Introducing the next president of the universe, Vermin Supreme

(And yes, that's his real name …)

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Supreme has had a lot of time to hone his media presence. The Massachusetts native began his political career in the 1980s, railing against nuclear disarmament. He ran for mayor of Baltimore and Detroit before deciding to go straight to the top job in politics. Last year, Supreme made it onto the ballot in New Hampshire’s Democratic presidential primary, receiving 800 votes. Not too shabby for a guy whose energy plan calls for the harnessing of zombies’ “shambling power.”

But the man who told riot police in Chicago, “I demand your immediate surrender … come out with your hands up and your pants down” also has a softer side. He’s married. Six years ago, Supreme gave one of his kidneys to his mother. And, as part of his platform, he wants to give you (and every other American) a free pony.

Supreme gave me a few moments of his time in a surprisingly forthright interview outside New World Brewery in Ybor City. He even took off his boot.

CL: Can you tell me how Vermin Supreme began?

Vermin Supreme: Back in the day, back in the ’80s in Baltimore, I was doing bookings and promotions for a couple clubs, and it’s not unusual at all for people to have some interesting names. So the name I took at that time was Vermin Supreme. All club owners, all booking agents, all promoters were “vermin” and I was going to be the “Vermin Supreme.” So I had Vermin Supreme’s Fabulous Galaxy Lounge and booked all sorts of local, original acts. I didn’t last too long, but the name certainly stuck. After that, it was just a short leap to “all politicans are vermin” and I would be the Vermin Supreme.

CL: I heard you ran as a Republican in the past.

VS: I will say that I fly a flag of convenience. I have run as a Democrat, I have run as a Republican. I sort of like being a registered Republican on the Republican ticket, because I think it’s a little bit funnier. It’s a little more consistent with what I’m presenting.

But I’m a social anarchist — straight-up, flat-out, always have been, always will be. But if I register for any party, it’s simply for whatever will give me a bigger bang for a buck during a primary and that’s ultimately dependent on the particulars of a race.

CL: So what’s wrong with America’s teeth? [Supreme proposes a constitutional mandate requiring Americans to brush their teeth]

VS: All in all they’re pretty good. I mean, we got some pretty strong teeth, some pretty smiling faces, we have a very good dental industrial complex and it seems to do the job. But of course teeth and flossing in particular … is linked to the health of America. The lack of flossing causes huge bacterial buildup and can have actual very negative health consequences. So it is part of a healthcare bill. It’s preventative health care maintenance. And let’s push that nanny state all the way.

Ultimately, the mandatory tooth-brushing law began as my response to the first mandatory seat belt law in the nation, which was put forth by the state of Massachusetts years ago. What could be more ridiculous than that? The tooth-brushing thing came to mind.

CL: Why ponies?

VS: Once again, it’s a simple thing. Ponies, everyone wants one as a kid —

CL: What if I want a goat? Can I trade?

VS: There’s a conversion kit for that.

CL: But we’re in a horrible economy right now. How are we going to pay for all these ponies?

VS: Well, they’re free ponies. Now there might be some incidental costs with pony Social Security and universal pony health care and the hay stamp program — which, quite frankly, is a boondoggle — but it’s necessary to keep America moving and keep ponies from starving in the streets.

But the important thing to understand is once we have universal pony ownership, then we have equity in our ponies. Once we have equity in our ponies, we can borrow against that equity. Then, we have a pony-based economy. Then, we can bring in the bankers, they can start slicing and dicing this pony debt into really insane credit default swaps. That will create a huge pony bubble in the economy. And from my understanding, bubbles are really great and everybody’s doing good then.

CL: What’s the story behind the boot?

VS: Once again, it’s a simple, elegant, effective tool. When the media asks me, “What’s the boot stand for?” I’m pretty straight up. I turn it into a media critique: The boot is a pile of shit and you are the fly that is attracted to it. …

Peggy Kennedy noted in ’04 that the boot is sort of like a rubber worm dangled in front of a fish. It’s bait.

Of course, on the streets it’s one of the things that effectively disarm the police. I become not so much of a threat, because I’m presenting a full-on absurdist image, especially when I start piling on top the humorous comments.

CL: I have seen that before. It seems at protests you direct a lot of comments toward police. Do you have a beef with police?

VS: It’s not a beef with the police, personally. Not with any individual policeman. It’s more the overall structure.

But my take on it is the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees us the right to peaceably assemble and use our free speech to petition our government for the redress of our grievances. Now sadly, most of the time, at these demonstrations in the street, we get nowhere near our representatives in government to petition. Often times, it is the police themselves that are the only representatives of the government that we are given. So I find we have to work with what we are given. I try to make that very clear to the police officers that it’s a part of their duty in this civic dance we are engaged in. I try to lay down the ground rules with them.

When I’m performing commentary to the police, it’s usually very respectful, it’s humorous … When I’m reading them riot control manuals, when I’m reiterating the fact that crowd safety is important, that panic is something to be avoided at all times, that you should always leave a crowd an exit, I’m reading them documents. I’m reading them excerpts from actual manuals from the Army, from the Navy, from various police departments. So I’m trying to give them a refresher course. I’m trying to re-humanize protesters in the eyes of the police. I’m trying to re-humanize police in the eyes of the protesters. By doing these things I really do feel that I decrease the likelihood of violence a certain amount.

CL: Have you ever been arrested?

VS: Very rarely. For the space that I work, which is between the police and the protesters, the risk of arrest I put myself in, [arrest is] very, very rare.

A couple times at the Rainbow Gathering, actually campaigning as a candidate, handing out my stickers, I was arrested, which I thought was insane. Here I am, a candidate campaigning and yet they arrest me for handing out my campaign lit. But the beauty of it is the few times I have been arrested, I’ve usually been able to successfully sue the police. …

In L.A., in 2000, I was arrested for using my bullhorn. There was a small arrest going down. The police had made a line so we couldn’t see or reach the arrestees, so I was making the arrestees aware to remain silent and ask for your lawyer. Then I started singing the Mr. Rogers theme song and then I started to talk about the First Amendment. It was a day after the police riot when they were shooting at us after the Rage Against the Machine/ Ozomatli concert, and so I was critiquing the riot control that went down. I was reiterating that their COs [commanding officers] were putting them in danger.

What I have discovered is that at any time if I start critiquing the C.O.’s behavior or really analyzing what went down, they want to shut me down. But I was able to sue ‘em!

CL: Is it true you legally changed your name to Vermin Supreme?

VS: Yes. It just came to a point where everybody I know knows me as Vermin Supreme: my mother, my wife. I was Vermin Supreme when I met my wife; she’s never known me as someone else. And to get on the ballots. And to sue cops and have my name attached to that. For me, it’s very important to be Vermin Supreme. When a police officer comes up to me and says, “What is your name?”, my name is Vermin Supreme. It is nothing else. That statement alone let’s them know who they’re dealing with, what they’re dealing with, and it just sort of sets the tone.

CL: How is the documentary coming?

VS: We are getting very close on the Kickstarter. It looks like a go. The gentlemen Stephen [Onderick], who is producing it, started filming in Chicago, got a lot of footage and just had those questions: “Who is this guy?”

You get to a certain point in your life and you’re like, “Well OK give my career some context.” Get my friends telling these stories that otherwise I would have to wait ‘til my wake to hear.

I think it’s going to be a good movie. I’ve given him incredible access. I’ve hooked him up with hours and hours of archival tapes from my own private collection. We’ll be touching on stories from when I used to work with the Church of Euthanasia and we got on the Jerry Springer show. Just all these various things I’ve done throughout the years that not everyone knows and I think we’re going to make a more complete picture of what it is that I do.

CL: It’s convention season and you’re a presidential candidate. I’ll give you the last word.

VS: Ponies.

Vermin Supreme will be at CL Space, 1911 N. 13th St in Tampa, on Wednesday, Aug. 29, 7 p.m. to talk about his letter to the Tampa Police Department and de-escalation techniques. He’ll appear at Café Hey, 1540 N. Franklin Street in Tampa, at 8 p.m. for “Art of the Meme.”

click to enlarge Introducing the next president of the universe, Vermin Supreme - Courtesy of Vermin Supreme
Courtesy of Vermin Supreme
Introducing the next president of the universe, Vermin Supreme

click to enlarge Introducing the next president of the universe, Vermin Supreme - Courtesy of Vermin Supreme
Courtesy of Vermin Supreme
Introducing the next president of the universe, Vermin Supreme
  • Courtesy of Vermin Supreme

If there is one person who stands out among the crowds this week, it’s Vermin Supreme. That may have something to do with the boot on his head, or the absurd banter that blares through his bullhorn. (My favorite line this week directed toward police on soggy Monday: "Where are your armored, riot-control umbrellas?”).

Reporters can’t seem to pin just one label on Supreme: He’s an anarchist, performance artist, prankster, fringe candidate, “friendly fascist,” professional protest de-escalator, and — as we saw during this week’s Roving Radical Dance Party — a very effective MC. (He cannot sing, however.)

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