House Hopefuls Post Videos of Snake Killings

(CN) – A GOP congressional candidate from South Dakota has joined a list of lawmakers from around the nation who have posted videos of themselves using weapons against animals – or in one case, a cap-and-trade bill.

In 2014, U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa posted a video in which she boasted of castrating pigs on her way to victory. In 2010, Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia fired a rifle into a cap-and-trade bill. Now, a South Dakota Republican vying for a U.S. House seat in 2018 has posted a video depicting his execution of a rattlesnake – and he’s not the first snake-killing candidate in the race.

On Thursday, former governor’s chief of staff Dusty Johnson tweeted a video of himself wielding an ax to decapitate a rattlesnake intruding on a campfire. The video ends with children chanting “Dusty! Dusty!” while the aspiring congressman holds up the lifeless serpent across the blade.

“We had 50 teenagers running around and a rattlesnake who wasn’t moving of his own volition, so somebody had to do something, and I wasn’t thinking about politics,” Johnson said in a phone interview, adding the ax he found in a machine shed was “rusty.”

A year ago, Johnson’s opponent for the House seat, South Dakota Secretary of State Shantel Krebs, posted a video of herself holding a dead 32-inch rattlesnake she had shot with her handgun on her family’s property.

“And I pulled the buttons off,” she said in front of a windswept background. “These are my badge of honor.”

Krebs’ video made the news circuit across South Dakota in the summer of 2016, but Johnson discouraged any comparison.

“I knew of her video,” Johnson, who described Krebs as a friend, said. “But this in no way is a response.”

He added, “It’s South Dakota, and you’re going to encounter rattlesnakes.”

Johnson, a Ft. Pierre/Pierre native, said it wasn’t his first time killing a snake. This time, he’d been appearing at a camp for Republican teenagers held every summer in the Black Hills.

“It’s a great way to get kids involved in leadership, and we do some fun things, too,” he said.

Asked if he feels this will appeal to a hard-right, Gadsden flag-waving base, Johnson laughed.

“Maybe I’ll have an assistant photoshop my image holding that snake onto a flag,” he said.

In a phone interview, Rapid City-based Reptile Gardens reptile curator Terry Phillip said killing a rattlesnake only incentivizes more rattlesnakes to show up, as it opens up a hole in the ecosystem.

“The best thing you can do is to spray that snake with a water hose, and teach him he’s not wanted there,” Phillip said.

He said instructing people on proper management of rattlesnakes, however, is difficult in the face of a “rancher mentality.”

Last year a rancher in western South Dakota died after a rattlesnake bit him. Phillip said it was the first rattlesnake-related death recorded in the state in 70 years.

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