Pro wrestlers used to love to be hated. But today’s political tensions make that


Daniel Harnsberger, aka “The Progressive Liberal,” often the bad guy at wrestling matches in the Republican-voting mining towns of Appalachia and some southern states, speaks to CNN’s Elle Reeve about the moment he realized things had changed.


Back in the late 1980s, when Beau James started pro wrestling, the crowds came for a show between good and evil, to see a story about heroes and villains, to enjoy the bouts and then go home.

James enjoyed being the hero but it was nothing compared to playing the bad guy.

“They introduced me and the people booed me for almost two straight minutes. … It’s a high. … And I’ve been there in the same situation where they love me — I don’t think it compares to the high of the hatred.”

Wrestlers build a persona with a backstory so the audience feels the stakes are high when they get punched in the face. While they often take themes from news and pop culture, they’re not usually overtly political. But the 2016 presidential race between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton sparked an idea between James and wrestler Dan Harnsberger.

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Together they developed “The Progressive Liberal” Dan Richards, often the bad guy at the matches in the Republican-voting mining towns of Appalachia and some southern states. The Liberal would get a hearing and even some cheers as crowds watch the staged violence at a night of pro wrestling.







Two pro wrestlers developed 'The Progressive Liberal' to be the bad guy at matches. Then the atmosphere turned far darker

Over the past five years, the atmosphere has turned far darker for “The Progressive Liberal,” who appears in wrestling matches in Appalachia.




Over the past five years, however, that atmosphere has turned far darker, James and Harnsberger said this month.

After this month’s midterm elections brought defeat for many Trump-backed candidates, even some election deniers conceded their races. It suggested at least some were ready to move past Trump’s refusal to accept his 2020 loss and the mob of supporters he incited who violently stormed the US Capitol on January 6, 2021.

But in the mountain towns of Appalachia, that rhetoric…



Read More: Pro wrestlers used to love to be hated. But today’s political tensions make that

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