I want to debate Biden on all the failed promises he made,’ says the Tiger King star
July 3, 2023 | 11:21 pm
“Do you have any advice for other presidential candidates who might end up in federal prison?” I ask Joseph “Exotic” Maldonado-Passage, of Tiger King fame, on a recent phone call. And I say “other” candidates because Joe Exotic is running for president.
“You know what, Trump ought to stop bashing the Mexicans too bad on that border crisis stuff down there because when he gets in here, he’s going to be outnumbered. He’s going to find out they’re going to be his best friend,” Exotic says. “And he better stock up on Big Macs because they don’t serve that shit in here.”
After claiming he’d spent two-and-a-half years in solitary confinement, Exotic was recently released back into general population. With the death of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, in June, Exotic may be the most famous person currently serving federal prison time. Last year, he underwent treatment for prostate cancer; he’s currently incarcerated at the Fort Worth Federal Medical Center in Texas. Since November, he’s been on a waitlist for a bladder biopsy and mammogram because doctors believe the cancer may have spread.
“It’s just a waiting game. The longer I wait, the sicker I get, and the more that it spreads. The medical care in the federal prison system is worse than the vet care at my zoo,” Exotic says.
In 2021, Exotic told the British tabloid the Daily Star that his outlook on zookeeping had changed since his time in the clink. “I hate to sound like an animal rights person,” he told the outlet, but “if I would have known twenty years ago what life inside a cage is like, I would never have had a zoo. It doesn’t matter if it’s a tiger or a gerbil; no animal belongs in a cage.”
On June 23, Exotic’s social media accounts announced he was again in solitary confinement, “with no phone or email [in order to] shut him up.” His supporters believe someone in the federal government plans to keep him there until after the next election.
“They kidnap you and they lock you up in solitary where you have no access to phones or emails or anything else and they read every letter that comes in and out of there, so they know exactly what you’re saying. So, they know how to fight you in court and you’ve got a chance in hell of winning in this system,” Exotic tells me days before he ended up back in solitary. “With Trump, if they’re going to get him on something. OK, first of all, the federal government has a 98 percent conviction rate. They think Russia’s bad with a 99 percent conviction rate. Hell, America’s just as crooked and corrupt.”
“They didn’t indict Trump with thirty-seven charges if they don’t think they can get three or four to stick. They indicted me with two charges — and the minute I asked for a trial they reindicted me with twenty more charges. Where in the Constitution says you have the right to a fair trial? Where in the Constitution does it say that when you ask for a fair trial, you’re gonna get blackmailed and punished because you asked for a trial? They’re gonna stack your charges with twenty more charges.”
Exotic’s rather active Twitter and Instagram accounts post content he curates from prison — when he’s not in the hole. He emails text for tweets and dictates ideas for memes to his outside team, who then create and post them. He also sends longer ruminations on subjects like prison reform and freedom of speech that are posted to his campaign website.
He also keeps it topical. In June, when Texas congressman Dan Crenshaw went on Fox News to rhapsodize about the loss of a submersible exploring the sunken remains of the Titanic, Exotic responded on Twitter, writing: “@DanCrenshawTX quit looking for someone to blame. They built it, got in it and took that risk, launched it and if it imploded no one could have done anything. Hats off to the @USCG and everyone who searched for it. Maybe God just don’t want us at the bottom of the ocean to screw with things.”
Regarding Pride month, Exotic posted, “You LGBTQ people in todays [sic] movement need to clean up your act, dress appropriate, act civilized and be respectful and you would gain so much more respect then [sic] doing this shit in public and thinking your [sic] cute. As a gay man I am ashamed of those of you who represent my life style. Get your shit together.”
Other tweets are more lighthearted, like a joke the same month: “What is the difference between a deep freezer and your celly in jail? The deep freezer don’t fart when you pull the meat out,” he posted, headed “Hey @realDonaldTrump” and followed with “#FreeJoeExotic.” It was unclear whether he was offering unsolicited prison hacks to the candidate who’d been indicted that week.
Exotic was already incarcerated when he reached international fame through the 2020 Netflix documentary Tiger King. The year before, he had been found guilty of a murder-for-hire plot, falsifying wildlife records and killing tigers that he owned (a violation of the Endangered Species Act). He’s serving a twenty-one-year sentence. He believes his prosecution was the result of heavy lobbying by animal rights activists seeking to pass the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which was enacted late in 2022. It ends private ownership of big cats as pets and prohibits exhibitors from allowing public contact with big cats, including cubs, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
At his trial, Exotic had a court-appointed attorney. He insists the tigers he shot were sick and dying. The alleged plot to have archnemesis Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue in Florida — with whom he’d been engaged in a long-running feud, murdered — was a matter of running his mouth, he says, what some might call “bravado.” Though he’d often spoken of wanting her dead, Exotic says he paid alleged potential hitman Allen Glover $3,000 just to get Glover to leave his zoo. In a 2020 interview with TMZ, Glover dropped a bombshell when he suggested his testimony was perjured, simply payback for all the “misery” Exotic caused the people and animals around him, telling TMZ he wished he could have done more to harm Exotic.
Exotic is listed on the FEC website as a 2024 presidential candidate; in 2018 he ran in the Oklahoma gubernatorial primary as a Libertarian. He initially sought to run for president this cycle as a Libertarian but has been excommunicated from the party. “We stand for personal and economic freedom; we are not a landing pad for former reality stars and D-list celebrities,” Libertarian Party chair Angela McArdle told TMZ this year.
Exotic is now running as a Democrat, with the campaign slogan “#FixThisShit.” “I want to debate Biden on all the failed promises he made,” Exotic says of his choice of party.
“Joe is the one person in that entire mix who absolutely got nothing out of” Tiger King, says Michael Robison, a former megachurch pastor who runs a primate rescue in Tennessee and is the press secretary of Exotic’s campaign.
“Joe is a very raw and real person, which means he speaks his mind, shares his thoughts, maybe more than most others and maybe more than someone should,” Robison says. “It made him a littler easier to target.”
“I do believe the vast majority of it is both politically and financially motivated based on the agendas of lobbyist-types and animal rights groups. He stood in the way of the Big Cat Safety Act,” Robison continues. “Combined with the fact they just didn’t like who he was. He was just kind of like this loudmouthed libertarian kind of guy. He’s not one to pander to the falsity of bipartisan politics, that managerial class, ruling class who tends to infringe on the rights of the American people.”
Prison reform is top on Exotic’s presidential policy list. “We have two systems: a rich system and a poor system,” he tells me. On other big issues, he’s no fan of US involvement in Ukraine. “We fund more crap for other countries while we neglect our veterans. We neglect our elderly people. We neglect our mental health, everything in this country. And then President Biden wants to save the climate by not drilling oil and extracting gas and coal mining on land. But now he’s putting wind farms out in the ocean and it’s killing our whales and destroying our ocean. Does any of this make sense? It doesn’t,” Exotic says.
“I think you should have an abortion. I think you should be able to carry a gun and I think you should have the right to do whatever you want as far as you don’t hurt anybody. So, I have the ideas of all three parties — Libertarian, Democrat and Republican.”
Before Donald Trump left office in early 2021, rumors swirled that he might pardon Exotic, whose case was second in grassroots support perhaps only to Julian Assange’s. But neither pardon happened.
He listened to that shithead Mark Meadows and Mark talked him out of it on Air Force One,” Exotic tells me. “I think Trump was doing a good job as a president, as far as our economy and everything else was going. He pardoned Kodak Black and Lil Wayne just to get black votes and the support of the black community — over somebody that’s actually innocent — when they had drug and gun charges.
"I have a little bit of animosity toward the man but now, you know, karma is a bitch. It’s coming full circle. He is now getting a taste of the system that they helped create. Now Hunter Biden is getting a taste of the system and hopefully President Biden will get a taste of the system that he has helped build for the last fifty years and, shit, this is gonna hang up —” he says, as the phone line cuts off.