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Jimmy Carter Attacked by Killer Rabbit (April 20, 1979)

Today in Odd History, President Jimmy Carter was attacked by a rabbit during a fishing trip in Plains, Georgia. The rabbit, which may have been fleeing a predator, swam toward his boat, "hissing menacingly, its teeth flashing and nostrils flared." President Carter was forced to swat at the vicious beast with a canoe paddle, which apparently scared it off.

Upon his return to the White House, Carter told his staff about the furry amphibian's assault. Most of them refused to believe him, insisting that rabbits can't swim (although since most mammals can swim, there's no reason to believe that rabbits cannot), and that even if they could, they certainly wouldn't attack humans, and certainly not presidents. Fortunately, a White House photographer had been on the scene, and had recorded the bizarre attack. The photograph showed Carter with his paddle raised, warding off a small creature which might, or might not, have been a rabbit. One staffer was quoted as saying, "You couldn't tell what it was." Undaunted by their skepticism, Carter had the image enlarged, and there it was--a killer bunny rabbit, apparently bent on assassinating the president.

The story might have ended there, except that White House Press Secretary Jody Powell mentioned the incident to Associated Press reporter Brooks Jackson in August. JawsThe Washington Post ran it as front page news. The original photograph was not available (until the Reagan administration leaked it in 1981), but the paper filled the gap with a cartoon modeled on the poster for the movie Jaws, starring the rabbit and entitled Paws. Powell made a belated attempt to impress the public with the seriousness of the attack, calling the creature a "swamp rabbit," but since Carter had to appease his rabbit-loving constituents by insisting that he had not actually smacked his buck-toothed opponent with his paddle, but only splashed water at it to drive it away, it seemed unlikely that he had been in danger. The entire episode became a I'm a Bunny for Cartersymbol of Carter's floundering presidency. According to Powell, "[I]t shows the extent to which an insignificant incident can snowball and end up in newspapers and news shows across the country.” Carter biographer Douglas Brinkley says, “It just played up the Carter flake factor.... I mean, he had to deal with Russia and the Ayatollah and here he was supposedly fighting off a rabbit.”

Note: While some presidential apologists have suggested that Carter might actually have been attacked by a nutria, a large, aggressive aquatic rodent, others have insisted that the President's assailant was a simple, if unusually vicious, bunny rabbit. Fulk, the 12th century king of Jerusalem, was killed by a rabbit. (Well, really he was killed by a fall from his horse, but the horse had been startled by a rabbit.) And many years ago, I was the owner of a Blue Dutch rabbit named Sequin. One of my friends still bears the scars of an encounter with Sequin--a perfectly matched set of parallel teeth marks, where Sequin's fangs closed on her hand and ripped through the flesh when she pulled her hand away. Bunnies are, indeed, fiercer than anyone but Monty Python has generally given them credit for.

I had originally believed that no digital copy of the rabbit attack was available. However, Jerry Callen, at ordered and uploaded a 300 DPI digital print of the photo some time ago. (Click on the smaller image above to access it). A detail from the photo, showing the savage beast more clearly, is also available at Narsil. This photo is courtesy of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. Many thanks to Jerry, and to Cowcharge, who recently reminded me about the photo.
Jaws from
Bunny Button from Today in Rotten History

The Daily Bleed: A Calendar Better Than Boiled Coffee!
The Straight Dope
Locomotion in Mammals
Jaws, at IMDB
Jimmy Carter's "Killer Bunny"
Invasive Species: Nutria Profile
The Doom Bunny's Home Page
'Pigs and Pokers: or, how to die an interesting medieval death'
Monty Python's Holy Grail at IMDB

More about Jimmy Carter:

The Unfinished PresidencyThe Unfinished Presidency : Jimmy Carter's Journey Beyond the White House, by Douglas Brinkley.
Explains how Carter triumphed over the disaster of his presidency to become one of the most respected men in the world, killer rabbits notwithstanding.

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