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He reigns supreme

Last modified: 1/15/2012 12:00:00 AM
Wearing a tea cozy like a king's crown, Vermin Supreme emerged from the woods in Rockport, Mass., and came into view through the car's rain-streaked windshield.

A presidential candidate who received 837 votes in the primary last week and 43 votes four years earlier, Supreme put his umbrella in the back seat of the car, settled in the front and started giving instructions.

"I'm happy to talk about my campaign, my campaign strategies and all about my politics," he said.

But, as he gave directions to a coffee shop in Gloucester, he said he wanted to keep part of himself a mystery.

"I'm going to really evade personal questions," he said, wearing clothes he likely found at the local dump's swap shop, where he said he gets a lot of his wardrobe.

Known for wearing a tall rubber boot on his head and an Incredible Hulk fist on his crotch, Supreme makes his presence felt every four years in New Hampshire by using a bullhorn to buttonhole presidential candidates on seemingly ridiculous issues - ponies, zombies, tooth decay. This year, he drew such attention that he sometimes seemed to take over events. Even national news publications took note.

Supreme said that his presidential campaign "straddles dimensions, it straddles universes."

"A part of it is this magical non-reality that I'm pretending to represent," said Supreme, who campaigns on a program of mandatory oral hygiene and promises every American a pony as part of a national identification program.

And yet, "I'm talking serious issues," Supreme said over a breakfast burrito.

But when he's wearing eight neckties and using a bullhorn to lead Occupy-movement protesters in demanding Newt Gingrich's surrender at a Manchester restaurant, it can be easy to miss the serious side of Supreme.

In a three-hour, wide-ranging, "self-aware" interview last week, Supreme explained why he changed his name, why the Occupy movement's invasion of the New Hampshire primary was the fulfillment of a personal vision and how he feels he could be on the verge of new professional success.

In the process he revealed that he, like his campaign, straddles multiple dimensions.

 Don't even go there

There are at least two Vermins.

Vermin Supreme: satirical presidential candidate.

Vermin Supreme: oldest of three children who grew up on the North Shore of Boston.

He didn't want to say exactly where he grew up.

He also wouldn't confirm his age or when he graduated from high school.

And even if he did, you wouldn't be quite sure you could believe him.

"I lie to the press when it comes to such things," Supreme said.

Throughout the interview, he offered to send documentation to support his claims.

"I want to be straight with you," he said.

But asked for clarification on something as simple as when he first ran for president, you get a glimpse of the strength - or weakness - of any such evidence.

Supreme would like to be able to say he first ran in 1988, but in "realistic terms," his first "real New Hampshire full-on run" was in 1992.

"I mean, you'll see citations for '88 in a number of places, and that's a good thing, cause then I can say it, and so I can cite citations to back it up," he said.

Was he even in the state in 1988?

"I don't really remember. I've met people who claim they remember me running for president."

So it's likely he's been running as a write-in candidate since 1992. His name first appeared on the New Hampshire ballot in 2008, according to the New Hampshire Secretary of State's Office.

Last month, Supreme told the Monitor he was 62. But evidence puts him closer to 50.

"The media is a willing partner in my subversion," he said.

"Here's the boot on my head; people are asking about it this time. I used to say, 'Oh, it stands for all that is good in America.' This time I've just upped the ante, I've upped the critique," he said.

"I've been telling any media person that asks, 'The boot is (expletive) and you are a fly.' You can say 'poop,' or 'merde,' or whatever," he said, using the French word for excrement.

Whatever you do, don't push the topic of his birth name. He'll end the interview. There's almost no doubt about that.

 The first protest

Supreme often says all politicians are vermin, he wants to be supreme among them, and that's how he came up with his name.

But really, he said last week, it all started in Baltimore in the 1980s. He moved there to attend art school but dropped out and began booking bands for underground clubs.

"That is where Vermin Supreme came into being," he said. "I was going to be a club owner, all club owners, all booking agents, they're all vermin and I was to be the Vermin Supreme."

In 1986, around the time he was looking to get out of that rat race, the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament rolled into town.

It was a "glorious mobile city," he said, full of campsites, educational workshops and collective decision-making. Marchers journeyed from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., to protest nuclear weapons.

"As soon as I saw that, I went to a thrift store, I bought a cheap sleeping bag, I bought a change of clothes and I joined this march. And I was on this march for several days," he said.

That protest, Supreme said, was "almost a proto-Occupy in a sense that they were using their collective camping out, their collective use of space, to be part of their message."

It was in that March and in subsequent movements he later joined that Supreme learned to appreciate non-hierarchical organizations.

These days, he runs as a fascist to make extreme points - mandatory tooth-brushing, he said, illustrates how ridiculous many government intrusions are. And the pony identification program - a seeming gift of economic security from the federal government - is actually a veiled assault on civil liberties.

"When I really put together the dental re-education centers and the preventative dental maintenance dental facilities, you know, I wrote that before the Patriot Act came in," he said. "I was putting out this warning of this creeping totalitarianism in America through this humor. And obviously, it did no good."

But if Vermin Supreme the private citizen, not the political candidate, could have his way, there'd be anarchy.

"It is a beautiful thing because it can exist. Now communism or socialism, they require a state to function, they require leaders, they require governmental type of function to force their edicts down on those below," he said.

It came as no surprise to him that the people associated with Occupy Wall Street would gravitate to him when they decided to also "occupy" the New Hampshire primary.

"The Occupy Wall Street, they fulfilled a vision I've had for many years. I've had this vision of the New Hampshire primary being one of the most underutilized political events in the political landscape in America," he said.

Usually protesters "hit" the politicians "hard" at the conventions, but Supreme thinks that's too late in the process to be heard.

"That's why the retail ethos of the New Hampshire primaries are extremely attractive to me," he said.

 In-your-face tactics

Supreme is his legal name. He paid $1,000 to appear on the New Hampshire ballot, this year as a Democrat, four years ago as a Republican. His campaign strategy is simple, he said. He shows up at candidates' events and makes a spectacle of himself until he gets direct access.

"The smartest thing they could possibly do is shake my hand and let me ask my stupid question and let me go on my way," Supreme said of the more mainstream campaigns. "If they don't do that, if I can't communicate with them one-on-one, then I'm going to have to drop back to the default, which is a bullhorn."

He used to wear a clown nose, but some of the tactics he uses are not for children.

Take, for example, a video on YouTube showing him demonstrating outside the 2008 Republican National Convention.

Shouting through a bullhorn, Supreme calls passing Republicans "necrophiliacs," holding them accountable for soldiers killed in Iraq and the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"Repent Republicans, or you will go to hell," he shouts.

In the video, he also yells in the faces of what appear to be an older woman and a police officer.

"I'm also a strong believer in expressive and sometimes aggressive free-speech activities, but nonviolent all the time," Supreme said last week.

Supreme said all people are worthy of respect, but that doesn't mean he likes everyone.

The Monitor cannot reprint the word he used to describe Randall Terry, the ardently pro-life, anti-gay-marriage candidate who is working to get himself on the ballot in swing states to draw support from President Obama.

Terry has gained notoriety for running graphic television advertisements that show aborted fetuses. At the debate for lesser-known candidates at Saint Anselm College in December, Supreme showered glitter on Terry, claiming he was "turning" him "gay."

"I got to glitter bomb his sorry ass," Supreme said.

 What's in a name?

Supreme finds it "rather annoying" when people call him by his original name.

"It spoils it for people, it spoils the fun," he said. "I mean, people don't want to know my real name. They don't. My supporters, they don't care. They don't even want to pretend I ever had one."

In part, he said, he wants to protect his family name.

Also, his current name is more powerful than his old one.

"Vermin Love Supreme," he says. "Love is my middle name. What's more powerful than love?"

Pressing him on the topic almost ends the interview.

"You remember what happened when they found out Batman's real name? It pissed him the (expletive) off," Supreme said. "Batman was very upset. Batman's walking down the street and they say, 'Hey Bruce Wayne, how you doing?' And there he is in this Batman suit and he's thinking to himself, 'Oh great. Now what the hell am I supposed to do? Am I supposed to take off this suit and be Bruce Wayne? Am I supposed to continue being Batman?' "

"It would create an existential crisis. It would be a clash of civilizations. It would be a clash of reality," Supreme said.

Would it actually be an existential crisis if Supreme were called by his birth name?

"Well, no. But I would walk out of the interview. I would say, 'This interview is over, I don't want to talk to you.' It has nothing for me. . . . It just pisses me off."

 A devoted son

Vermin Love Supreme wasn't always like this.

Sitting in her cozy Gloucester home of "many, many, many years," Marianne Taylor, Supreme's 71-year-old mother, said her son was "very shy, very quiet, very sensitive," for the first decade of his life.

"You yell at him, he'd run in his room and hide," Taylor said. "It wasn't until I got divorced that he came out of his shell."

Supreme said his father didn't have a bad temper, and he can't explain what it was about the departure that drew him out.

Taylor said he got his flair for the dramatic from her.

"I used to dress in costumes all the time, even when I worked for the government," she said.

She once donned a black wig and called a staff meeting. Another time, she threw on a top hat and a beard. She called herself, "Gabe Lincoln, Abe's brother or cousin," she recalled.

"And I was going round all the units in the building and I gave everybody a penny, so that they'd all have an image of Gabe," she said.

It took her a while to get used to calling her first-born son "Vermin" after he legally changed his name in the 1990s.

"I didn't like that, I asked him not to," she said.

But yes, she calls him "Vermin."

Poor health forced her into retirement a few years ago. She later suffered renal failure.

So Vermin gave her one of his kidneys.

In what he said is a nod to Lyndon Baines Johnson, Supreme often shows off the scar from the transplant surgery the way the former president flashed his scar after a gall bladder operation.

Taylor has since developed Parkinson's disease. She broke her neck a few months ago after a particularly bad fall, she said.

Supreme's stories often demand skepticism. But his mother's sincere declaration that he is a good son devoted to her well-being does not.

"Since I've been sick, he comes over all the time, helps out with everything," she said.

What's he do?

"Oh he does the dishes, empties waste baskets, anything I need done, he'll come over and do it," she said, still in a robe on this stormy evening, her walker a short reach away.

After the divorce, Supreme saw his father only once a week, usually on Sundays, he said. While he is clearly closer to his mother than his father, Supreme still received a congratulatory phone call for his performance in the primary.

"It brought me great joy that it brought him great pride," Vermin said.

 Wife, no kids

Supreme brings his mother great pride too, but she has one complaint about his quadrennial New Hampshire campaign.

"I just wish he would get some money for what he does. I think he's worth a million dollars. He should be on every television show," she said. Supreme said he could curse his high school guidance counselor for letting him go to art school.

"If I could do it all different, I would have gone to some vocational courses. I would have learned a trade and had a better income stream," he said.

Odd jobs like house painting support Supreme personally, and political donations support him politically, he said.

He said contributions don't reach the $5,000 limit that triggers a host of reporting requirements with the Federal Election Commission.

"I was able to raise the $1,000 for the New Hampshire primary from supporters from 15 different states, sea to sea. I think that's remarkable," he said.

Supreme is married, but his wife is not a character in his ongoing performance. She deserves her privacy, he said.

"You can even say she wants nothing to do with Vermin Supreme's campaign, which isn't exactly true, but it's pretty funny," he said, cracking himself up.

A car he said belongs to his wife has a Vermin Supreme sticker on its bumper. And no, she does not answer to "Mrs. Vermin Supreme."

They have no children or pets.

"Non-breeders by choice," he said.

He and his wife also had financial constraints, and despite what he calls a "low-rent lifestyle," he's starting to get weary from years of cobbling together a living.

"As I become an older American and I look forward to the future and not being a well-off person, there is some scariness," he said. "The lack of insurance, like many Americans, it concerns me."

He declined to say whether he complied with the Massachusetts law requiring every person buy insurance.

He hopes that his newfound celebrity this election - at last check, a single clip of him on C-SPAN has had more than 801,000 views - could lead to more financial stability.

"This whole viral thing, I'm probably a thousand times more well-known than I was previously," he said.

But "just as broke."

Supreme's had ideas for television shows that he said he has unsuccessfully pitched to at least one network. In one, he would throw a dart at a map of the United States, go where it hit, and teach someone he found in the phonebook how to lobby for a cause.

His movie, Vote Jesus, The Chronicles of Ken Stevenson, is scheduled for release on the internet this week.

"In the movie I'm a fundamentalist who's running for president. It's sort of like me through a right-wing looking glass."

"The distributors really aren't interested in it," he said. "But we'll see what happens."

And so the quest for a better living - and a new political system - goes on. "I still don't have an ultimate goal, and I still don't know where it's going to go," he said.

And that's okay for the man who says he lives a short walk from the ocean in a "shack" in the woods of Rockport.

"I can float back down to obscurity and that will be okay too," he said. "We'll see you in four years, and I'll be famous again. Whatever."

(Molly A.K. Connors can be reached at 369-3319 or mconnors@cmonitor.com.)


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