This Week in Odd History, President Jimmy Carter was attacked by a rabbit during a fishing trip in Plains, Georgia. The rabbit 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. Suitably chastened, it fled.
Upon his return to the White House, Carter told his staff about the furry amphibian’s assault. Most refused to believe him, insisting that rabbits can’t swim. (They were wrong. Rabbits can swim, as can most other mammals.) In any case, they said, even if a rabbit could swim, it certainly wouldn’t attack a person, let alone a president. Fortunately (or perhaps not, as it turned out), a White House photographer had been on the scene to record 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 said, “You couldn’t tell what it was.” Undaunted by their skepticism, Carter had the image enlarged, so that everyone could see it – a killer bunny rabbit, bent on assassinating the president.
The story might have ended there, had White House Press Secretary Jody Powell not mentioned the incident to Associated Press reporter Brooks Jackson in August. The 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 clobbered his buck-toothed opponent with his paddle, just splashed water at it to drive it away, it seemed unlikely that he had been in danger. The entire episode became a symbol 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, rabbit. That doesn’t mean the beast wasn’t dangerous, though. Fulk, the 12th century king of Jerusalem, was killed by a rabbit. (Well, 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.
Jimmy Carter’s “Killer Bunny” (Archived)