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Fear and Loathing in Tampa: Your Gonzo Guide to the Republican National Convention

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There is at least one Tampa luminary for whom flashing T&A will be about more than making some cash. Joe Redner, the 72-year-old owner of Mons Venus, is a philosophizing free-speech advocate who has donated his land to the Occupy Tampa movement. He's also a pain in local politicians' asses. In 1976, Redner took over a bar called the Night Gallery, and after hearing on the radio about the Supreme Court's decision to allow nudity in movies, he concluded that nude dancing would have to be protected as well.

For years, Redner played cat-and-mouse with Tampa police. When a girl stripped onstage, undercover cops would arrest her. But as soon as they took her outside, Redner would replace her with another. Then he'd go bail out the first girl. "It took nine girls on a three-girl rotation for us not to get shut down," he laughs. "They ran out of undercovers!"

Redner himself was arrested dozens of times. Eventually, he won an injunction against the city's nudity ordinance. Since then, he has run eight times for political office. In 2007, he lost in a runoff for City Council with 44 percent of the vote. He has pretended in court to be gay to prevent a homophobic law from being enforced. His battles have pitted him against Hillsborough County Christian fundamentalists such as state Sen. Ronda Storms, who has likened Redner to the devil.

Like other strip-club owners, Redner says he looks forward to taking Republicans' money. But he sees it as long-overdue economic redistribution from the rich to the poor (his dancers are self-employed, receiving 100 percent of their lap dance fees and tips).

"The big businesses, energy companies, and banks that back the Republicans have been stealing from the little people for years," he says. "Now we're going to take some of their money. I'm glad to."

Redner doesn't hide his opinions. He doesn't have time to. He's got stage 4 lung cancer and a deep cough that reminds him of his inevitable death. He doesn't want to see the country he's gone to jail for more than 150 times — yes, a country with titty bars and pornography — thrown out for a reactionary Reich.

"I'm already used to the invasion of conservatives," he says. "They've invaded our whole country and taken over our whole system."

He won't be in town for the RNC. Instead, he'll be in Vegas for a strip-club convention. It's better that way, he says. In Sin City, Redner won't have to watch Mitt Romney preach about "family values" while calling for a war with Iran.

Redner wants no part of Romney's America. He gazes around at his club. "I prefer to be in here with the decent humans," he says.

After he left Florida's RNC and Nixon crushed George McGovern, Hunter Thompson was in no mood to forgive America.

"The 'mood of the nation' in 1972 was so overwhelmingly vengeful, greedy, bigoted, and blindly reactionary that no presidential candidate who even faintly reminded 'typical voters' of the fear & anxiety of the 1960s had any chance at all of beating Nixon," Thompson wrote. "All they wanted in the White House was a man who would leave them alone and do anything necessary to bring calmness back into their lives — even if it meant turning the whole state of Nevada into a concentration camp for hippies."

Forty years later, many Americans are again greedy and afraid — afraid of immigrants, afraid of upsetting "job creators" by not giving them tax breaks the country can't afford, and afraid of paying 11 cents more for their pizza so the kid delivering it can have health insurance.

Who knows where President Mitt Romney plans to put the hippies. But one thing is for sure: He'll leave Americans alone, just as the Sunshine State has left Floridians alone all these years. Ponzi schemers will proliferate. Developers will bulldoze pristine land into parking lots. Everyone will carry a gun. Unless you're poor, of course. Then you'll have to piss into a cup.

But if 16 years of Romney and Ryan's right-wing republic get to you, take Thompson's advice: "Load up on heinous chemicals and then drive like a bastard."

Mexico, here we come.

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Michael E. Miller

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