How has a rock musician who hasn’t topped the charts for decades – “Cat Scratch Fever” was back in 1977 – become a media-ready presence, relevant and, in certain circles, respectable?
For Ted Nugent, frequent and heated statements about President Obama, guns and race have done the trick. Nugent has always been an outrageous rocker, boastful about his exploits – sexual and otherwise. Headlines and notoriety in his business are gold, especially if, as it’s being reported, he has a live album in the works. But why are Republican leaders either encouraging the “Motor City Madman” or tacitly going along?
Rather than seeing an opportunity for a “Sister Souljah moment” – named for then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton’s 1992 public repudiation of someone perceived to represent extremist views as a way reassure the middle — Nugent has been elevated on conservative news outlets and is a sought-after guest. He’s become the foul-mouthed bard of the right wing.
The not-guilty verdict in the Florida trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin has given Nugent new material.
On a nationally syndicated radio show, Nugent recently said, “Trayvon got justice.” The musician called the late 17-year-old a “gangsta wannabe” who had a “bloodthirst,” and said that Martin showed racism because he called George Zimmerman a “cracka.” In the right-wing publication Rare, Nugent said he supported the jury’s verdict and said Martin was a “dope smoking, racist gangsta wannabe.”
While Nugent celebrates the diversity of his band and is paying tribute to black musical pioneers such as Chuck Berry, James Brown and Bo Diddley in his “Black Power” tour, Stevie Wonder would not be on that list. After the Grammy-award winning, Rock and Roll Hall of Famer pledged to boycott Florida and other states with Stand Your Ground laws, Nugent said, “How brain-dead do you have to be?” He said he would pray for ”Stevie Wonder and all these other numb-nuts who think that Trayvon Martin’s life is more important than the tens of thousands of slaughtered blacks at the hands of blacks.”
Nugent’s rhetoric may be a tad more incendiary, but it follows the lead of conservative commentators who – rather than mix their celebration of the Zimmerman verdict with a measure of sympathy for Trayvon Martin’s family — have pivoted to blaming the 17-year-old and lawlessness among black people in general. Nugent wrote for the conservative WND website: “The first step toward genuine healing for the denial-riddled hysterical black community would be to admit that George Zimmerman was indeed getting his ‘a** whooped’ by an angry, violent, wildly overreacting young man, and that Trayvon Martin was not an innocent child. You must admit this, or you will only continue to make things worse. … Is it the same mindless tendency to violence we see in black communities across America, most heartbreakingly in Chicago pretty much every day of the week? Where does this come from? And why is it so prevalent?”
At President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address, Nugent was the guest of Texas GOP Rep. Steve Stockman, who said at the time in a statement to Politico: “I am excited to have a patriot like Ted Nugent joining me in the House Chamber to hear from President Obama.” Stockman had earlier suggested impeaching the president over any new gun laws; Nugent drew the attention of the Secret Service when he said to those at an April 2012 National Rifle Association convention that “if Barack Obama becomes the president in November again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year.”
After the president’s re-election in 2012, Nugent tweeted: “Pimps whores & welfare brats & their soulless supporters hav [sic] a president to destroy America.” When his preferred candidate Texas Gov. Rick Perry dropped out of the GOP primary race, Nugent had supported Mitt Romney as long as the former Massachusetts governor promised no gun restrictions in a Romney administration. The two share personal views on abstaining from drugs and alcohol.
However, the Republican Party’s family values positions would seem at odds with other Nugent on and off-stage antics, including relationships with (much) younger women and the ruses Nugent said he used to avoid the draft.
An editorial in the New Haven Register name-checked Nugent, scheduled for an August 6th concert in the city, and others for bringing “the KKK’s traditional message to the mainstream — to the point of being embraced by the leaders of the Republican Party during the last presidential election campaign.” In response, Nugent said, “People who hate Ted Nugent hate freedom,” and, in an interview broadcast on WGAN radio, promised to continue to speak what he sees as the truth. In a Talking Points commentary on his show, Fox network’s Bill O’Reilly also condemned the Register for the editorial.
Some are calling for protests and petitions against Nugent’s appearance. West Haven resident Barbara Fair said in the Register that Nugent’s recent statements about Trayvon Martin show “he’s being more ridiculous than he’s already been.”
While Nugent’s outspokenness on race and disrespect of the president should hardly affect fans used to outrageous statements, will he ever go too far for Republicans who have said they value minority voters? Or has the center of the party moved so far to the right that even a gentle chiding of a rock musician who routinely insults Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton might be too big a gamble for any GOP political or media leader.
Follow Mary on Twitter @mcurtisnc3