There are certain people who can proudly be labeled a national treasure, and Dan Harnsberger is just such a person. Raised in Richmond (Midlothian), Harnsberger is gaining recognition and hyping up wrestling fans as Appalachian Mountain Wrestling sensation, ‘Progressive Liberal Daniel Richards’. Making his mark as the match ‘heel’ or villain, Harnsberger’s routine is not just a clever ruse for the fans, but actually represents his real political views – making him an easy target for a demographic firmly in the Trump cabal.
This is a provocative move for a viewership that is 67 percent male with only a high school education, but Harnsberger doesn’t shy away from telling Trump supporters just what he thinks with his liberal battle-cry: “You people need to be reprogrammed. You continually vote against your own interests…”
Featured in the Washington Post, People, Huffington Post, and the UK’s Daily Mail, Harnsberger took some time out of the ring to chat with RVA Mag in his very first exclusive interview with a local rag. Given his fondness for theatrical violence linked to politics, we thought it only fair to fire a bunch of political questions his way.
RVA Mag: How does a real-estate agent from Richmond get involved with professional wrestling? Is this been something you’ve been doing your entire life?
Harnsberger: I was in wrestling long before I was in real-estate, I started wrestling in 2003. I got into real-estate during my hiatus from wrestling. All this started with the Dead Spin story. If it wasn’t for Dead Spin seeing a tweet about my match I am on my way to this Friday, if they had not done some digging, done some research, brought this to the spotlight, then we wouldn’t be talking today. VICE News from HBO News is following us right now, CNN is going to be here, local CBS affiliate, BBC America is here and Dead Spin.
RVA Mag: Your character ‘Progressive Liberal’ represents a nuanced political theme, how did you come up with that idea and how do you translate that into an actual character?
Harnsberger: I am a left leaning liberal. Before I ever did this, I conceptualized this and how I thought it would work. At the time, I was doing a lot of shows in West Virginia and they always vote right, its a red-state, and I just knew it would get a lot of heat. Finally I had an opportunity to test market it and the reaction was palpable and what I expected it to be or dreamed it would be. So I ran with it and it’s been a slow evolution that has got better over time, but is still a work in progress.
Again, its not like I am being a character. Just because I am working on nuance that’s me as a performer its not me trying to figure out what things to say. I don’t rely on catch phrases or anything like that, its just figuring out the balance between politics and wrestling.
RVA Mag: In more rural spaces, like where you perform out in Kentucky, do the crowds and audiences take it at face value or is it more in good fun?
Photo by The Progressive Liberal Daniel Richards
Harnsberger: No, they take it pretty personal. I think the reactions are pretty genuine. They don’t like outsiders and they especially don’t like outsiders telling them what to do, so.
RVA Mag: Do you ever feel threatened with any kind of personal hostility?
Harnsberger: There have been threats of gun violence, so far. I don’t think that is going to get any better.
RVA Mag: So you’re actually a progressive liberal. What are the politics like right now on the wrestling circuit, is the national mood reflected in the audiences who attend the matches?
Harnsberger: So the Trump supporters, I think they are more emboldened right now because they won, along with losing the special elections – I don’t think that helped. I think if Hillary would have won, I don’t think you would be doing this story. I’ve had smaller local stories done before and radio, but the attention I am getting is 100 percent a by-product of Trump winning. Which is funny because in retrospect it makes all the sense in the world, but at the time when Hillary lost, I thought that would end my shelf life – I was like ‘what do I do now, I found something that works’. But now its like…I’m not glad Donald Trump won, but it is actually helping me for once.
RVA Mag: Which progressive catch phrases get people fired up the most?
Harnsberger: Again, I don’t use a lot of catch phrases. I close my interviews by saying: ‘you will be liberated’. My finishing move is a variation of the neck breaker, I call it ‘the liberal agenda’. So the announcer can say: ‘he hit him with his liberal agenda’.
I have to use broad talking points because Trump’s fans and audience and supporters, as a whole, especially in this part of the country don’t really get into specifics. I tried saying something about charter schools and it just went over their heads. But if you say something about Trump and the Russians or Trump is ruining America or something extremely general that gets a reaction.
Photo by The Progressive Liberal Daniel Richards
RVA Mag: What’s the worst thing someone has yelled back at you?
Harnsberger: Um, I think the worst think thing was something along the lines of ‘fucking liberal comes to town, I’m going to shoot him’.
RVA Mag: That’s pretty serious. Do you take any personal safety precautions when you perform?
Harnsberger: Maybe I should start because, man, I’m telling you. The hate mail is starting to come in now. It was all love, but now the hate messages are…I just read one to my buddy and all we can do is laugh, but is there somebody plotting – looking at my event calendar and deciding if they are going to kill me? I don’t know? But I can’t live my life in fear, I won’t.
RVA Mag: In your Washington Post article you said, ‘I wish Democrats would be as unapologetic as Republicans are.’ Seeing how Democrats keep losing special elections, do you have any tips or ideas that could help the Party out?
Harnsberger: Yeah, they need to find ways to make sure people know what their plan is and how it will help them. They don’t do the best job of that. I think our specifics are better than their rhetoric, but we don’t do enough to reach out and on top of that, be bold and unapologetic. Don’t compromise, that’s what the Republicans are using and its working and they’re kicking our ass to the detriment of the country.
RVA Mag: That’s all we got, but when you’re home pop around the magazine’s office and let’s have a beer and catch up in person. Best of luck on the road and congratulations on your success.
Harnsberger: I would ask, ‘where oh where’ are the local news networks? Not one TV studio has called me.
RVA Mag: I’ll tell you where they’re at. They’re covering the next craft beer release or farm to table restaurant that has opened.
Harnsberger: Oh, good for them. Head of the league, right?