"In order to get people to listen to you around here, you actually have to tell them you're the damn devil."
Steve Hill isn't your typical politician. For one thing, he's a comedian and real estate appraiser who says he hates the Establishment. He also curses pretty frequently.
Oh, and there's that other thing: Hill is a member of the Satanic Temple.
But that doesn't mean the guy is into sacrificing animals or having sex on a weird altar or attending Eyes Wide Shut parties on the weekend. In fact, Hill says his affiliation with the temple is rather boring: He met some likeminded freethinkers at a conference in the Midwest, and even though he's actually an atheist, he decided to join their group back at home in Los Angeles. Now Hill's after a seat in the California State Senate. With the Democratic primary coming up on June 7, frustrated media outlets have been focused on his membership in the Satanic Temple, as opposed to the issues he wants to talk about with people in LA's Antelope Valley.
We called up the former Marine sergeant and correctional officer to discuss whether he thinks California voters can put his familiarity with Baphomet and affinity for words like "humanist" aside.
VICE: You've got a really impressive résumé. You were a Marine sergeant, and you've worked in the aerospace industry and the California prison system. Will any of that matter to voters, or is your being the "Satanic candidate" going to overshadow everything else?
Steve Hill: Yes, it will. And that's kind of the gist of the whole thing. Because if I wasn't an activist for the secular community, I would be in a shoo-in. And article six, section three of the the Constitution states, "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." So if we can knock people out of their way of thinking, and they listen to my issues—I'm screaming to these people about improving education on the East Side. My wife is a teacher. She works in the bad part of town. We've got high poverty levels, eighty-two percent of the kids qualify for free lunch, the grades are bad, especially when it comes to African American kids. And none of the preachers are mentioning this shit. None of them are talking about it. Those problems persist.
"In order to get people to listen to you around here, you actually have to tell them you're the damn devil." —Steve Hill
Give me the elevator pitch for your candidacy: Why should Californians vote for Steve Hill for state senate?
For one, I can't be bought. I'm pretty much funding my own campaign. I can't be bought by any special interest groups. I'm advocating for the education of our children. Period. That's what I'm all about. I've worked in the prisons, and I see where these kids wind up. If I could just do one thing, it would be to make our schools better, and give our teachers the resources they need to be effective in the classroom. That's my pitch. Let's produce smarter children, so we can have a better society.
Talk to me about your time working in prison. Where in the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation did you work and in what capacity?
I was a correctional officer—I was a state prison guard. I worked at two different maximum security prisons, one being CCI (California Correctional Institution) in Tehachapi, and the other one being CSPLAC (California State Prison Los Angeles County), which is the only state prison located in the bounds of Los Angeles County. As you can imagine, it gets all of the gang members from LA and the San Fernando Valley, mostly black and Hispanics. That's who fills these prisons.
How long have you been a member of the Satanic Temple, and what lead you to it?
I'm a comedian, and Gateway to Reason had a conference in St. Louis last year. I performed there and met some members of the Satanic Temple, and we talked, and they actually treated me very well. They think it's funny that I'm an African American atheist comedian, and they say to me, "You couldn't have a following" because eighty-seven percent of blacks are religious.
What's it mean to be an African American atheist comedian in practice?
I tell jokes about church. I tell jokes about blacks in the church, which make white people very uncomfortable, but they know I'm telling the truth, so they laugh.
Give me one of your jokes. What's your closer?
I like to ask this in the clubs of Los Angeles—it's a two part question: "Does prayer work?" And then I say: "Well, if prayer works, why do people consistently, on average, purchase more than one lottery ticket?" And when they let that sink in, and I ask them again: "Does prayer work? If prayer works, why do so many black people live in the ghetto?" And then I'll say to someone in the audience, "Why's that? Because white people pray too?" And that's when the audience falls apart laughing.
I could see why that would be controversial.
I have tons of material.
Forgive my ignorance, but is the Satanic Temple an actual temple? Do you meet in a physical space?
No, we don't have anything like that. But we're setting up a chapter in Los Angeles. We've been doing that for several months now. We were supposed to meet at Center for Inquiry in Hollywood—they were going to let us have a space there in their offices.
California, of course, is the state that elected Arnold Schwarzenegger as its governor. Anything is possible. So handicap this thing for me: What are your chances of actually getting elected?
I'm not part of the Establishment. I'm running against Establishment candidates. They have all the Establishment money, so they can inundate the community with fliers and robocalls and billboards and posters. I don't have that kind of money. But when I go out and speak to people: They. Love. Me. If I can get my message out, there's no doubt in my mind that I can win, even being an atheist. Because people know I'm telling the truth.
It's just a matter of getting enough people to listen.
Yeah, pretty much. Just not to get drowned out by all the people with Establishment money. I have to get my message out, but also overcome the cornucopia of bullshit that's taking place because the guy who's running against me, Jonathan Irvin—he's black too, and has run for everything around here but a fucking touchdown—is trying to scare the church Negroes over to his side by telling them I'm an atheist or Satanist.
In the joke you told me, and in the brief time we've spoken, it's pretty clear: Christianity's place in the African American community really irks you.
Yeah, it irks me a lot. Because we keep praying, and keep giving our money to these preachers, and nothing ever happens. Stop praying! We're at the bottom of this list for everything in this community. Schools, teenage pregnancy, dropout rate, incarceration rate. We're at the bottom of everything! These preachers, they don't go into the schools, and those schools are fucked up. When I quit working at the prisons, I went to work at two different middle schools, and I'm telling you, it's damn near like working at the prisons. These kids are so bad, so disrespectful. The teachers can hardly handle them. Their parents don't step in. Most of this shit is the parents' fault, you know, you're bringing your little kid here to prey on and fuck up a whole classroom. It's a mess!
So what does Steve Hill, state senator, plan to do about those problems if elected?
This area is underserved. As a state senator, you need to get money back to your district. We need some jobs here for these kids. We need vocations, education. I'm also a real estate appraiser, that's my business—that's how I make my living and support my family. I was on the front lines of the whole mortgage meltdown crap that went down, I saw thousands of people lose their homes, and nobody went to jail. But if you go to a state prison, it's full of blacks and Mexicans.
So here's a question: If the affiliation with the Satanic Temple and the fact that you're an avowed atheist might keep you from getting elected, why not just keep a lid on it, win the seat, and then change these things you're so passionate and angry about from the inside? Why not toss off the albatross?
Because listen: Everyone knows I'm an atheist. I've been in this community for twenty-five years. If I tried to do that, they would tear me apart—it would come out anyway, and they'd act like I had something to hide. So instead, I turned it around and said I'm putting the "bad" news out there myself. Now what do you have to fight me with? Now you have to listen to my platform, my perspective, and my point of view, and the life experience that I bring to a campaign.
The primary is coming up in just a couple weeks. Have you seen any poll data?
No, they don't do that. Let me tell you: This area right now, we are experiencing the most insidious form of voter suppression you could imagine. There are no debates going on. I was on the cover of the local paper here today, but of course it just said, "The Satanist is in the race!" or some shit. It's a shame, but in order to get some validity, in order to get people to listen to you around here, you actually have to tell them you're the damn devil.
Now I'm getting some attention. I've been a volunteer here. I've worked with kids. I've done fundraisers for the VIDA program, the Vital Intervention and Directional Alternatives program run by the sheriff's department to help troubled youth. In the last two weeks here, I'm going to hit the pavement hard, go wherever I have to go, speak to whoever I have to speak to just to get a point across, I guess.
I'll get voters. I'll get voters.
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