Kingsport, TN (WJHL) — To gauge just how politically polarized the country is today, you only have to watch a few minutes of a 24-hour cable news channel. Or, you could watch a professional wrestling match – especially if “Daniel the Progressive Liberal” is one of the acts.
“Everyone in the building – 300 people – was on their feet,” remembers Beau James, a Tri-Cities-based wrestler and producer who now manages “Daniel the Progressive Liberal”. “They were yelling, throwing punches, knocking my wife’s hat off her head. Emotion. Heat.”
And James says it’s “heat” like James says he’s never seen before.
“Daniel the Progressive Liberal” is actually Daniel Harnsberger, a 36 year-old real estate manager from Richmond, Virginia who got his wrestling start in the Tri-Cities in 2003 with help from James.
Harnsberger wrestled on and off for years under the name Daniel Richards. Then, two years ago, the outspoken Democrat says he became frustrated by the candidacy of Donald Trump. So he decided to make it part of his act in the wrestling ring.
“I remember one of the first lines,” he said. “I told a crowd in Kentucky, ‘I hope Trump doesn’t build a wall around Mexico. I hope he builds it around this town so you people can’t infiltrate the population.'”
Cue the heat.
“The Donald Trump chants started then, and they haven’t stopped,” said Harnsberger. “And that was the summer of 2015.”
“Daniel the Progressive Liberal” was born, a character Harnsberger says is only slightly removed from reality.
“It’s not a personality,” he said. “It is me. Am I amping up a bit? Yea. But that’s the showmanship of pro-wrestling.”
“In front of a wrestling audience, it’s a chance to release my frustration with the hypocrisy right-wing politics,” he said.
In late June, Beau James says he was working at his computer when he noticed a flood of messages on his phone. Focused on his work, James said he didn’t pay much attention at first. But soon, he realized that Daniel the Progressive Liberal was the focus of an article by the on-line publication Deadspin.
That article triggered a wave of requests for interviews and dozens of news articles by national broadcast and print publications.
“Our lives changed in an hour,” said James. “I’m on the phone with every major network in the country.”
HBO’s “Vice” newscast covered them Thursday night. James says CBS News plans to profile Daniel in an upcoming newscast.
Not just about “politics”
News agencies focused on the intersection of politics and the culture of professional wrestling, but the business partners say they have repeatedly emphasized that the “heat” isn’t manufactured, and it isn’t just about politics.
“We use politics just to grab the attention,” said James. “It’s not about politics necessarily. It’s about an outsider looking down on us and telling us how to live.”
The biggest crowd reactions come when Daniel slams the coal industry and pronounces the word Appalachian as “appa-LAY-chan”.
“They take it as an assault on their way of life,” said Harnsberger. “Where I’m being real, their reactions are very real.”
How long the attention will last? These two say they’re surprised it’s lasted this long, so they’re living in the moment.
“I love this business, and I love where I’m from,” said James. “And I love the fact I know our heritage and can make money from it.”
“Despite being an arrogant liberal, I am humbled by the whole thing, and I’m enjoying the whole thing because I’ve worked really hard,” said Harnsberger. “And if this is the payoff – wow. What a life.”
You can see them in action Saturday at two events. Calvary Baptist Church will host Village Fest 2017 – a Funfest Block Party – from 10am until 1pm at 1238 Pine Street in Kingsport.
Saturday night, they’ll appear at “Wrestling at the Gray Block Party.” That’s at 6:45pm at the Appalachian Fairgrounds.
News Channel 11’s Elizabeth Kuebel and Will Morris helped with this report.
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