The Story Behind the Photo of a ‘Killer Rabbit’ Attacking Jimmy Carter

Jimmy Carter and the Killer Rabbit
President Jimmy Carter uses his paddle to splash away the ‘killer rabbit.’ Photo taken in his hometown of Plains, Georga on April 20, 1979.

Today marks 44 years since the infamous “killer rabbit” incident when a rampaging bunny “attacked” then-president Jimmy Carter — damaging his reputation.

What is perhaps most remarkable about the bizarre episode is a photo exists of it, taken by a White House photographer on April 20, 1979.

The photo clearly shows Carter in a fishing boat splashing his paddle at the frenzied rabbit. It was taken in the President’s hometown of Plains, Georgia.

What Happened with Jimmy Carter and the ‘Killer Rabbit’

In his book, Carter’s press secretary Jody Powell relays what the President told him about the incident in which the swamp rabbit was apparently behaving aggressively.

Jimmy Carter and the killer rabbit

“The animal was clearly in distress, or perhaps berserk,” Powell writes in his 1986 book The Other Side of the Story.

“The President confessed to having had limited experience with enraged rabbits. He was unable to reach a definite conclusion about its state of mind,” Powell continues.

“What was obvious, however, was that this large, wet animal, making strange hissing noises and gnashing its teeth, was intent upon climbing into the Presidential boat.”

Killer rabbit
Close up of the rabbit.

Somewhat inexplicably, Powell later told an Associated Press correspondent about the rabbit incident which The Washington Post ran on the front page as “President Attacked by Rabbit.”

This kicked off a maelstrom news cycle for the President with the public and press fascinated by the peculiar episode demanding answers. Some historians and political reporters now point to the affair as the “beginning of the end” of Carter’s administration.

Carter rabbit
A 1980 cartoon mocking Carter

How Was the Photo Released?

As soon as the story broke, it was made clear that photographs of the incident existed. It was also reported that White House staffers had to be shown the photo so they would believe the event had happened.

Carter’s administration refused to release the photo to the press. “There are just certain stories about the President that must forever remain shrouded in mystery,” said Rex Granum, the deputy White House press secretary at the time.

However, news media got hold of quotes from White House staffers who had seen the photos.

“It was a killer rabbit,” a staff member was quoted as saying in The New York Times. “The President was swinging for his life.”

Eventually, the photo turned up during Ronald Regan’s administration giving the story fresh life. However, public copies of the photo didn’t exist until 2003 when a blogger wrote to the Jimmy Carter Library requesting the picture.

He received a 300 DPI TIFF file on a CD and gracefully released the public domain image into the world.

Image credits: Feature photo courtesy of the Jimmy Carter Library.