By Gabriel Thompson, In These Times
Posted on May 2, 2006, Printed on May 2, 2006
Standing 5' 9" tall, weighing 240 pounds and sporting a shaved head, Jeff "The Snowman" Monson looks like a cartoon ready to pop, a compressed giant of crazy shoulders, massive biceps and meaty forearms. When he sneers, people shudder. When he sweats, they turn away. When he's angry, your best bet is to run.
He's angry right now, even though his combat career in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) — an often-bloody tournament that combines martial arts disciplines like Brazilian Jujitsu and Muay Thai Kickboxing — is taking off. […] So no, it's not his future career prospects that have him pissed. It's the state of the world.
"I'm not some sort of conspiracy theorist," Monson says of his political leanings. "I'm not talking about how the government is trying to hide UFOs. I just want to do away with hierarchy. I'm saying that our economic system, capitalism, is structured so that it only benefits a small percentage of very wealthy people. When I was traveling in Brazil, they had us staying at a really posh hotel. Outside the hotel there was a mom sleeping on the sidewalk with her two kids. That's when reality hits you. What did that woman ever do? Who did she ever hurt?"
Monson wears his politics on his sleeve, as well as the rest of his body. An anarcho-syndicalist star is tattooed on his chest, an anarchy sign on his back and another "A" on his leg. While he loves his sport, he also feels a responsibility to use whatever exposure he receives for a larger purpose. "I don't think I'm more important than anyone else, but since some people are paying attention, then I'm going to use this as a vehicle to express myself," he says. Some fans have labeled him anti-American, but he shrugs off such criticism.
Monson sees no contradiction between his radical beliefs and his full-time occupation. "What I do is completely different than war, because everyone wants to be there, and it's a competition. There's no victim. We're all entertainers," he explains. "If there is any contradiction, it's that we're part of the capitalist machine, and I'm really just a wage slave. You know, we don't make any money without fighting, and if I win I get more; if I lose I get less. But it's simply a sport. Sure, it's somewhat like a gladiator sport, but it's voluntary."
Monson grew up middle class in Minnesota. His mother still works as a nurse, and his late father worked at a penitentiary. He graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he wrestled, and then received his Masters in Psychology from the University of Minnesota. During his graduate work, Monson had his political awakening — a course entitled Community Psychology.
"Oh man, that class really opened my eyes," he says.
"Just looking at the way the world is run, the way that the people that might be disabled or have mental issues are left behind. How education and general welfare are not a priority, and how the elite run everything for their own benefit. Then I started reading a bunch of stuff — Animal Farm, the International Socialist Review, Chomsky — and I started thinking in a different way." Monson the Ultimate Fighter uses Plato's allegory of the cave to describe the experience.
After graduating from Minnesota, he moved to Washington State, where from 1997 to 2001 he counseled the mentally ill for Lewis County; his primary responsibility was to determine whether an individual needed to be institutionalized. "I started right when they were pushing through welfare reform, and so we had all of these huge cuts in money for mental health and welfare. It's the same basic idea with No Child Left Behind. The government tells you that you have to cut your programs, cut your money for books, cut the money for teachers, but then you are expected to somehow do better. It's a brilliant strategy, really, from their perspective."
Despite being a world-class competitor, Monson finds time to remain politically engaged. In 2003, he marched against the Iraq War in Seattle, and protested the Free Trade Area of the Americas in Miami (where the notoriously aggressive cops wisely left Monson alone). He is also a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, and despite the controversy that surrounds him, continues to engage people within the fighting community about politics.
So what lies ahead for "The Snowman"? At the moment his focus is on his next big fight. "But this is not my whole life," Monson says of fighting. "I've got children and a girlfriend, and I like to be with my family. I try to remain involved in political events. After my next fight, I'll be taking my son to Montreal. They're having an Anarchist Book Fair, and they invited me to come up and do a workshop." The topic: self-defense.
First Pat Tillman, then of all things an ultimate fight type dude. As the immigrant rallies show, perhaps civil/human rights is best advanced by those outside the so-called "left"! ;-)Read the full post and comments »