Freeborn County, the rural area surrounding Albert Lea, Minn., roughly 90 minutes south of the Twin Cities, is in the midst of a movement called “Choose Civility,” an attempt to get folks to be nicer to each other in these rancorous times.
“Choose respect, consideration, empathy, and tolerance, and be part of a kinder community in Freeborn County!” the civility program website urges.
The county fair seemed to be on board with that attitude, with a mission statement that calls for “a moral, clean fair which will command the support of the entire community.”
Just when Freeborn County was beginning to sound like the epicenter of Minnesota Nice, however, someone invited Ted Nugent to the party.
Nugent, the “Motor City Madman” who is as well known for his foul-mouthed and violent language directed at Democrats as he is for his music, will play at the fair Aug. 5.
Not everybody is happy.
A group of residents has tried to get fair officials to cancel the shows and plans to protest and present alternative folk music the evening of Nugent’s performance, which will go on. Turns out that the guy who once called President Obama “a subhuman mongrel” (he later offered a tepid apology) and invited him to “suck on my machine gun” is way too popular to cancel. Nugent has also repeatedly used particularly vulgar remarks (use your imagination) to describe Hillary Clinton.
In a letter she wrote to community leaders to try to stop Nugent’s appearance, former social studies teacher Jennifer Vogt-Erickson wrote: “The fair reflects the values of the entire county, and having Ted Nugent perform at the fair would reflect tolerance of racism, anti-Semitism, misogyny, xenophobia, ableism, and incivility toward people who protest his remarks or cancel his shows.”
Vogt-Erickson is among a group of residents who say Albert Lea has become more diverse, and that inviting Nugent to play at an event meant for the general public is an affront to them.
“We don’t want to let our students of color and our girls down by being silent,” she said.
Vogt-Erickson says the protest is not simply about politics. She points out that the Charlie Daniels Band will also play over the weekend. Daniels is a conservative blogger, but doesn’t use “vulgarities and threats” like Nugent does. She said people would be offended if the fair board invited, for example, a rap singer who advocated killing police as well.
“Belittle, dehumanize, invalidate, repeat,” Vogt-Erickson said of Nugent. “This is clearly beyond political differences. It’s about defending community standards of civility.”
Vogt-Erickson isn’t sure if the fair’s board members were fully aware of Nugent’s numerous rants that many considered racist and anti-Semitic, tirades that prompted some gun advocates to call for the National Rifle Association to kick him off their board of directors.
Nugent’s representatives did not return messages. Nugent is mostly performing at private venues across the Midwest, but he is also scheduled to play at two other county fairs, which are usually seen more as community events.
Norm Fredin, fair manager, said board members did not expect the backlash against the choice. He said they had a contract and couldn’t cancel Nugent even if they wanted to. Fredin said that while admission to the fair allows people into his show, the paid reserved tickets were “almost sold out.”
A sample of Nugent’s “humor” appears in a clip from a 2014 performance in Medina (where he also played again Friday night), in which he says he’d like to put a bobcat up Minnesota Sen. Al Franken’s rear. Yes, he’s that clever. The crowd ate it up.
An Albert Lea Tribune editorial argued the fair board was simply expanding to a different audience than the usual country bands hired for the event, and the newspaper suggested those who object to Nugent simply go to the fair on another day.
Vogt-Erickson said that everyone who pays admission, however, also subsidizes Nugent’s appearance. The fair is a nonprofit that has operated for decades.
Besides the irony of Nugent’s visit to a city and county that promote civility, Vogt-Erickson points out the county twice voted strongly for Obama, so Nugent’s appearance certainly does not “command the support of the entire community.”
Despite the protests, the show will go on. So, along with racing pigs, a Czech concertina band and “Magic by Chaz,” fairgoers will be able to sample — or not — the full-throttle blather of The Nuge.
The controversy may even bring the 67-year-old, third-tier rocker new fans.
As resident Betty Helgerson said in a letter to the newspaper: “I had never heard of Ted Nugent before now, but with all the hullabaloo, I might have to go check him out for myself!”
At a time when a presidential candidate’s rhetoric is not that far removed from Nugent’s, there are apparently calls for another movement in Freeborn County: “Choose Hullabaloo.”
Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin