Two kinds of people listen to talk radio in 2010: those who think Michael Savage is a nut job and those who think he’s right. The Savage Nation, his daily broadcast, reaches an estimated 8 million to 10 million listeners a week, and even his haters admit the show is like radio crack—and wildly unpredictable. One minute Savage is railing against illegal immigration or advocating work camps for the homeless, the next he’s getting misty over a Walt Whitman couplet or cuddling his poodle, Teddy. Savage abhors whiny liberalism and the Prius elite, even as he plays up his lefty creds: a Ph.D. from Berkeley, years of association with tree huggers, gays and beatniks, and a home base in—huh?—the San Francisco Bay area. But he’s just as hard on conservatives. Ask him, if you dare, about Dubya or Glenn Beck. Savage likes to call himself an independent-minded individualist.
Born Michael Alan Weiner in 1942 in the Bronx of yore (read: immigrant Jews, not blacks and Latinos), he grew up Jewish, poor and more than a little discontent. His father ran an antiques store on the Lower East Side, and young Michael was dispatched to the basement to clean patina off bronze statues with various cyanides. “One cleaned, one killed, but my father never said which was which,” he says. A younger brother, Jerome, was born with brain damage and eventually died in an institution, a tragedy that pushed Savage to study alternative medicine in faraway islands. Writing under the name Weiner, and with degrees in anthropology and medical botany, he became one of America’s most prominent herbalists and author of such books as Plant a Tree: A Working Guide to Regreening America and Secrets of Fijian Medicine. But after working at a San Francisco health clinic in the early 1980s, when AIDS was just surfacing, he published Maximum Immunity, a book that took a hard line against “the homosexual lobby.” It was part of a turnaround that prompted the name change—a nod to 19th century sailor Charles Savage, who introduced guns to Fiji—and soon a new career. In 1995 Savage sent a demo tape to hundreds of stations, and he landed “to the right of Rush and to the left of God” on the radio dial. Controversy has followed him ever since. In 2008 Savage was banned from the United Kingdom for “fomenting hatred” on the air and in best-selling books such as Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder.
Today Savage has three homes, an array of flashy cars and a 63-foot yacht in prosperous Marin County, California, where his show originates. He also owns a mansion in Florida. He and his wife, Janet, have been married more than 40 years, and they have two children, including a son, Russell, who founded the company behind Rockstar energy drinks.
Contributing Editor David Hochman spent more than 16 hours interviewing Savage. Says Hochman, “I can’t remember a more difficult interview. Savage was a fine host, but his opinions are extreme to the point of being poison. Much of the time I hated him. He’s maddeningly bullheaded and closed-minded. But he was just as leery of me. Even when we were laughing I knew he was thinking, Liberal vermin media.”
PLAYBOY: Why are you so angry?
SAVAGE: Do I look angry?
PLAYBOY: A little. You definitely sound angry.
SAVAGE: Well, I get worked up. First of all, I get angry because I can’t believe I live in a country that’s so fucking stupid it lets every group in the world come here. “Please let us in because our country is a shit hole.” Fine! “Let us come in on asylum because our country will kill us.” No problem! Then the minute they fucking get here they turn around and sue the fucking country, make demands on the country, won’t learn the language, won’t salute the flag, and all they do is disparage the country.
PLAYBOY: You’ve neatly boiled it down to a problem of borders, language and culture, correct?
SAVAGE: It’s my definition of how our nation is defined and why it’s unraveling. It’s also a framework. Here are our borders, here is our language, here is our culture. If you want to live in America, wonderful. But become one of us. If you want to practice your home language, do it at home or in your own community.
PLAYBOY: That sort of rabid nationalism can quickly lead to xenophobia, which in turn can…well, remember what happened in the 1930s in Germany?
SAVAGE: Ah, bullshit! That’s typical left-wing horseshit. I don’t even understand what they’re talking about. What? I’m Hitler because I’m against illegal immigration? It makes me a racist? I would say the racists are the people who come into a country that isn’t theirs and take it over and tell me I should speak their language. You go to a sporting event and they’re waving the Mexican flag, not an American flag. What if my grandfather had waved a Russian flag? They would have killed him.
PLAYBOY: You wouldn’t be here speaking freely on the radio every day if it weren’t for your immigrant grandparents and so many millions more.
SAVAGE: Not all waves of immigration are the same. Not all immigrants are the same. Not all nations of origin are the same. The times are different. My grandparents wanted to become Americans. Maybe they spoke Yiddish at home, but when they went outside, they wanted to be Americans. So I don’t know what that has to do with race. I think it has to do with attitude. And by the way, I’m not talking about all immigrants, not even all the illegal immigrants. I’m talking about 30 percent. I’ve seen data that one third of all prisoners in America happen to be illegal aliens, most of them from Mexico. We can’t survive as a nation if we keep letting this large swath of people come across the border. There are countries that put up barriers that say, “You can come into the country if you have a profession we need or if you have a certain amount of money to start a business, but we can’t afford to support you.” We don’t do that here. We say, “Come on in.” Now, how in the world can we take in an unlimited number of people? Who’s going to pay for their health care? Who’s going to pay for their jail care? Who’s going to pay for their legal care? Who’s going to pay for their housing? The answer is the rest of us are. And that’s why we’re going broke. My principle—you want to help health care? Okay, two things. Let’s take California. Put a highway patrol officer in every hospital. And I’m sorry, no tickee, no washee. You’re not a citizen, you can’t get care. Of course, if it’s catastrophic, such as an auto accident, you give them what they need. But you can’t get care if you’re not a citizen. I’m sorry; we can’t do it anymore. On a macro scale you can see where a society is the same as a household. And if politicians started to listen to the people who are screaming and saying, “Treat the nation like a household, not like a piggy bank you can keep hitting,” we’d all be better off. We can’t keep raiding the piggy bank because all these outsiders want something from us. I’m just using logic.
PLAYBOY: Is it logical to call for an outright ban on Muslim immigration, as you’ve done?
SAVAGE: I’m very worried about the number of mosques being built, where they’re being built, why they have to be so dominant. I’m also worried about what type of Islam is being promulgated in America today. I’ve talked about the Wahhabi sect of Islam, which is very violent, very aggressive and very unaccepting of any other religion. We should consider what’s being taught in any house of worship. I don’t know of a church or synagogue in America that teaches people to go out and kill anybody or to go back to the homeland and learn how to strap a bomb on their dick and blow it up on an airplane. There may be some fringe churches—I don’t know—but quite a few mosques are doing it. Just ask the FBI. Look at the Somali community of Wahhabis in Minneapolis. Why are so many young men going back to Somalia and being radicalized? Why are so many Pakistani men going back to Pakistan and being radicalized? Well, let’s look at the fucking imams and what they’re teaching these kids. But I don’t know. It’s not my job to solve these problems. It’s the FBI’s job. I’m supposed to be protected from this.
PLAYBOY: But what is your responsibility? How responsible was it to say we should kill 100 million Muslims, as you did in 2006?
SAVAGE: Oh, come on! That was in the context of a whole longer conversation. But again, that’s the sort of bullshit question I would expect from liberal vermin media. I don’t know anybody who would actually say, “Go ahead and randomly start killing people.” That comment came right after a bunch of Islamo-fascists blew up the subways in Spain, which was followed soon thereafter by the London bombing. There was talk of them getting control of a nuclear weapon. What if they take over Pakistan with nukes? Then what? We are going to face this Hobson’s choice. People kept saying the extremists represent only 10 percent of 900 million Muslims. That’s when I asked, “Would you rather see 100 million of us fried or 100 million of them fried?” Nobody says this stuff, so I say it. I’m screaming out from the wilderness.
PLAYBOY: So you’re doing it to be provocative?
SAVAGE: If I were not a controversial figure, you wouldn’t be here. My job is to make people listen. I’ll do it any way I have to. “What did he say? Fuck, that’s outrageous!” Well, yeah, but listen to what I’m saying. See it in the bigger picture. Of course, people love to twist what I say, take it out of context, make me a monster.
PLAYBOY: You sound like a monster sometimes, like when you said last year that autistic children are just “brats who haven’t been told to cut the act out.”
SAVAGE: Of course there are autistic children. But try to define it. Every goddamn thing a child does is now thrown into the autism spectrum. How is that possible? Where did this illness come from? There are children who are genuinely autistic but not to the extent the medical establishment has claimed. The same with ADD and ADHD. A kid whines and the medical-pharmaceutical establishment says, “Medicate, medicate. Treat, treat. Your child is sick, poor baby.” These kids aren’t sick! It’s the system that’s sick. It’s the same with adults. Psychotherapy has great value for people up to a point, but it doesn’t mean that much to me. A lot of vitamin C and a good long bike ride will generate far more antidepressive qualities than an hour of therapy. But people don’t understand that because they can’t see it in context.
PLAYBOY: In practically every context, you’ve come out against gay marriage, gay adoption and the gay lifestyle in general. It’s 2010. What’s the problem with being gay?
SAVAGE: I do accept gays. I don’t know where it came up that I’m Mr. Anti-Gay. I still don’t. [laughs] Well, I know where it came from.
PLAYBOY: You were fired from MSNBC after telling an anonymous gay caller to “eat a sausage and choke on it” and “get AIDS and die.”
SAVAGE: Let’s talk about that, all right? You know the guy wasn’t gay, right?
PLAYBOY: Does that excuse the comments?
SAVAGE: Well, what you don’t hear if you play the thing on YouTube is that he was insulting me and insulting my mother. This fucker was a prank caller. He started to ridicule me personally, so I basically got into a street fight with him and used the rhetoric of the streets to go for his guts. But all anyone heard was me berating the guy. It didn’t come out of nowhere.
SAVAGE: But let’s talk about the gays for a moment. First of all, I’ve had gay friends all my life. Currently I don’t because I don’t have a lot of friends to begin with. But one of my best friends all through my children’s early childhood was a gay man—a good friend of ours who would come to the house, babysit. We didn’t care.
PLAYBOY: Isn’t that the oldest line in the bigot’s handbook? Some of my best friends are gay, black, Jewish, whatever?
SAVAGE: My point is that many, many gay people are wonderful people.
PLAYBOY: So why shouldn’t they be allowed to get married?
SAVAGE: [laughs] It’s funny. Most of the gay people I know would say, “The whole reason I became gay was so I didn’t have to fucking wind up like my mother and father. I want an interesting, wild life. I just want to fuck whomever I want and have a good time.” Now, all of a sudden there’s this whole concept of living like Ozzie and Ozzie? They want to have the picket fence?
PLAYBOY: So are you saying gay people choose to be gay?
SAVAGE: How can you generalize about this? It’s a nature-nurture argument. My point is, the people I knew who chose this way did so because they were so-directed, yes, but also because they did not want the picket-fence life. I am a sexual libertarian. Why should I care what people do to stimulate themselves as long as children are not affected? Gay marriage confuses children. It all comes back to the survival of a society. To me marriage has always been the brick foundation of every society. You start tampering with the definition of marriage and you spread that idea to children, you’re tampering with the whole structure. Honestly, this whole thing about gay marriage has become so damn important for reasons I can’t even understand. I don’t understand why anyone would want it so badly.
PLAYBOY: Let’s see: equal access to benefits, adoption rights, civil rights, the basic human right to live happily ever after–—
SAVAGE: I don’t know of a society in the history of the world—Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Christian—that recognizes a marriage between anyone other than a man and a woman. Beyond that, every time this issue has appeared on a state ballot gay marriage has been overwhelmingly voted down. In California, even African American Obama supporters voted nine to one against gay marriage. So you have thousands of years of evolved social history that cannot be overturned simply because there is a screaming demand for it in one country at one time. I’m almost Rabelaisian in my view of sex. Do whatever the fuck you want if it feels good. Like a psychiatrist wrote, “I don’t care what people do, with what orifices, nor with whom, to get pleasure.” Just leave the children alone. That’s been my view on gay sex and marriage.
PLAYBOY: Gay people aren’t having sex with children.
SAVAGE: But the children are being proselytized. If gay marriage becomes legal, the children see this and they get a false sense of what marriage is.
PLAYBOY: Wait. Explain how children are being proselytized.
SAVAGE: [Shouts] Oh! Oh! Let’s go into the schools with the brainwashing. Johnny has two daddies! Put a condom on a cucumber so you don’t get AIDS! Why do they have to teach children sexuality at all? Is that what schools are for? Aren’t there parents for that? All of a sudden the government has to teach sex? Why should we assume the schools are giving out healthy, honest information? If you look at some of the shit that’s put into the school curriculum today, there are things on fisting. Have you seen any of this? Like fisting can be fun? You want to teach that to children? This is like a cult. I say leave the children out of it when it comes to sex. In that way I guess I’m not Swedish.