Congressman Denver Riggleman’s new book, Bigfoot…It’s Complicated, begins with a chapter called “A Discussion on Simian Genitalia.” In other words, Riggleman, who was accused of enjoying “Bigfoot erotica” during his 2018 congressional campaign, is leaning in.
Riggleman defeated Democrat Leslie Cockburn in 2018 despite the Bigfoot story, but will leave Washington having served just one term in Congress. This summer, he lost a COVID-altered drive-through Republican nominating convention to Bob Good, a bible-thumping challenger from the right who jumped in the race because Riggleman officiated a gay wedding between two staffers.
Since his loss, Riggleman has been on an impressive press tour, branding himself as a free-thinking critic of the current Republican Party. He’s one of a handful of Republicans to publicly acknowledge that Joe Biden won the election, and he’s toyed with running for governor as an independent. The Washington Post recently ran a profile of the soon-to-be-former lawmaker, emphasizing Riggleman’s libertarian bent as he sipped bourbon at his distillery in Afton.
Riggleman has also found time to publish Bigfoot…It’s Complicated, a 150-page narrative describing two Bigfoot finding expeditions he took in the 2000s. Led by an unscrupulous expedition leader and accompanied by a handful of true believers, Riggleman forked over a few grand for the privilege of camping out in the woods of Washington and West Virginia to search for the monster.
In the prologue, Riggleman says he’ll deliver “a book about those who believe and what those beliefs encompass;” the book’s subtitle promises an examination of “the politics of true believers—Bigfoot and otherwise.” This is a legitimately intriguing premise. In an era when conspiracy theories are so prominent and so dangerous, it seems possible that real lessons could be gleaned from those devoted to one of America’s most well-known fables.
Before we dive in to whether or not Riggleman manages to teach us anything, I have to note that this book is absolutely jam-packed with Bigfoot sex. I mean it is just so, so horny. Riggleman says he’s not a fan of Bigfoot erotica—“I do not dabble in monster porn, although my wife does call me her silverback,” he writes, a line that might give pause to patrons of the couple’s Silverback Distillery—but throughout the story he misses no opportunity to get lascivious.
“How could someone kink-shame those gentle souls who take delight in the soulful, passionate moan of Sasquatch?” he wonders, half-joking. Once he’s out in the wilderness, searching for the monsters alongside a handful of Bigfoot devotees, he regularly points out his compatriots’ interest in Bigfoot’s “massive pecker.” When a Bigfoot believer tells Riggleman that human singing lures the creatures—yes, creatures, plural—Riggleman speculates that, should the lead singer of Journey appear and deliver a solo, “we’d have to fight off scores of salivating Bigfoot Mamas peeking from behind trees ready to mate, probably rubbing their grotesquely ridged nipples against tree bark.” Thank you for that image, Congressman.
Though he clearly finds Bigfoot, shall we say, compelling, Riggleman isn’t interested in laying out a case for the creature’s existence. He writes that “it would be cool if Bigfoot existed,” but he spends most of the story positioning himself above the fray. The group of Bigfoot devotees who make up the rest of the expedition party are foolish and hopeless, Riggleman believes—he calls them “excellent fodder for my upcoming book” and says he “couldn’t care less about their opinions or suggestions.”
For a man who claims to find the unknown so captivating, Riggleman is remarkably incurious when it comes to his companions. What made these people first believe in Bigfoot? Can they ever shake that belief? These questions largely go unasked, and unanswered.
Instead, he lionizes his friend and fellow expedition-goer Spinner, a state trooper, for his “brutal and often spot-on observations about Bigfoot sightings, falsification of evidence, and financial shenanigans,” which “infuriated believers and organizers alike” on the trip. (Conspiracy theories are, of course, famously susceptible to clear logic and spot-on observations.)
To be sure, the Bigfoot believers Riggleman encounters are off their rockers—some say Bigfoot is a benevolent extraterrestrial, others think scores of prehistoric Bigfoot roam the earth, most agree Bigfoot smells like fish. But the congressman, even out there in the woods with nothing else to do, doesn’t push any further. Maybe these Bigfoot believers are really nuts, but maybe they know something we don’t about how beliefs come to be—either way, Riggleman isn’t interested in finding out.
The most galling part of the story, though, is that Riggleman doesn’t see the irony at its center.
This man, who spends most of the book punching down at conspiracy believers, spent two years working for Trump’s Republican Party, a misinformation machine that has managed to convince a large chunk of America that the last presidential election was fraudulent, global warming is no big deal, and coronavirus is nothing to worry about.
In October, Riggleman co-sponsored a House resolution condemning QAnon, an unfounded conspiracy theory that claims a group of deep-state pedophiles is organizing a coup against Trump. The theory has been endorsed by a handful of newly elected Republican representatives.
But though he’s criticized Republicans in recent weeks, Riggleman was no maverick during his time in Washington. Yes, he officiated a gay wedding, but he also voted with Trump 93 percent of the time, per FiveThirtyEight; about a third of Republicans disagreed with the president more often than Riggleman did. Riggleman voted against offshore drilling regulations, against raising the minimum wage, against creating a path to citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants, and against impeachment. During his re-election campaign, he gladly accepted Trump’s endorsement. He doesn’t date from a saner, pre-Trump era—he threw his hat in the ring in 2018, after Trump had been the party’s standard-bearer for two years. Don’t get me wrong: It is important for Republicans to loudly disavow misinformation like QAnon. But it’s also wrong to pretend that Trump acolytes like Riggleman weren’t complicit in its rise.
So why do people believe in Bigfoot, or QAnon, or election fraud, or the idea that COVID isn’t real? “I think people fool themselves into thinking they see things just to fit in with others,” Riggleman concludes near the end of the tale. A member of the expedition party who claims to have seen the creature “might be lying,” Riggleman says, “But I think she wants to be included in the Bigfoot inner circle.”
There’s some truth in that analysis, but plenty of people managed to get that far without having to squat in the woods with night vision goggles on. And it’s pretty rich to hear that message coming from this messenger.
Over the weekend, Riggleman’s replacement, Bob Good, appeared at a Trump rally in northern Virginia. “It’s so good to see your faces,” Good said to the maskless crowd in front of him. “This looks like a group of people that gets that this is a phony pandemic.”
It is not, of course, a phony pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of people and counting have died. More are dying each day. Why do people swallow this misinformation? What can we do to change their minds? How can we stop the next Bob Good?
These are among the defining questions of our political moment, and perhaps Bigfoot could’ve helped us answer them. But when Denver Riggleman went looking, the monster slipped into the forest yet again.