Jesse Ventura has long been a familiar figure in the American media. Open and outspoken, colorful and controversial, he’s had a remarkably varied career, working in turn as a Navy SEAL, professional wrestler, film actor, and one-term Governor of Minnesota. Since leaving office in 2003, he’s spent much of his time criticizing top U.S. officials and floating conspiracy theories in countless TV and radio interviews. He’s played coy about where he stands on many of these theories, sometimes vehemently denying, for example, that he’s a 9/11 “Truther” — a believer, that is, that the Bush Administration plotted the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon — and sometimes explicitly endorsing “Truther” theories. From 2009 to 2013, he hosted a TV show about conspiracy theories, and in recent years he’s co-written a couple of books on the subject, one of which argued that the JFK assassination was an inside job.
It’s tempting, of course, to dismiss Ventura as a marginal crank — an obvious crackpot whom nobody could possibly take seriously. But we’re talking here about a guy who’s in a position to get his books published, get his TV shows aired, and get himself booked on any number of high-profile TV and radio shows. A self-styled libertarian, he presumably has fans (at least one of his books was a New York Times bestseller) and thus at least a degree of influence, and during the last year or two has often offered himself up — and he doesn’t seem to be kidding about this in the slightest — as a candidate, if not in 2016 then in 2020, for president of the United States.
Which is why, despite the man’s manifest preposterousness, it’s worth drawing attention to one aspect of his life that’s perhaps relatively obscure — namely, his outsized, highly un-libertarian enthusiasm for none other than Fidel Castro. “I can only judge Fidel by the hour I spent with him,” Ventura told an interviewer in 2012 — an extraordinarily unserious and irresponsible thing to say, of course, when you’re somebody who’s eager to be regarded as a serious thinker and responsible political player. You can only judge a head of state with a decades-long record — one that includes mass torture and innumerable executions without trial — by the hour you spent with him? Really?
Of all things, Ventura enthused over Castro’s handshake: “I will always remember his handshake. Always. And I’ve shaken how many hands? But I will always remember his.” Although famously prepared to believe the most absurd conspiracy theories about the U.S. government, Ventura credulously parroted the transparently mendacious propaganda about Cuba’s purportedly magnificent health-care system. And although he rode to victory in Minnesota by claiming to be an ardent believer in libertarian values, he was quick to defend Communism as merely “a different form of government.”
His summing-up on the topic? “Castro never lied to me. My government has.”