Drew Heidgerken Wants to Be Your Johnny Ramone | Our Town | Chicago Reader

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Drew Heidgerken Wants to Be Your Johnny Ramone

Even if he'd rather listen to Stabbing Westward.



Drew Heidgerken may be growing out of his punk phase, but the founder of the conservative-punk Web site GOPunk.com is still plenty conservative. His hair, once bright green, has reverted to its natural brown, and he's traded his combat boots for sensible sneakers. His metal-spiked leather jacket--with "NRA-USA-GOP," "NEOCON," and an elephant painted on its sleeves and a big Uncle Sam above the words "I want YOU to vote Republican" on the back--comes out only in cold weather. He's a company man now, too, working for a north-side marketing and design firm. And this year, in his most aggressive act of anti-antiauthoritarianism yet, he ran for political office--losing miserably to incumbent 11th Ward committeeman George Preski.

You might call him a sellout, if he'd actually been a punk in the first place. Heidgerken's musical taste, however, has always leaned more toward bands like Black Sabbath and Nazareth. "I picked up a song here and there, in MP3 format, but I've never really gone out and bought a 'punk CD,'" he says. "I've got some CDs that were more popular at the time, like Stabbing Westward."

Heidgerken started GOPunk.com four years ago as a discussion forum for conservative punks across the country who might have a hard time finding like minds in their local scenes. The site, a loose collection of pro-Republican articles, photos, and opinion pieces, is home to a cozy community of music fans interested in politics, all of them constantly discussing, debating, and fighting on its discussion board.

In a recent thread, a user calling himself Heydrew--Heidgerken's political opposite and an infamous fire starter on the board--quoted a Sunday Telegraph article about Iran giving safe passage to Al Qaeda members. "Why isn't this talked about more?" another poster asked. Capitalistpunk, who can always be counted on for a quick, para-noid response, typed: "Because the media would rather report 'Bush is out looking for oil,' and then, when Bush finds out that there are terrorists in Iran, they'll say 'Bush is gonna take out another country for THERE oil now.' The media is so liberal and so anti-bush." One of the liberals on the board challenged him to name a media outlet that does this, and so the dialogue went on, with varying degrees of intelligence and civility, for days. Such arguments are the bread and butter of the board, and although Heidgerken pops in for a spat every once in a while, "a lot of people post more than I do," he says. "They might have more free time than me or more energy than me."

Growing up in the 80s, Heidgerken was a straitlaced kid--he did his home-work and watched the news with his conservative parents. He had already lived in six states by the time he started high school in Iowa--his family followed his dad's military career.

"Obviously, as a kid I probably didn't understand most of what [the people on television] were talking about, but I kind of got the sense from what my parents said that the Republicans believed in a strong military--you know, freedom through strength," he says. "And the Democrats kind of thought that it would be better if we all just got along with everybody."

In third grade Heidgerken sent President Reagan $5 in the mail. He got a form letter and a button in return. "I was probably young enough and foolish enough to think that I'd get a handwritten response," he says. His disappointment didn't sway him politically. "I have been ideologically pretty much loyal to the Republican Party most of my life."

Growing up in a military family, "your friends change every few years when you move or they move," he says. "It forces you to grow closer to your family because they're the only thing that's consistent." But Heidgerken, like most teenagers, found small ways to rebel. "With my dad, you had to have your hair two fingers above your eyebrow," he says. "It couldn't touch your ears. And I'm growing, like, a quasi mullet in junior high, showing up in the concert T-shirts." He started sneaking Iron Maiden records into his house--his father thought metal was the devil's music.

After high school Heidgerken went to Columbia College, where he majored in computer graphics and animation. The friends he made there were into punk music, and Heidgerken began dyeing his hair and accompanying them to punk shows. "I kind of liked the idea that it would catch people's attention and maybe spark conversation," he says. Some kids called him a poseur, but that didn't bother him. "I'm not claiming to be a punk," he says. "I've never told anyone I was a punk per se, and I don't know that it's dishonest to look like anything."

He started wearing his brother's leather jacket, which had a picture of Reagan on the back, when he went out. People would inevitably ask about it. Depending on their attitude, he'd either explain himself or tell them to "piss off." "If people laugh about it and say 'good joke' or whatever, I'll set them straight and say I'm dead serious," he says. "Most people just shut up and say 'Oh,' but some people yell at me."

After college he decided to get more actively involved in the political process. "It's hard watching the news every day and yelling at the talking heads and not being able to do anything," he says. "I started looking around trying to find anywhere to volunteer, and what annoyed me was everywhere I found just said 'Send money.' I was like, look, I just got out of college, I don't have any money yet. Maybe someday I'll be a fat cat and I can spend money, but that's just not where I'm at."

He spent a few months soliciting donations as a phone banker for the Bush 2000 campaign, but he hated it ("If you know anybody who does it, buy them a drink," he says), so he hooked up with an organization called the Republican Young Professionals and started attending formal events and fund-raisers in his leather and green hair. Black-tie bigwigs would ask him to pose with them in photographs, and an appearance at a pro-Bush march outside the 2000 presidential inauguration won him some ink in a Washington Post article headlined "All Types Answer Call to Rally."

During that year's recount debacle, he set up GOPunk.com, giving a home to America's young, angry, Mohawked Republicans and giving himself a venue for all the photos he had taken in the field. He would also post articles, short opinion pieces, and links, but these days, the site thrives primarily because of its discussion board. He says most of GOPunk.com's members are liberals in search of debate, but the conservative element is still strong.

He's voting for Bush, but he plans to vote for several third-party candidates in the smaller elections, just to encourage them and promote a less constricted political arena. "I don't think we'll ever have a third party if we try to do it from the top down," he says. "No one from the Green Party or any other third party is gonna be elected president. But if you have them running for little local jobs, eventually you have enough presence that you can build your way up."

His motivation to run for committeeman came from his feeling that Republican incumbent Preski wasn't doing his job--that his election judges weren't loyal to the party, and that his investment in the 11th Ward over the course of his long tenure had been minimal and detached. "I've never seen anything from him," Heidgerken says. So he knocked on every Republican's door in the ward, shaking hands and giving out flyers. He believes his efforts pushed Preski into action. "Preski actually went out and did more campaigning than he'd done in a long time," he says. "That's a bonus, even if the wrong guy won."

Although Heidgerken thinks he'll run again in 2006, he admits that he probably wouldn't make a very successful politician in the long run. "Unfortunately I don't know that I'll ever be able to do well in politics, because I tend to tell people what I think," he says. "I've told a lot of people they're morons, and that doesn't go over well. The punk per-son is somebody that is outspoken and they're not concerned if they offend somebody. They stand up for what they believe in. I was tired of Republicans not standing up for what they believe in. I thought if I take the outspoken attitude of punk and the conservative's viewpoint on government, that kind of defines where I think I need to be."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joeff Davis.

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