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One of the most bizarre threads in the new Netflix docuseries on former Oklahoma zookeeper Joe Exotic (and let's face it, there's tough competition) involves his long-shot bid for the presidency followed by an equally unlikely bid for Oklahoma governor.
As documented in "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness," Exotic, who is currently in prison after being convicted on murder-for-fire charges, was helped in both long-shot political races by Joshua Dial. Dial, an Oklahoma resident and former Walmart manager, began by handing out bumper stickers for Exotic's write-in campaign for the presidency in 2016. He then graduated to running Exotic's entire campaign during his 2017 gubernatorial bid, he told Oxygen.com.
The campaign trail for Exotic's Libertarian Party bid was grueling work, according to Dial. He noted in the documentary he didn't think Exotic even knew what being a Libertarian meant when he ran for the party nomination. Ultimately, Exotic — whose legal name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage — ended up placing third in the primary despite extensive media coverage.
"I already knew he was batshit crazy from our conversations at Walmart. I was a manager at the Walmart at the time, I worked at the ammo section. He would come in and buy bullets like every day," Dial told "Tiger King." "Joe Exotic for governor — he thought he was going to win!"
Dial also emphasized to Oxygen.com he had a good grasp of Exotic's character when he went to work for him.
"I knew Joe’s reputation when I went to work for him," Dial told Oxygen.com. "What I didn’t know was how much it would take out of me. I was prepared to take heat from all sides for Joe; it would take an exceptional candidate for me to ever want to do it again."
Despite the experience, Dial said he still has an interest in politics and met interesting people working on the Exotic ticket.
"I met some amazing people on the campaign trail, particularly in the Libertarian Party," Dial told Oxygen.com.
Dial would be linked to Exotic further after he witnessed the death of Exotic's 23-year-old husband, Travis Maldonado, in 2017. The docuseries features security footage of the day that Maldonado — attempting to demonstrate his pistol would not fire without a clip — accidentally shot himself in the head, a tragic moment Dial was present for while working at an office at the zoo for the campaign.
"I was sitting in a chair looking at him when he put a gun to his head," Dial told the docuseries. "It's not like on the movies ... I knew he was dead the second he pulled the trigger, but at the same time I didn't. I thought it was a joke."
Soon after the end of his political campaign, Exotic became embroiled in a federal investigation of his animal operation that resulted in his arrest. He was soon charged with violating the Endangered Species Act and additionally faced murder-for-hire charges alleging he tried to hire someone to kill animal rights activist Carole Baskin.
Exotic was found guilty in 2019 of the charges, with prosecutors saying he killed multiple tigers to make room for younger tigers and promised to pay $3,000 to a hitman to kill Baskin.
Dial feels the sentence of 22 years handed down to Exotic earlier this year was "excessive" and called the murder-for-hire charges a "set up."
"What I mean by set up is this: Had no one presented Joe with the opportunity to have Carole killed, he would never have done it. That, in my opinion, is entrapment, and I do not agree with entrapment, it’s un-American," Dial told Oxygen.com.
Where Is Joshua Dial Now?
Dial has worked to put his experience with Exotic and his park behind him, telling Oxygen.com he does not keep in touch with anyone from that period of his life — explaining he is now engaged to be married and wants to move past the "pain" of that time.
"I have tried to move on, and I have been successful so far. I was given a new life and a second chance when I met my fiancée; I have no desire to bring any of that pain into my life," Dial told Oxygen.com.
He still lives in Oklahoma and doesn't currently work in politics, citing his experience with seeing Maldonado die as part of the reason he left the field.
"I have a hard time sitting in offices now, I think it’s related to how Travis killed himself in the office at the zoo," Dial told Oxygen.com, respectfully declining to say where he is working now.
While he told Oxygen.com in March he feared watching the docuseries because he didn’t want to "re-traumatize" himself, he has since viewed it and liked it. He revealed in “The Tiger King and I” — a follow-up aftershow episode which aired Easter weekend — that he thought the docuseries was fair and enjoyable.
Dial told Joel McHale, the host of “The Tiger King and I” that he has not yet been able to afford therapy.
“What my plan is, is hopefully I’m going to be able to raise some money — enough to get me some counseling, get on my meds — and once I’m back stable and ready to go, I want to jump back into campaigning for sure,” he said.
He previously told Oxygen.com that he hopes that people, as a result of the docuseries’ success, will understand the dire straits that tigers face as a species.
"I would hope that the spotlight on the big cat industry in America has opened the eyes of everyday people. Prior to working at a zoo, I had no idea there were more tigers in captivity than there are in the wild. People now have that information, I hope that the use of that information will lead to improvement in the efforts to protect these creatures and their natural habitats," Dial told Oxygen.com.
Gina Tron contributed to this report.
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