It was a rare sight, even in the “sport” of a professional fight.
A wrestler carrying a microphone stood in front of an Appalachian crowd before a fight and began unleashing a downpour of insults, the essence seemed out of place at a pro wrestling competition.
“I understand now why you all identify with country music. It’s slow and it’s simple and it’s boring, just like each and every one of you.”
As the mob grew increasingly hateful, the wrestler’s words became more politically tinted.
“You know what, I think Bernie Sanders would make a great secretary of state.”
“I want to exchange your bullets for bullet points. Bullet points of knowledge.”
He even called Donald Trump a “con man.” The crowd exploded in jeers. “Shut up,” someone yelled.
Strange, indeed. But then, the muscular man’s shirt read, “Not My President.”
Face the fighter who goes by the title “Progressive Liberal” Dan Richards, the most hated character in Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountain Wrestling (AMW) program, a small professional wrestling line.
Professional wrestling has long incorporated villain roles called heels, someone for the fans to cheer against. Usually, though, these are burly, fierce men who do “evil” actions such as vowing loyalty to the devil or sneak-attacking other fighters with stools and ladders. He’s beefy enough, at 6″5′ tall. But he honors not the evil but Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
This might be the first example when a character became a villain by supporting liberal dogma. And it appears to be working — he’s caught the notice of Deadspin, Sports Illustrated, even the conservative Breitbart.
The latter called him “a wrestling heel for the Trump era,” and wrote, “His moves include smugness, condescension, and whining.”
His gimmick is simple. He represents a self-righteous liberal elitist who addresses the audience on political matters. His nemeses are “Fox News maggots.” His fictional character comes from D.C. His wrestling shorts show a donkey. He mocks his fans’ Appalachian accents, correcting them — “Do you live in a holler? No, you live in a hollow.”
He even calls his finishing trademark wrestling move the “Liberal Agenda.”
These may not seem like the most brutal of insults, but at a moment when politics are a breeding ground for great, burning emotion, it seems to work cleverly.
Dan Richards, a wrestler by the name “Progressive Liberal,” is the most hated character in Kentucky’s Appalachian Mountain Wrestling (AMW) program.
As Deadspin reported:
Regardless of how much Richards plays up the left-wing politics to crowds in Kentucky and nearby states, it works. Look no further than the videos to see that those crowds despise him. There’s a kid in the crowd telling him to shut up, and relentless jeers, or Trump masks worn by attendees. And even the occasional death threat. …, at a 2016 show in West Virginia, where Richards spoke about taking everyone’s guns, a patron displayed a pistol in a holster on his right hip and started rubbing it.
Another time, one fan threatened that if “that f — king liberal” showed up at a different show, he’d bring his gun.
The “Progressive Liberal” is Daniel Harnsberger, a 36-year-old real estate broker from Richmond who had been on the indie fighting circuit for years before conceiving of the character. Once he did, he only waited for the best time to expose it — which he found in 2015 in Sabine, W. Va.
“It was a small crowd and I had freedom to do whatever I wanted that night, so I just decided to get on the mic — and this is maybe a couple months after Trump started running. Who knew the guy was gonna be president?” Harnsberger told Sports Illustrated. “So I did this interview on the house mic and I said, ‘If he’s elected president, I hope Trump doesn’t build a wall around Mexico. Instead I hope he builds it around this town so none of you people can infiltrate the population.’”
“The ire that statement got, I knew I was onto something,” he added. “Even then, those fans were chanting, ‘Trump! Trump! Trump!’”
New gear came in. pic.twitter.com/tda7d2JChy
— Daniel Richards (@ProgressLib804) February 11, 2017
Part of the joke is that his character’s politics are “not much of a stretch” on his own, as he told Deadspin.
“It’s not like I’m pretending to be something I’m not,” he told Sports Illustrated. “I’m just turning it up. I hear Trump chants everywhere I go now, as soon as I walk out.”
The men he fights alongside are more likely to be firm Republicans who so hate Democrats that Beau James, an official with AMW, pretends to support Harnsberger his lines.
“He’s protecting me,” he said.
Despite the violence he’s provoked, Harnsberger plans to remain wrestling as the “Progressive Liberal” Dan Richards. After all, it shoots two birds with one stone, both feeding his wrestling career, and efficiently proclaim his beliefs.
“I wish Democrats would be as unapologetic as Republicans are,” he said. “Just be unapologetic with your policies and who you are. That’s how the Progressive Liberal is. I’m unapologetic.”