The aphorism that “politics makes strange bedfellows” gained new meaning last month when self-identified vampire, Satanist, and “Hecate witch” Jonathan “The Impaler” Sharkey announced he would run for president in 2012 as a Republican.
Sharkey has already campaigned for president as an independent in 2004 and 2008. He has also run for congress in New Jersey, Indiana, and Florida as well as governor of Minnesota in 2006. Although Sharkey ran as a Republican in 2000 and 2002, in 2005 he acquired his public persona as “The Impaler” and created the Vampyres, Witches, and Pagans party. Claiming to be a descendent of Romanian monarch Vlad “Dracula” Tepes, in 2008 Sharkey promised public execution by impalement for terrorists and child molesters, as well as president George W. Bush—a threat that drew the attention of the Secret Service. He also presented himself as a candidate who would defend the religious liberties of groups that have traditionally been persecuted by the Christian right. His platform for 2012 has been expanded to include impaling illegal immigrants and criminalizing abortion.
As an ordinary Republican, Sharkey was unnoticeable. But as The Impaler, he quickly became a media spectacle, gaining interviews with the Fox News morning show and MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson. In 2007, Sharkey’s campaign for governor was the subject of the documentary film Impaler, in which he appears drinking the blood of his partner Julie Carpenter. He has since promised to release his own documentary entitled The True Impaler: A Republican Vampyre Seeks to Unseat Obama.
Unfortunately, Sharkey’s political aspirations have been hampered by frequent run-ins with the law. Like many disgraced politicians, Sharkey’s legal troubles generally involve women. Sharkey, 46, is still married to his estranged wife Lourdes B. Sharkey-Flash, with whom he has three children. But this has not stopped him from a string of relationships with younger women he calls his “wives.” In 2006 he was extradited from Minnesota to Indiana on charges of stalking a former girlfriend. In 2008 he was jailed again for felony harassment of a teenage girl he had met through MySpace. He was extradited to Indiana again in 2009 where he received a two-year sentence for threatening a judge—with impalement, naturally (his sentence was ultimately commuted to time served).
Then in February 2010, Sharkey struck up another online relationship with a teenage girl who ran away in order to elope with him. The mother of 16-year-old Paige Marie Brewer has stated that Sharkey “brainwashed” her daughter, though Sharkey claimed he was rescuing her from an abusive home and even sent a letter to Minnesota Child Protective Services describing Paige’s alleged abuse. Eventually, Paige was taken from Sharkey and into police custody. However, in March when Sharkey appeared in Tampa, Florida, to announce his bid for president as a Republican, he was accompanied by yet another of his online teenage vampire “brides.” Local news filmed him biting the neck of 19-year-old Audriana Foster, bragging, “I haven’t dated a girl older than nineteen since 2006.”
Like Richard Nixon, Sharkey keeps an ever-growing list of enemies; his ire has recently switched from Bush to Obama who he has called “a black Adolf Hitler.” This enmity appears to stem from his misconception that Obama is Muslim—another group that Sharkey has declared war on. In 2008, he bragged that he stole a Muslim prayer rug, drew a Satanic pentagram on it, and set it on fire, calling for “a holy war between Satanists and Muslims.” He has declared similar war on the Catholic Church. Most recently, he has targeted talk show host Steve Wilkos who invited Paige and her mother to appear on his show. God himself is another of Sharkey’s enemies, but curiously not Jesus. He commented, “I am cool with Jesus. I hate his father with a passion.”
Strangely, while Sharkey never misses an opportunity to pontificate about his own brutality and darkness, he also seems desperate to appear as an American hero. His numerous YouTube videos betray a preference for soft rock artists like Pat Benatar, Bruce Springsteen, and Queen and he makes frequent references to films like Highlander, Rocky, and Scarface; he seems to believe that he too is a lone hero destined for greatness.
Within this bizarre worldview, brutal punishment and intolerance somehow honor American freedom, and the only way to stop tyranny is by impaling all opposition. As A.J. Matthews, a Hillborough County Republican Party committeeman commented, “He does have Republican values.” However, Sharkey’s platform is a travesty of conservative rhetoric. While swearing in a vampire could be seen as healthy “big-tent Republicanism,” it may also be a liability for the party, particularly in the wake of “bondage-gate.”
As odd as it is that the Republicans have taken a Satanist under their wing, the groups criticizing Sharkey are also unlikely. While several voices from the Christian Right have taken aim at Twilight, they have strangely ignored the political aspirations of this self-described enemy of God. Instead, it is the very communities Sharkey once sought to represent—self-identified vampires and Pagans—who have expressed outrage. These groups generally see Sharkey as a liability. One vampire commented, “We’re not willing to be complicit by perceived association.”
Their concerns are warranted. In 2006, Sharkey’s campaign convinced a superintendent in Minnesota to remove his then-partner and practicing Pagan, Julie Carpenter, from her job as a school bus driver, arguing that anyone associated with Sharkey should not work around children. Recently, prominent Pagan blogs have expressed alarm over Sharkey while the vampire community, which believes in self-policing, has blacklisted him from many clubs and internet forums. Individuals who had contact with Paige Brewer through vampire Web sites offered information to police in Minnesota. Others contacted Sharkey’s current paramour and tried to persuade her to return to her family.
Sharkey responded to this rejection by sending an email to prominent vampires with the subject line “You are ALL DOMESTIC TERRORISTS,” in which he warned that he has requested a meeting with Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to discuss why his vampire critics “violate the Patriot act.” In an apparent reversal of his 2006 promise to defend vampires he added, “I will ask that I be allowed to lead the government’s attacks against vampyres and pagan groups who are a threat to national security.” The email has been followed with a series of YouTube videos in which he speaks with a mafioso accent, waves a sword at the camera, and threatens a “vampire civil war.”
It is very easy to mock Jonathan Sharkey. But while the media has treated his exploits ultimately as a fairly standard human-interest piece, perhaps we should take Sharkey more seriously as an index of what American politics have become. Increasingly polarized and ugly political rhetoric, along with a partisan willingness to win at any cost, has changed our idea of what a viable political candidate is. Toss in some populist outrage and the ability to have all news filtered through liked-minded pundits and bloggers and you get the toxic environment from which Sharkey emerged.
“The Impaler” arose during the Bush Administration, seeking popular appeal by promising to kill an unpopular president. And while he has continued this strategy during the Obama era, sadly he no longer seems nearly as crazed and peripheral next to the extreme fringes of the Tea Party movement. Simply put, violent rhetoric has become more acceptable. Progressives have criticized Sarah Palin for a political “hit list” on her Facebook page that features gun crosshairs over the home states of targeted Democrats. Sharkey and Palin are in effect both catering to the same sentiment. While Palin has never called for the impalement of Harry Reid, her supporters might not take offense if she did.
Most disturbing of all, Sharkey seems to have learned from the Bush administration that the war on terror can be used to target political enemies and to circumvent the Bill of Rights. His current 2012 platform, for example, promises to make illegal immigration to the United States an act of terrorism. The punishment? You guessed it: impalement.
This raises a critical question: Is it anachronistic that Sharkey has modeled himself on a grim 15th-century monarch or has America regressed to a more medieval idea of law and order? Like the vampire of legend, Sharkey could not have entered our political arena without an invitation. When we abandon civil discourse in favor of vicious polemics, we summon The Impaler. In this sense, there is truth to Sharkey’s identification with the dark side of human nature. As he commented in a recent address to his critics, “Your hatred will make me famous.”