met, and I’ve met them all.
“When people ask me about Vladimir Putin, cause I met him, do you know how I describe him? He’s a very patriotic Russian.”
Let’s talk about your lawsuit with Chris Kyle. Get us up to speed.
Well, first of all, Chris Kyle is a liar. I want that brought right out. He threw me under the bus. He threw an old Vietnam veteran under the bus so he could get fame and fortune. And then he got his buddies to come in and try to lie for him in court. They lost! I won!
But that ruling got overturned.
Now we have a legal system you have to deal with on the appeals level. In the appeals court, two of the judges ruled against me and abolished the whole thing and ordered a new trial. And it’s all because they didn’t get the result they wanted.
So you’re going back to court?
My attorney told me that when they send it back to a new trial, 90% of the time it doesn’t happen. A settlement takes place. We’re on the verge that one could. But I told them there will never be a settlement unless they apologize to me.
By “them” you mean his estate. Obviously Kyle can’t apologize.
I want an apology. I went to court to restore my reputation. But we still have to get some compensation. They destroyed me. I can’t get a job. It’s one of the reasons I work for the Russians now. Mainstream media won’t hire me.
You got blacklisted because of Kyle’s book?
Absolutely! That story broke January of 2012, and I lost my television show immediately. Conspiracy Theory, it got cancelled. I was supposed to be a presenter at the Nashville Hockey League awards and NBC cancelled me, said I was too controversial. This is all because Chris Kyle felt the need to lie.
You think it was that calculated?
Everything about it was calculated. He rewrote the scene with me several times to make it sound more believable. And he still didn’t get his facts right. He says he knocked me out with one punch? I'm on blood thinners. If he'd actually done that, I’d be dead. I’d at least have a huge black eye. None of that happened. He also said I was drunk, and again, I’m on blood thinners, so there’s no way that could’ve happened. The evidence was so overwhelming that the jury sided with me against a dead war hero and his grieving, crying wife. She got up on the stand and bawled. Yet the jury did their job. They looked at the evidence and came back with, “Jesse was telling the truth.”
“I think there’s a possibility that I wouldn’t serve in the military again, knowing what I know today.”
His widow is a big reason why so many people feel uncomfortable with this. Whether Kyle was lying or telling the truth, he’s gone. You can’t get justice from him anymore. So why go after his widow? Does it really clear your name if you take millions away from her and her kids?
The truth is, it didn’t cost them a cent. That's why the case was overturned. It was being paid for completely by the publisher and insurance company. [Ventura’s lawyer’s unverified claim to the jury that Kyle’s legal defense was being covered by the publisher’s insurance is what got the judgment reversed in the first place.] And yet the family portrayed that I was going after them. See how dirty this was? [HarperCollins did not return a call requesting comment.] To me, it looks like it was done by design to destroy me.
How were they trying to destroy you?
Look at Kyle’s death. Let’s dissect that a second. He had no training whatsoever in post-traumatic stress. Yet he was taking a Marine afflicted heavily with it to a gun range and handing him a loaded gun? Who would hand someone suffering from PTS a loaded gun? But that’s what they did. That’s the story anyway.
You think that’s not what happened?
We could have fun with this. Is it a conspiracy theory and the story’s much deeper? Maybe Kyle had to be gotten rid of.
I don’t know. Maybe it was a political thing to destroy Jesse Ventura. It sounds very Karl Rove-ish, doesn’t it?
Actually it sounds like a bad X-Files episode.
Maybe the thought was, if Kyle died, I wouldn’t continue to pursue the case. It would put me between a rock and a hard place. If I continued to seek the truth, they could blame me for going after the wife and kids. And if I dropped the case, they win. We’re just having fun here, speculating. I’m not saying I believe any of this. It’s just a theory.
Former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura talks to reporters at the Warren E. Burger Federal Building and United States Courthouse after a defamation hearing, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015, in St. Paul, Minnesota.Star Tribune photo by Elizabeth Flores via Associated Press
Here’s another theory. I think people are still angry about Kyle’s story because of what you allegedly said about SEALs “deserving to die” because the Iraq War was unjustified. Even if you didn’t say that to Kyle, as you’ve claimed, do you believe it?
I have the SEAL emblem tattooed on my chest. And that happened after the Iraq War. I have the Navy SEAL emblems on my Harley motorcycle. But you need to remember something. We have a war culture now. If we go to war, even if the war is wrong, you’re still a hero. To me, Kyle was not a hero. You want to know why? Because a hero has to have honor. And a liar does not have honor. Just because he’s a good shot and killed a bunch of people, that doesn’t make him a hero. Now, let me pose this to all military people. I say this as a Vietnam vet. Can you be a hero if the war was essentially wrong to begin with?
What war are we talking about?
Well, let’s put it in another perspective. When the Nazis invaded Poland, just like we invaded Iraq, if a Nazi sniper had killed 30 Polish people, would he be considered a hero?
Why not? He would be considered a hero in Germany, wouldn’t he?
I guess it comes down to whether you’re comfortable comparing the U.S. to Nazi Germany.
But that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’re the aggressors. We’re invading countries, we’re killing people in those countries, and we’re calling our soldiers heroes for doing it. I’m not anti-military. I’m as patriotic as you can get.
“Now, let me pose this to all military people. I say this as a Vietnam vet. Can you be a hero if the war was essentially wrong to begin with?”
If you could go back and relive anything in your life and career—as a Navy SEAL, wrestler, or governor of Minnesota—what would you want to do differently?
I will say this, and it hurts to say it. I think there’s a possibility that I wouldn’t serve in the military again, knowing what I know today.
Because of the unjust wars?
Since World War II, every war our country has fought in hasn’t achieved a thing. I’m a huge follower of Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler. He served about a hundred years ago, and fought in what they called the Banana Wars of Central and South America. Butler wrote a book, and it’s a phenomenal book, called War Is a Racket, and I want all of you military people to get this book and read it. I wrote the introduction when it was re-released a few years ago.
He won the Medal of Honor twice, and later became very critical of military conflicts.
That’s right. He tells you that war is done so that war profiteers can make money. It isn’t about what they tell you you’re going to fight for. That’s baloney. It’s a quick read, because Butler gets right to the point. Most Marines I know don’t beat around the bush, they get right to the point.
You’ve said a lot of contentious things over the years. Anything you wish you could take back?
I know I’ve said things I regret, but none of them are big enough that I lose sleep over them. The cat’s out of the bag, you can’t do anything now!
Maybe you’re right.
You know why they get offended at me? It’s simple. Because I make people uncomfortable. I bring up topics they don’t want to talk about. People come up to me on the street every day and they say, “Jesse, keep doing what you’re doing. Keep talking. We need you.” The problem is, nobody stands with you. They tell you to keep doing it and getting the heat, but they want to be left out of it. Because they’re cowards.