It all started when Denver Riggleman, an Air Force veteran and distillery owner-turned Republican Congressional nominee in Virginia, posted two Bigfoot drawings on his Instagram account. A shrugging Bigfoot, with a black censored bar covering the genitals, and Riggleman’s face digitally superimposed on the shoulders of another naked North American mythological creature.
Over the weekend, his political opponent in Democrat Leslie Cockburn tweeted the images and accused Riggleman of being a “devotee of Bigfoot erotica.” Cockburn, a former investigative journalist, echoed other media outlets when she tweeted that Riggleman was “caught on camera campaigning with a white supremacist,” i.e., Isaac Smith, co-founder of the white-nationalist group Unity & Security, who appeared at a Riggleman’s campaign stop in Virginia. “This is not what we need on Capitol Hill,” she tweeted.
In an interview on Tuesday morning, Riggleman denied both allegations to Rolling Stone. He admits to researching, attending expeditions and writing about Bigfoot. But he’s no Bigfoot fetishist, he says, but has a 14-year-old running joke with military friends, who send him these kind of images for his birthday. The Charlottesville native also denies any link to white supremacists — he claims Smith was “just a kid” who happened to be at one of his campaign functions — bringing up a recent op-ed he wrote for The Roanoke Times in which he slams white nationalism.
Here, Riggleman’s thoughts on Bigfoot, white supremacists and why he chose to prank is wife on their anniversary.
You’re trending on Twitter for being linked to Bigfoot erotica. Tell me about the past few days.
I never thought in a million years that this would happen. There’s not only been a lot of laughter, but a lot of bizarreness, too.
Is your interest in Bigfoot a joke?
It’s a 14-year-old practical joke hobby with a bunch of military buddies.
How did you get interested in Bigfoot?
Back in 1980, my grandfather and I were walking on a spring line [in West Virginia] — which feeds cattle — and he said to stop for a second because he saw something in the woods. He told me to run because he saw something mighty peculiar. I was 10 years old. I didn’t see anything.
And where did your interest in Bigfoot go from there?
In 2004, I told my wife I was going to take her on anniversary trip. When we landed in Seattle, Washington, she thought I was taking her to Hawaii. Instead I said, I thought you’d be excited to go to bigfoot expedition in Olympia Forest. That made her angry. I pranked her. We went on a Bigfoot expedition.
Then in 2005 and 2006, my military buddies found out I [co-writing the book Bigfoot Exterminators, Inc: The Partially Cautionary, Mostly True Tale of Monster Hunt 2006.] That book was a prank. And it’s since become a long-running joke with them.
You’re writing a new book, The Mating Habits of Bigfoot and Why Women Want Him. When do you plan on publishing?
My book is a political allegory. I’d thought I’d self publish it. To me, it’s just hilarious. Now I’m trying to figure out when to publish. I don’t want to take away from the respect of the office. I’ll probably publish it after the election.
So do you believe in Bigfoot?
I don’t believe in Bigfoot. I haven’t seen one and I’ve been on multiple expeditions. But I think it’s the great thing about being an American that anybody can believe what they want.
What’s your reaction to Cockburn’s tweets?
It’s one of the most insane tweets in political history. I don’t know if its desperation or what. I’ve only been in the race eight weeks. Maybe satire or humor or being a normal person isn’t part of a political process.
You say there’s different belief systems in Bigfoot communities. How about politics?
People grab onto these belief systems and don’t want to look outside own boxes. In Bigfoot communities, they’re arguing over mythological creatures. In politics, you see people arguing over myths. Why can’t we compromise? Now you see people becoming so tribal, so wrapped up in histrionics, that they can’t see through the trees.
In Bigfoot belief systems, there’s almost this challenge of trying to see other’s point of views and now i see in [that] politics today. You’re going to see more people like me run because they’re tired of tribal mentality.
In a tweet, Cockburn said that you were on camera campaigning with a white supremacist.
I’ve been [running for] office [for] eight weeks. They tried to hook the white supremacy stuff to my predecessor [Republican incumbent Tom Garrett, who met with white nationalist leader Jason Kessler in 2017]. They don’t know what to do with me. I’m not a white supremacist.
I think she [Cockburn] panicked. I thought it was pretty crass. White supremacy is an important subject and to equate that to Bigfoot seems to me to be irresponsible.
Did you ever campaign with a white supremacist?
I’ve never campaigned with a white supremacist. The person they’re talking about it was a kid standing by the wall. I think he was captured by a film crew at a public event. He doesn’t work for our campaign. We don’t know if he’s a white nationalist or not. He’s just a kid.