Appalachian Wrestling's Greatest Villain: 'The Progressive Liberal' A wrestler is stirring up crowds at deep-red rural Appalachian events as a trash-talking East Coast elite going by the name Dan Richards, The Progressive Liberal.
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Appalachian Wrestling's Greatest Villain: 'The Progressive Liberal'

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Appalachian Wrestling's Greatest Villain: 'The Progressive Liberal'

Appalachian Wrestling's Greatest Villain: 'The Progressive Liberal'

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

You know, when I was a kid, I watched pro wrestling on TV. The matches often featured a good guy, like Hulk Hogan, against a bad guy, a bad guy like the Iron Sheik, a cartoonish Middle Eastern evil dude. Pro wrestling played off the news, you see, and still does. Consider a wrestling circuit in eastern Kentucky - big Donald Trump territory.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: And here he is, The Progressive Liberal, Daniel Richards, possibly the most controversial figure in the Appalachian Mountain Wrestling world. As we get things kicked off...

INSKEEP: The Progressive Liberal is Daniel Harnsberger. He, too, grew up watching pro wrestling and admired the bad guys known as heels. He became a wrestler when he grew up.

DANIEL HARNSBERGER: I was wrestling for $5 and a hotdog and a soda. There were times I didn't get paid at all.

INSKEEP: Around 2015, he discovered a character to play. He was wrestling before a tiny crowd in West Virginia. Trump had just started running for president.

HARNSBERGER: I said, I hope Trump doesn't build a wall around Mexico and said I hope he builds around this town so you people can't infiltrate the population. And that got a, you know, heated reaction.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) I imagine so.

HARNSBERGER: That reaction, pound for pound for that small group, was palpable.

INSKEEP: That's the job of a heel - to outrage the crowd. So he started wearing Hillary Clinton T-shirts and wrestling trunks with the words, progressive liberal, and acting like a coastal elitist.

HARNSBERGER: A great heel is someone who believes what they're saying and feels justified in their actions and in what they say.

INSKEEP: He's not really acting.

HARNSBERGER: I'm a progressive liberal in real life. So I'd think this would generate a reaction from fans - you know, especially the places I was going.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HARNSBERGER: I know how you stupid Trump voters think. Allow me to illustrate. Der-der-der (ph) I love coal. Der-der-der, I love mountains.

INSKEEP: Between matches, Harnsberger returns home to the Democratic city of Richmond, Va. We asked if his travels in Appalachia gave him a better understanding of the other side.

HARNSBERGER: I don't stand up for them.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) Not even a little bit?

HARNSBERGER: No.

INSKEEP: Although, his role as The Progressive Liberal gives us a better understanding of this divided national moment.

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