Joseph F. Steffen Jr: The “Prince of Darkness” (left) Delegate Robin Grammer (right)
Baltimore Post-Examiner recently interviewed semi-retired GOP political operative Joseph F. Steffen Jr. Steffen is commonly known as the “Prince of Darkness,” a nickname he most likely earned while performing opposition research against Democrats.
In 2005, Steffen gained notoriety amid resigning from Maryland GOP Governor Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s administration after allegedly posting online rumors suggesting Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley had been unfaithful to his wife. O’Malley, who succeeded Ehrlich as Governor and is now a presidential candidate — stringently denied infidelity. At the time, Steffen apologized to O’Malley.
Prior to arriving in Annapolis, Steffen worked on Ehrlich’s successful congressional campaigns and served on Ehrlich’s staff throughout his eight-year tenure in Washington D.C. He also supported Richard Viguerie’s unsuccessful 1985 campaign for Virginia Lt. Governor and has assisted other politicians as well.
Steffen currently writes a blog on WordPress, Darknessrevisited, where he discusses Maryland politics and his preference for Republican presidential candidate — Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. He is also the author of horror novels Death, Wish and Death, March.
BPE: When did you officially become known as the “Prince of Darkness” and under what circumstances?
STEFFEN: It was at campaign headquarters in 1996 and Congressman Bob Ehrlich was running for re-election. Bob was there for a meeting and as I walked downstairs he looked me in the eye and said, ‘Well the Prince of Darkness has arrived!’ And I just thought it was funnier than hell. Everybody at the table laughed. But Bob didn’t know what was going on [behind the scenes] all he knew were things were getting done.
BPE: Your blog has a similar name as well. Why did you create it and does it have a large following?
STEFFEN: I started writing under darknessrising about three or four years ago and then got picked up by Global Rhetoric. After I started writing my first book, Global Rhetoric began requesting my column on a regular basis. However, I instead decided to create another blog and called it darknessrevisited. And of course I was playing off the ‘Prince of Darkness’ name and theme. Some articles get a bazillion hits, others not as many. It depends on what I write as well as how much I can share.
BPE: Do local politicians — including members of the Maryland General Assembly — read your blog?
STEFFEN: Yes, I know a fair amount of them do. So my target audiences are being hit.
BPE: Your articles indicate a libertarian streak, arguably putting you at odds with the GOP establishment. Is that an accurate assessment and does it explain why you supported Richard Viguerie in 1985 and currently support Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s 2016 Presidential candidacy?
STEFFEN: I was a Republican from the time I first registered in the early 1980s and stayed a Republican throughout Reagan’s second term, after which I registered Libertarian. When [Republican] Bob Ehrlich was elected to Congress [in 1994] I changed my affiliation back to Republican. But I’ve always been a libertarian first and foremost.
Viguerie was not really a libertarian, although libertarians liked him.
Paul is perhaps more up my alley than any candidate I’ve ever seen and that includes Ronald Reagan and deceased Illinois Republican Congressman Phil Crane, who was my first choice for President in 1980. Rand Paul is pretty much as close to a perfect candidate as I’ve ever seen.
BPE: Do you agree with Sen. Paul’s views on foreign policy, particularly cutting and/or phasing out aid — to include close allies like Israel?
STEFFEN: Israel is an interesting case. I don’t know if I completely agree with cutting it out, at least not now. But I don’t have an issue with phasing it out over time. And to be honest, I think that issue is hurting him a lot with neo-conservatives in the Republican Party. But I am not a neo-conservative and I’ve never been one. Although at times I felt I had to trumpet the neo-conservative philosophy because I was working for them.
BPE: Do you think Sen. Paul has a realistic chance of winning the Republican nomination and subsequently being elected President?
STEFFEN: I think he has a somewhat realistic chance. After Paul’s announcement, he took off like a bat out of hell in the polls, but seems to have stalled there. I did not see Thursday night’s debate, but I heard at times Paul had the least amount of time to speak. I also heard he had less than half of Donald Trump’s allotted time. Consequently, I think he has a better chance of being elected President than he does of winning the primary.
BPE: Did you think young voters would support Sen. Paul with the same enthusiasm they did President Obama?
STEFFEN: Yes, but it’s not just [young people]. Honestly, I think Rand Paul might be one of the only Republicans who has a real shot at winning the Presidency should he be able to get through the primary because he might be able to drag significant civil libertarian support away [from the Democrats]. However, if Paul does not get through the primary, he better get the VP nod or I’m not voting for that ticket.
BPE: You would sit out the Presidential election?
STEFFEN: I would vote in that election for other people/offices.
BPE: Many of your posts are critical of Maryland’s elected officials. In one article, you referred to Democratic Sen. Barbara Mikulski as an “octogenarian midget,” and in another-Republican Congressman Andy Harris as “skeletor.” Did you come up with these nicknames and if so what is the reasoning behind them?
STEFFEN: Actually, I want to apologize to Sen. Mikulski for calling her ‘octogenarian’ because she is not 80 years old yet. I should have checked before I wrote that, but I didn’t.
When Harris first ran for state senate in 1998, for reasons I do not know, people started referring to him as ‘skeletor.’ And I guess I revived that term in what I wrote, but to this day I do not know how it got started or why.
I came up with ‘octogenarian midget’ but not ‘skeletor’.
BPE: You have also been critical of Gov. Hogan at times. In an article titled “Habeas What?” you referenced an email sent to the governor’s website in which you angrily asked Hogan why he issued an executive order suspending Habeas Corpus during April’s Baltimore riots and did not receive a response. Would you explain why Gov. Hogan was wrong to do so at the time?
STEFFEN: I’m not familiar with all the laws, but I think if Habeas Corupus had to be suspended at that time, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake probably should have been the one to do it. Maybe Gov. Hogan just took over when he sent the National Guard in and that meant he was in control of everything. But I don’t like the idea of anyone suspending Habeas Corpus for any reason at all.
BPE: Do you feel the same way about President Lincoln’s decision to suspend Habeas Corpus during the Civil War?
STEFFEN: Do not get me started on Abe Lincoln. I absolutely abhor that decision on all levels. I hate the idea of even giving the state another 24 hours [to hold someone in custody without bringing them before a judge].
BPE: What do you think of Gov. Hogan’s overall performance since taking office in late January?
STEFFEN: Overall, Gov. Hogan has done a fairly decent job politically. He’s selling his message well. But when you increase the budget — even if it’s only by one percent — I have to ask: ‘Why are you increasing the budget?’ I also noticed on his Change Maryland [website] Hogan lists as one of his accomplishments ‘no tax increases.’ Since when is not increasing a tax an accomplishment? It should be a given!
BPE: But couldn’t one argue that simply refraining from tax increases is an accomplishment in a state like Maryland?
STEFFEN: To be fair, I think that’s what Gov. Hogan was getting at. I’m judging him from a libertarian standpoint, even though Hogan never claimed to be one. But I understand the realism of what he has to deal with from the parameters of which he’s trying to do it.
If I were governor … my libertarian friends always criticize me for saying this … I would pull an Obama and executive order everything. And if the Democrats don’t like it, let them take me to court.
BPE: So you would govern by executive fiat?
STEFFEN: Basically, yeah. If it’s good enough for President Obama why not do it on a state level?
BPE: You worked with Hogan during Governor Ehrlich’s administration when he served as Appointments Secretary. In late June you wrote an article: “Say a Prayer for Larry Hogan,” after the Governor was diagnosed with Stage III Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and mentioned your personal affection for Hogan as well as his sense of humor. What was it like working with Hogan and do you think his humor is an asset in fighting cancer?
STEFFEN: Gov. Hogan’s humor is a huge plus for him. He really is one funny guy and I think that will help carry him through this and I think he is going to wind up beating cancer. Gov. Hogan has an innate ability to get through whatever is in front of him.
BPE: Now I wanted to ask about your departure from the Ehrlich administration in 2005. You resigned after gaining nationwide notoriety for allegedly posting online rumors suggesting then Baltimore Mayor and likely 2006 Democratic gubernatorial candidate-Martin O’Malley had been unfaithful to his wife. At the time you told several media outlets that you had in fact posted the rumors, but your June 2nd article states you did not and that you may have been set up. Could you clear up this misunderstanding?
STEFFEN: There’s not a misunderstanding. I said what I said the first time because I was trying to be loyal to the Ehrlich administration. However, if you go on Free Republic-the original website where everything was posted-there are postings under my tag name where I literally wrote: ‘Do not ever talk about O’Malley’s personal life!’ I literally wrote that.
Later, when the blowup came, the Ehrlich administration was slow on the draw. They wrote the book on how not to deal with situations. At that point, I was still trying to protect them. And people from Ehrlich’s administration have since gone back and read those posts and asked, ‘Why did you even resign?’ ‘You never did this!’ [For the record] I resigned; I wasn’t fired.
At the time, I was being less than truthful to my own detriment and now I’m just letting it all hang out. The reason I resigned was not because of anything O’Malley related, but because of all the crap that came before. I didn’t want the Democrats digging.
BPE: Since 2005, have you worked on behalf of other politicians behind the scenes?
STEFFEN: Oh yeah!
BPE: Can you name any?
BPE: You previously wrote a horror novel-Death, Wish and just finished a sequel-Death, March. Could you tell us a little bit about these novels and how you became interested in writing fiction?
STEFFEN: I’ve always had an interest in writing fiction. About 25 years ago, I wrote approximately 15 books and never tried to publish any of them. I wrote about 15 screenplays as well, which were sent out and read by some folks pretty high up on the food chain. But nothing ever came of them.
The reason I wrote stories about Charlotte and John (Death, Wish and Death, March) was because Death, Wish was already written in my head after I woke up from a nap. I outlined it that night and finished the book two months later. Death, Wish is about 75,000 words and roughly 300 pages.
Death, Wish starts with John getting ready to go to the funeral home where Charlotte is laid out [in a casket]. Charlotte was a singer with different rock bands that played at pubs in Fells Point, MD where she was shot while walking back to her car after a show.
At the funeral home, John becomes extremely upset. Charlotte was only 27 [about four years younger than he]. After the service, John returned to what was once their apartment and went to sleep. A few days later, he woke up and saw Charlotte sitting on the sofa-pale, naked and dead. John initially freaked out, but then talked to Charlotte and realized she came back due to a wish they made while engaged promising they would never separate. Though embalmed, Charlotte upheld her part of the deal by returning and remains permanently frozen at 27.
In Death, March Charlotte tried to convince John to commit suicide so he could experience joys associated with death. The basic philosophy is that death eliminates the need for basic necessities such as food and sleep and alleviates feelings of guilt associated with having a conscience.
BPE: Your books are for sale on Amazon. Are many people buying?
STEFFEN: From what I can tell, not nearly as many as I’d like — but it’s not going badly. I assume both are doing well or I wouldn’t have been asked to write a third book.
My publisher said I might be on to something because I created a new concept of death in Charlotte. Is she a zombie? Is she a ghost? [What is she?]
BPE: What else does Joe Steffen do for fun?
STEFFEN: I’m a prankster. I love pulling pranks on people. Sometimes, I really scare people without trying and that’s funny as hell. Also, I love my friends a lot. Occasionally, I’ll sit back and have a whiskey or two. I love smoking as well. But writing takes up most of my time.
– Photo credit: Phil Tran
Bryan is an award-winning political journalist who has extensive experience covering Congress and Maryland state government.
His work includes coverage of the election of Donald Trump, the confirmation hearings of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and attorneys general William Barr and Jeff Sessions-as well as that of the Maryland General Assembly, Gov. Larry Hogan, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bryan has broken stories involving athletic and sexual assault scandals with the Baltimore Post-Examiner.
His original UMBC investigation gained international attention, was featured in People Magazine and he was interviewed by ABC’s “Good Morning America” and local radio stations. Bryan broke subsequent stories documenting UMBC’s omission of a sexual assault on their daily crime log and a federal investigation related to the university’s handling of an alleged sexual assault.