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A crucial learning experience in narcissistic, sociopathic and psychopathic behavior from The Tiger King

Although most viewers are dismissing the second Tiger King as a trashy train wreck, both seasons of this true crime miniseries actually provide us textbook examples of narcissistic, sociopathic and psychopathic behavior. We can easily define abusive employment, sexual exploitation, “lovebombing,” false victimhood and DARVO through these maniacal zookeepers.

The human predators featured in Tiger King surround themselves with accomplices and unwitting enablers to exploit, abuse, and manipulate their victims. Joe Exotic, Jeff Lowe, Doc Antle and even Don Lewis are relentless in their pursuit of power and personal gain and are no less vile than Harvey Weinstein or Jeff Epstein. In fact, the protagonists of Tiger King see nothing wrong with their actions, and feel entitled to do whatever they want.

Since the general public adheres to the belief that they won’t encounter conmen, they are not prepared to protect themselves. However, according to Martha Stout, Ph.D., 1 out of every 25 people or, 4% of our population, is a sociopath. Although most sociopaths and psychopaths are not serial killers, they can inflict immense physical, mental, financial and legal harm to the people around them.

In Tiger King, these ruthless manipulators actively “get off” on fooling experts and federal authorities while hiding their illegal activities and sexual deviations with their charm and duplicity. The producers have shown these men have no empathy for any of their animals, employees, partners or families, and target the vulnerable and unsuspecting. Barbara Fisher, a former employee of Doc Antle, said that Antle “didn’t have empathy as a normal person…Because of that, I don’t think he should be in charge of animals or humans.”

Fisher’s statement corresponds with a recent study led by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers that exposes both the structural and functional differences in the brains of people diagnosed with psychopathy. A study using MRIs shows the neurological basis of empathy dysfunction in highly psychopathic individuals. Researchers demonstrated an increased response in the ventral striatum of psychopaths, an area known to be involved in pleasure, when imagining others in pain. (Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 2013)

Since predators exhibit no remorse and will do anything to attain what they want, it’s necessary to recognize them and avoid them at all costs. But more importantly, in spite of society’s mantras, we must teach our children that not all people have “good in them” or that our children should “stick out it out” because no boss, no spouse, no friend, no parent “would ever act that way.”

It is crucial to understand that many of the traits for character disordered personalities overlap; however, the most prevalent traits from the Dark Triad (narcissism, machiavellianism, and psychopathy) found in Tiger King were:

  1. Grandiosity/Superiority complex

Each person featured in this documentary has an unrealistic sense of their self- importance. For example, Joe Exotic exhibits such a grandiose view of himself that he lives in a fantasy world propped up in self-delusion and distortion. By hiring down-on-their-luck people and paying them next to nothing, he created an environment where employees catered to his obsessive need for admiration and attention.

Doc Antle, based in Myrtle Beach, also demonstrates an enormous ego, bragging about his many “girls,” and claiming to be a big cat conservationist without any supporting evidence from animal rights groups. In fact, according to the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, an accrediting organization, a true sanctuary exists to provide lifetime care to animals and does not permit breeding or handling of the animals.

We encounter Antle arriving on an elephant for his show which costs $339 per person and $5,000 for four people who “may want to spend more one-on-one time with the baby tiger cubs.” Doc Antle’s operation, according to him in a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, brought $1.3 million that year. By keeping these big cats and breeding them, the two men grew their profits exponentially.

Both Joe Exotic and Doc Antle also use grandiose names and titles, respectively Tiger King, Exotic, Doc (with no real evidence of being a doctor), and Bhagavan, meaning ‘lord’ or ‘god’. Both defend their “alternative lifestyles,” and Joe Exotic claims that his preserve was “his own little town” where he was the “mayor, prosecutor, cop, and the executioner.” Both replay their “greatest hits” for the camera, whether celebrity interactions or country music videos. Both have photos, television clips, articles and pictures of themselves everywhere on their properties. Both are extremely concerned with how the media portray them; yet, they cannot turn their backs from the camera’s magnetic pull.

2. Exploitation

Social predators leverage every item in their life whether its cars, houses, business, children, animals, and even relationships, to pursue their goals of power, money or sex. And many exploit vulnerable populations.
It’s important to note that most conmen are not as obvious as the people in Tiger King.

  • Joe Exotic’s exploitation included:
  • the use of money and drugs to lure young men and potential employees,
  • fake cancer scares to raise money,
  • use of exotic animals (over 220 tigers) to support his life style as well as allegedly killing a horse to feed his tigers and killing tigers to make room for others,
  • use of old Walmart meat to feed animal and employees,
  • labor exploitation of released prisoners or drug addicts — paying little money with poor living conditions,
  • using G.W. zoo’s money for his political campaign.
  • Doc Antle, according to Barbara Fisher, engages in:
  • alleged sex exploitation of young women,
  • alleged poor pay and sub-standard housing and food for workers,
  • allegations of animal killing and cub breeding to sustain his lifestyle.
  • Don Lewis, Carole Baskin’s first husband, according to Rey Rodriquez, allegedly engaged in:
  • sex exploitation of underaged girls in Costa Rica.
  • having a 15-year-old mistress while married and sleeping with young girls,
  • allegations of money laundering.

3. Criminality

Repeated criminality is a primary indicator of someone who is character- disordered.

  • On Jeff Lowe’s criminal record, he has been charged with assault and battery for allegedly beating and strangling his first wife, Kathy.
  • In 2005, Lowe posed as an employee of Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse (CODA), a small, abused women’s shelter in Beaufort, South Carolina, in order to obtain $14.2 million of goods intended for people in need, according to an FBI search warrant and affidavit.
  • In 2007 Prince, the musician, sued Lowe for allegedly selling clothing with his trademark symbol.
  • In 2008, Lowe pleaded guilty to federal mail fraud after claiming to work for the Citizens Opposed to Domestic Abuse charity. Lowe had tried to obtain $1 million worth of merchandise to later resell.
  • In 2018 Lowe was convicted for doing business without a license using un- permitted wild animal cubs as fodder for expensive photo ops. When the City of Las Vegas served a search warrant in November, 2017, they impounded a tiger, a liliger (hybrid cub from mating a liger and a lion) and a lemur as well as finding a cache of semi-automatic weapons. As part of the plea agreement, Lowe had to surrender the animals and pay $10,000 in restitution for their care.
  • Lowe was a no-show in Las Vegas municipal court in 2018 and again in 2021. He has 4 bench warrants against him pertaining to proper permits for having wild animals and doing business.
  • His right hand man Allen Glover is a convicted felon.
  • Lowe also demonstrates limited emotional range, no startle reflex and a predatory stare all of which are associated with psychopathic behavior.

If you are researching someone’s criminal background, you can use pacer.govfor the U.S. Federal Courts as far back as 1999. For state courts, use justice.govand click on the state you need. You can also use LexisNexis.com to research legal cases. Check different browsers besides Google since SEO can be used to bury previous legal cases, prior associations or businesses.

4. Sexual Promiscuity

Promiscuity is practically present in all character disordered people, whether it manifests as serial monogamy, multiple partners, or multiple dating/hook-up apps. With the inability to emotionally attach to one person, a constant need for stimulation, poor behavior controls and impulsivity, sex is a defense against boredom and a quick hit of power. It also binds predators’ partners to them.

In the documentary, Joe Exotic demonstrates “ love bombing”, a technique to seduce potential lovers and to maintain them. Both he and Doc Antle use sex to bind their lovers to them. Both keep their “harems” close for a constant supply of admiration and sex. Yet they are controlling and verbally attack anyone who does not comply with their “rules,” accept their behavior, or buy into their “reality.”

So why is Joe Exotic’s and Doc Antle’s relentless need for sex and attention dangerous for their partners? During an orgasm, a person receives a blast of dopamine which in brain scans resembles a heroin rush. Oxytocin, the “cuddle hormone” is released in the bloodstream during sex, the same hormone that is responsible for creating the bond between mother and child. Highly sexed psychopaths and sociopaths (and they are all highly sexed) use that intense bond to keep their lovers bound to them despite the psychological and physical torture the victims experience. The victims remain in limbo never knowing what is real or not because of the physiological changes in their brains. As a result, many victims cannot extricate themselves from the perpetrators. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/neurosagacity/201701/the-brain-can-work-against-abuse-victims

Although most predators will not be as outlandish as Joe Exotic, it’s necessary to look for the following behavior in a potential partner:

Lovebombing

  • lavish gifts and expensive travel,
  • non-stop texts and phone calls,
  • need for your undivided attention,
  • overly needy (only you can save him from the world, pain, etc.),
  • unrelenting charm,
  • immediately trying to convince you that you are soul mates,
  • anger when you place healthy emotional boundaries,
  • non-stop promises of a beautiful life together,
  • constant sex.
  • Because of this — if it feels too good to be true, it probably is.

Bragging about their sexual prowess or number of lovers

If they engage in risky behavior in their sex life, they will engage in risky or possibly illegal behavior in business as seen with Jeff and Lauren Lowe. They used code “69” over the zoo’s airwaves to identify attractive female customers and secure possible sexual trysts with them.

Remember that character disordered people crave the rush of power and winning at any cost. Sex is the quickest way to get it.

5. Playing the victim

Notice how each protagonist in Tiger King speaks about their former partners, employers, family or friends; mark how they left them; what are their emotional attachments with others and how quickly they establish new relationships as we see with Joe Exotic and his last husband, Dillon. Ask yourself if any of them took accountability for mistakes or if they preferred to portray themselves as the wronged party.

Be wary of anyone who plays the sympathy card and moves at warp speed into a new relationship.

6. Pathological Lying

Despite federal charges against them, Doc Antle, Joe Exotic and Jeff Lowe dismiss any wrongdoing and attack their accusers in Tiger King. They conveniently forget their crimes. They claim they are victims of PETA and “people” who are jealous of their success.

Both Joe Exotic and Doc Antle are engaging in what trauma psychologist, Jennifer Freyd identified in 1997 as:

DARVO — Deny, Attack, then Reversing Victim-Offender

Once offenders are exposed to allegations of abuse, crime, or exploitation, they respond with denying any wrongdoing and attack the accuser’s credibility, motivation and truthfulness. They then claim to be victims of slander and attacks from these “evil” individuals.

As they minimize the ramifications of their behavior, they will then threaten or engage in lawsuits or harassment to silence their victims.

For example, Joe Exotic repeatedly attacked Carole Baskin through social media and harassed her for years, threatening her life, poaching her logo, and engaging in lawsuits. Doc Antle vilified Barbara Fisher, a former employee of T.I.G.E.R.S., when she exposed his predatory behavior.

The only way to fight DARVO is to follow Carole Baskin’s strategy — document, research, and record the perpetrator’s wrongdoing to expose them.

7. Superficial Charm and Image Management

In the first segment of the documentary, Joe Exotic is charismatic; Doc Antle seems reasonable as does Jeff Lowe. But it is short lived. All use social media to their advantage. All silence anyone who tarnishes their image. All are concerned how the media portrays them.

All know that truth is relative and public perception is everything.

However, the directors Eric Goode and Rebecca Chaiklin expose the cultish environments these men created and the immense harm that occurred. Like Carole Baskin, they record, document and research everything to legally protect themselves.

Just remember —

Never accept someone’s word that a person is “a good guy.” Be suspicious if someone is described as “unbelievably charming.” Always verify. Beware of someone employing DARVO. Do your due diligence. Because if someone is character disordered and involved in more than one crime or questionable activity, they will do it again.

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Alexis Azria

Alexis Azria, a dedicated mom and passionate humanitarian, writing about the parenting issues and ethical dilemmas we face daily.

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