I have a story about Steven Seagal.
In the last few months, Seagal has become BFFs with Vladimir Putin, acting as a bodyguard for the Russian premiere and as media spokesperson for military action in Crimea. This strongman odd couple is about as weird as anything these days, and is not necessarily surprising if we take a moment to remember that time Seagal, acting on behalf of Arizona’s concentration camp sheriff Joe Arpaio, drove a tank through the house of a man named Jesus who was accused of running a cock-fighting ring. The tank crushed Jesus’ puppy, and the family sued.
But my story is not about Seagal crushing puppies with tanks, raiding houses with racists from Arizona, or seeking Russian citizenship. My story is about how Steven Seagal is a horse-killing piece of shit.
Seagal owns a ranch in an out-of-the-way corner of rural California, a few hours’ drive north of meth-riddled Redding, one of the poorest areas of the state. The ranch isn’t one that he works on, of course, just a celebrity “ranch” tended by poor white locals and migrant laborers. Seagal was notorious in the area for coming into the local Wal-Mart drunk, half-sedated and flanked by an entourage of prostitutes shipped up from the cities. He and his concubines would fill several carts with bullets, sunscreen and margarita mix, fling around a few credit cards, and then haul themselves back into the SUV to make their way out to the ranch.
The ranch itself was probably one of the largest non-narcotic capital expenditures the area had seen in decades. And Seagal wanted it to have a southwestern theme, despite the fact that it was located in Northernmost California, which lies at the bottom of the Cascades and has a climate similar to that of the rest of the inland Pacific Northwest. In order to give the ranch its proper Tex-Mex appearance, he mail-ordered several species of desert cacti and had his employees plant them in the horse fields. But, due to the climate, the cacti died before they were able to put down roots, shriveling into leathery husks and leaving the fields pockmarked with holes.
In the country, there are a few surefire ways to tell a person’s character. High on that list is how that person treats their horses. Seagal never had the holes in the fields filled, and his horses would constantly stumble into them and break their legs. When a horse breaks its leg the bone bends and then shatters, so it cannot be set. The animal has to be shot, and it’s expected that the owner do the shooting if a vet isn’t immediately available to apply euthanasia. But Seagal wouldn’t shoot the horses himself. Instead, he sent his ranch butlers out to do it for him.
So Steven Seagal is not only a rabid supporter of Russian intervention in Ukraine, a racist vigilante raiding the homes of brown people in Arizona, and a sad piece of shit trying to reach the Walter White/Rob Ford cultural apex of The Last White Man, he is also a horse-killing son of a bitch. And in the era of riots, there is almost an historical necessity to the production of people like Seagal and Putin—strong men who can play the warrior, defending the last few palaces of social democracy from the barbarians at the gates. These men are as much products of the time as the roving crowds of youth rioting in banlieues or council flats. The friendship of the shirtless Russian oligarch and B-movie star should, then, come as no surprise.
At a certain point in the development of a crisis, it becomes necessary to strip away the Pop flourishes and find a Spartan figure capable of forcing a certain consistency from the collapse. It’s equally necessary that all the soft-handed courtesans of the palace reel at the proposition, despising the barbarians in their midst while nonetheless relying on them to do the dirty work that secures their own luxury. The Obamas and Merkels need the Seagals and Putins as hatchet men—men who offer the last-instance solution when austerity is no longer enforceable by bankers and MPs.
In the same way that class conflict in the present moment generates a global substrate of riots and occupations, then, it can also become a sort of pressure-cooker for white rage and gangster nationalism. The era of riots is an era in which the demandlessness of present struggles, staffed as they are by slum-dwellers, declassed students and soccer hooligans, can just as easily turn to the far right as to the far left—a shift that is often disguised behind the spectacle of teargas and barricade. Amidst such ambivalence, it’s a good piece of country advice to keep an eye on how folks treat their horses.