Joseph Allen Maldonado — AKA “Joe Exotic” — wants to be president, and a 22-year prison sentence won’t stop him. In 2020, Maldonado, the subject of the Netflix hit docuseries Tiger King, was found guilty of various charges related to a murder-for-hire plot against wildlife sanctuary owner Carole Baskin, as well as several violations of the Endangered Species Act.
The Tiger King star announced on Wednesday that he would be throwing his hat in the ring for the 2024 presidential election as a candidate for the Libertarian party. Maldonado wrote in a statement on his campaign website that while “you might think this is a joke,” you may rest assured it’s all very real.
While Maldonado did gain household recognition through the Netflix smash hit, the eccentric wildlife trafficker’s fame is rooted in a string of horrific crimes against both animals and people. Maldonado was convicted of unlawfully killing at least five tigers, conducting illegal wildlife sales, and hiring a hitman to kill Baskin. His rap sheet has done little to endear him with the public. Instead, the airing of Tiger King launched a renewed wave of support for increased animal rights protections and legislation. In December of last year, congress passed the Big Cat Safety Act, which prohibited the private breeding of exotic feline species and cub petting operations like the one run by Maldonado.
In a decidedly Trumpian rant, Maldonato wrote that he had been wrongfully imprisoned as a result of “the corruption in the Department of Justice.” “The only thing I did was put five very old, crippled tigers to sleep in the most humane way possible,” he wrote, “so it’s time to get over it.”
As a candidate, he promises that he doesn’t “give a damn what color you are, where you came from, who you sleep with, if you have done drugs in your past, or if you have made a mistake and ended up in jail or put there because someone lied about you.” His platform centers around his long-held libertarian beliefs and includes proposals such as criminal justice and prison reform, shutting down the IRS, implementing term limits, ending complete immunity for federal agents, and making undocumented migrants pay $50 a month to avoid deportation.
But Maldonado would like potential voters to “put aside that I am gay, that I am in prison for now, that I used drugs in the past, that I had more [than] one boyfriend at once, and that Carole hates my guts. This all has not a thing to do with me being able to be your voice.”
While it is perfectly legal for an incarcerated person to run for the presidency, Maldonado’s vanity campaign is unlikely to end in a swearing-in ceremony. His 2016 campaign produced an abysmal showing, and with the added logistical encumbrances of running a campaign from a prison cell, the odds are slim that the Tiger King will become the Tiger President.