The Lurid Psychopathy of Netflix's Tiger-Keeper Tyrants

My family and I have taken the chumps' tour of Baghavan Antle’s T.I.G.E.R.S. preserve in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, now made infamous by the Netflix series “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.” I even bought a $300 ticket for a friend who wanted to go but couldn’t afford it. I declined to partake in the tiger cub petting circle. Though emotionally dependent on my dogs, I never cottoned to cats, much less ones that in a few months are going to view my hands as finger food.

At the time, I didn’t think about the moral implications of displaying these animals, though I did feel somehow sad watching people interact with Bubbles the tuskless elephant. I also noticed that some of the dynamic, buxom showgirls presenting the endangered animals were dressed more for Hooters than for hippo-rescue. At one point I slipped away from the group and wandered about the 50-acre property. I remember one cage that held a huge, terrifying and miserable-looking creature. A sign said that the animal was extremely dangerous and the cage shouldn’t be approached. No argument here. I also tried to talk to one of women I encountered about her job. She mentioned living on the property, but then seemed uncomfortable and moved away from me.

The Netflix series documents a horrifying aggregate of alleged or accomplished crime, cruelty, and degeneracy committed by three landed lords of tiger-keeping: Baghavan “Doc” Antle, Carole Baskin and Joe “Exotic” Schreibvogel. Dr. Hervey Cleckley’s 1941 book Mask of Sanity introduced the concept of psychopathy as the condition of being a master deceiver while lacking moral restraint. The label fell into disuse in psychiatry until it was re-popularized by the research of Canadian psychologist Robert Hare. Hare concludes that psychopaths lack capacity to feel normal emotion, empathy, or remorse and guilt for their destructive behaviors. They are superficially charming and glib, but exploit, manipulate and abuse others, and tend to be impulsive, promiscuous and criminal. No need to read those weighty tomes. Watching the masquerades, misdeeds and horrifying abuses of Antle, Baskin and Schreibvogel is a graduate seminar in the mindset of the psychopath.

Psychopathy includes a lack of normal fear, a tendency to destructive thrill-seeking, and meanness, described as the use of cruelty for exploitation and power. The relationship between a human being and an extremely dangerous animal that must be permanently caged and dominated through violence or the threat of violence is ideal to gratify the emotional needs of clinical and subclinical psychopaths. It is well-known that there are thousands more tigers in cages in the U.S. than are free in natural habitats throughout the world. These poor animals are feeding psychopathic tendencies of power and thrill-seeking for the people who “own” them. As the historic circus lion tamer in jodhpurs, pith helmet and whip became unacceptable, he has been replaced by scam artists like Antle, Baskin and Schreibvogel, who pose as non-profit rescuers but in truth are psychopathic overlords of a lucrative, secretive cartel which abuses animals and humans alike. Research in psychopathy postulates the dark triad of narcissism, Machiavellianisn and sadism. Baghavan Antle, Carole Baskin and Joe Schreibvogel epitomize them all.

Antle was given the first name of Baghavan, which is a Sanskrit term for the Lord most often referring to Lord Krishna. That’s a set-up for megalomania from birth. It’s pathetic to hear Antle’s grown son slavishly gushing “He is the Lord here.” Antle does not directly disagree with the idea that his female workers are a harem. Instead, he smilingly demurs with “My lifestyle is not ready for the family hour.” A woman who escaped Antle’s cult explains that sex with Antle was expected from female employees and she accepted undergoing breast implants if only “to have a few days to rest.” Because Antle renames and mentally controls women within the walls of his kingdom, he has been safe from liability to the modern concept of workplace sexual harassment, at least until now.

Antle is credibly accused of selling and euthanizing endangered animals. Of course he does! We interacted with wolf puppies, tiger and bobcat (?) cubs, and baby monkeys. Though willingly fleeced out of $1,200, after watching the Netflix documentary I did the Malthusian math. Antle has a continuous supply of baby animals. If he kept them all over the decades, he would have thousands of predators to feed. If he restored them to natural habitats he would shout it to the sky, which he doesn’t. First, psychopaths make you stupid, then they get you angry.

The second Tiger tyrant is Carole Baskin, owner of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida. Baskin strongly reminds one of Hillary Clinton. The masklike face, cold eyes, sudden, punctuating, tinny laughter, and the politician’s steady stream of rehearsed, piquant, phony anecdotes designed to control the listener while concealing the motives of the speaker. Baskin begins her tale of courage by sharing that at 14 she was gang-raped by three men, no more no less. And doggone it, because her parents were Christians, she was driven from home. If you went through such a devastating trauma would you matter-of-factly recount it to the world? While smiling? Yes, if you’re a psychopath. Then the plucky girl found herself walking alone along a road late at night because she was distraught about leaving her first marriage. What young mother wouldn’t? She was picked up by a stranger, who golly-gee had a loaded gun on the front seat. You betcha she kept that gun trained on him the whole time (at his insistence!) to protect her honor while they drove around all night and bonded.

This wealthy married man became her second husband. He introduced her to collecting tigers and other rare animals. Baskin is widely thought to have murdered him, disposed of his body, and wrangled his millions away from his children. The Netflix documentary builds a strong circumstantial case to that effect. If you were generally believed to have murdered your husband, would you welcome rigorous, documentary investigators to examine every corner of your life with cameras rolling? Sure, if you’re a psychopath. “What difference, at this point, does it make how my husband died?”

Joe “Exotic” Schreibvogel had one trait of psychopathy that Antle and Baskin do not – a wild disinhibited impulsivity. Antle and Baskin make some attempts to sanitize their images. Schreibvogel is a three-ring circus of outlandish, infantile narcissism and gleeful cruelty to both animals and humans. He was convicted of crimes against animals, but the people who know him best, family and associates, have said, “He is 100 times worse” than those convictions – freezing tiger cubs to sell to taxidermists, bestiality with headless animal carcasses, bodies of animal rights protesters buried in his Animal Park in Oklahoma.

Schreibvogel’s pattern was to sink his claws into drug-addicted, desperate people, often recently released from prison, to use them for labor and sex, in his private carnival of degradation and crime. A typical colleague of Joe’s, a drug-addicted ex-con, eventually ratted him out for the murder-for-hire scheme against his arch nemesis, Carole Baskin. Schreibvogel “married” a homeless, 19-year-old meth head who pretended to be homosexual in order to become a prince in Schreibvogel’s evil kingdom. This young man shot himself, while the Netflix cameras rolled. Schreibvogel’s eulogy at the funeral in front of the man’s mother and family graphically recounted how the dead young man had existed for Joe’s sexual pleasure. To complete this horror show, Schreibvogel stole the man’s name, Maldonado, like a serial killer takes a trophy from the dead.

Donald Trump Jr. has spoken out in favor of a pardon for Schreibvogel, who is serving a 22-year sentence. Trump’s sons have stained their father’s presidency by killing elephants and tigers in Africa. If there was ever a case where the president should keep his mouth closed, this is it.

Image composition by Monica Showalter with use of vector image created by ddraw via FreePik, public domain with attribution

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