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HIDALGO — If controversy could be rolled up and smoked, Ted Nugent would be on oxygen by now.
The rock guitarist wore a Confederate flag T-shirt to Gov. Rick Perry's 2007 inaugural ball and said critics could "drop dead" if they didn't like it. He has called Hillary Clinton a "b---” and worse. And ahead of the 2008 presidential election, Nugent referred to then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama as a “piece of s---” and invited him to "suck on my machine gun.”
Predictably, Nugent has stirred up a new fuss or two as the 2012 election draws near, but this time federal authorities are taking it more seriously: The outspoken entertainer was interviewed by the Secret Service after he said last month that he would either be “dead or in jail” if Obama is re-elected.
Nugent, who has lived for years on a ranch near Waco, remains characteristically unbowed.
“On stage, I will say what I d--- well please,” he said in an interview this week. “I will not be silenced.”
But that does not mean everyone wants to hear it. Shortly after he made the Obama re-election comment, the U.S. Army, cited the inflammatory statements in canceling a summer concert appearance the Detroit native had scheduled at Fort Knox.
Throw on top of that another run-in with the feds, involving a wounded bear and a $10,000 fine, and Nugent is feeling like he — not some wild prey — is in the crosshairs.
Before sharing the stage with REO Speedwagon and Styx in South Texas this week, the 63-year-old musician portrayed himself as a wanted man in every sense — by fans who still long to hear him play “Stranglehold” and “Cat Scratch Fever,” by liberal critics who want him in jail and by Republicans who still crave his endorsement.
“If Obama is elected, I will either be dead or in jail because I’m on his enemies list,” Nugent said, repeating the line that drew Secret Service scrutiny. “If they come and get my guns and if they come to take my property, I will either be dead or in jail. Do you really find any ambiguity in that?”
The preferred answer is no, because in Uncle Ted’s world there is zero nuance when it comes to Uncle Sam. He says the feds are out to get him and the reason is simple: He is so good it is scary.
“Those people hate me because I am — and I don’t mean to brag — I am the No. 1 voice on planet Earth to effectively promote Second Amendment rights,’’ he said. “Anybody who f---s with me on the right to defend myself and the right to eat venison is going to lose in a tailspin of agony.”
Nugent described the Secret Service investigation as perfunctory, brief and closed. He says the agents were pressed into hassling him at the behest of their political bosses.
But he did not get off so easy in his run-in with the U.S. attorney’s office in Alaska, which prosecuted him for exceeding his limit in a 2009 bear hunt.
Hunters can kill one bear per year under Alaska law. Nugent had killed a bear after a wounding another with an arrow — wounding a bear is also counted as a kill under the law in the area where he was hunting.
Last week, prosecutors announced that Nugent pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor, paid a $10,000 fine, gave up his right to hunt bears in the state for a year and promised to air public service announcements on his TV hunting show.
Nugent says bears face worse injuries “eating berries” than getting grazed with an arrow, but he admits he broke the law and said being unaware of a hunting regulation, regardless of its merit, is no excuse.
But he said his prosecution is more evidence that Obama and his “minions” are out to get him. And he is convinced — though he offered no proof — that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder sent out the word to “get Nugent.” The U.S. attorney’s office in Juneau did not return a phone call. In a news release, though, officials from the office said they investigated Nugent after viewers of his show — which aired a video of the bear-wounding incident — reported the violation.
Although Nugent is a ripe target for liberal critics, he is a hot commodity among conservatives. Case in point: Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.
Nugent said Romney called him a couple of months ago at the behest of friends in pro-hunting groups. He answered the call while promoting his new line of ammunition at a Michigan sporting goods store.
With fellow hunting enthusiasts gathered around him, Nugent said, “The phone rang, and I go, ‘All right, [expletive], I’ve got Mitt Romney on the phone.’ ”
Nugent said he then asked Romney: “Can I expect you to live up to your word, no more restrictions on our Second Amendment? He said ‘absolutely,’ ” Nugent recalled. “He said ‘I give you my word.’ ”
After Nugent made his endorsement official on Twitter, Romney’s son Tagg sent out a gushing Tweet of his own: “Ted Nugent endorsed my Dad today. Ted Nugent? How cool is that?! He joins Kid Rock as great Detroit musicians on team Mitt!”
Democrats have called on Romney to distance himself from Nugent.
The Romney campaign does not dispute that the two talked, and it stressed the candidate’s support for gun rights. But aides also say Romney favors more civility in the political dialogue.
Romney is not the only politician who has cozied up to the “Motor City Madman.” Perry is a longtime friend and hunting buddy.
And right before Nugent jumped on stage at the State Farm Arena in Hidalgo this week, he took a call from another Republican politician seeking a nod from the Nuge: Joe Arpaio, the controversial sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., who is running for a sixth four-year term. He invited Nugent to his 80th birthday party this summer.
A few minutes after Arpaio’s call, Nugent was on stage, cranking out ear-splitting guitar licks and screaming like a hormone-laced teenager.
“I’m having so much fun it’s almost scary,” he said, “rocking like a breeding animal — literally and figuratively.” And when he says breeding, he means it.
Throughout a musical career that began in 1958, Nugent never abused drugs or alcohol. But he was known as a fan of the ladies.
Today he has nine children. When asked how many mothers were involved, the notoriously cocky Nugent seemed to be at a rare loss for words.
“We will not go into the gory detail of that for respect to Mrs. Nugent,” he said.