The war began when a fascist party and its armband-clad leader led a putsch. Antifascists mobilized in response. Threats of violence ensued.
Then the Rocky Mountain Fur Con canceled all future events.
The Fur Con is an annual summit in Denver, Colorado, for “furries,” people who present themselves as animals, from donning full-body fur suits to adopting “fursonas” for their character. And just as in the rest of America, a lot of furries resemble Nazis lately.
In Colorado, this splinter group calls itself the Furry Raiders. In 2016 the Raiders sent fur flying when they reserved a large block of Fur Con hotel rooms, sparking a fight that has lasted a year and led to death threats, allegations of tax evasion, intrigue around a suspected sovereign citizen, and the discovery of a sex offender on the Fur Con board. On Monday, Fur Con leaders chickened out of the convention altogether.
The Furry Raiders’ leader, a man named Foxler who dresses in a fox suit with a Nazi-like armband (no swastika, only a paw print), told The Daily Beast the convention’s cancellation all stems from a big misunderstanding.
“You could say a whole bunch of unfortunate events led to the particular issue,” he said.
Foxler claims he’s not trying to evoke Hitler, never mind his name (a combination of “Fox” and his supposed surname “Miller”), his Nazi-like armband (he says is based on a character in an old video game), or pictures of him throwing his arm up in a Nazi-like salute (an accident, he said).
Fascist furries are nothing new, but until recently, “they were rare individuals who were more interested in uniform fetish than espousing Nazi ideology,” Deo, another furry told The Daily Beast.
But the rise of the alt-right has ushered in the #AltFurry, a hashtag under which right-leaning furries can organize, and the uninitiated can encounter more cartoon rabbits in Nazi uniform than they possibly expected to see in their lifetimes.
So-called alt-furries are also organizing offline in groups like the Furry Raiders, which Foxler leads. Although the Furry Raiders “do not have any political agenda or stance as a group,” the group says on its website, many wear the same armband as Foxler. Foxler says he’s never paid much attention to World War II history, and didn’t notice the similarities.
But Foxler’s claims aren’t enough for many mainstream furries, who accuse him and the Furry Raiders of being far-right and using strong-arm tactics to manipulate Colorado’s furry scene.
“They are an organization with a very confusing past and a very confusing history,” Zachary Brooks, chairman of the Fur Con told The Daily Beast. “The community had taken a lot of issue regarding some symbolism that the head of the Furry Raiders had chosen to utilize for his group. It was causing a lot of controversy.”
Every year, Fur Con reserves a block of hotel rooms for convention-goers, who rent out individual rooms for the August convention. But in 2016, the Furry Raiders snatched up a large portion of the reserved rooms, in what other furries condemned as a power grab.
“When I realized what hotel it was gonna be at, I went to the hotel the next day and signed up for a corporate account,” Foxler said, adding he booked at least 30 rooms. “I had like a spare 10 extra rooms.”
Fur Con organizers and attendees were displeased.
“Despite direct communications with them, the Denver-based group known as the Furry Raiders declined to drop their reservations at the Crowne Plaza,” Brooks wrote convention attendees in a statement last April. “We have exhausted all of the means that we have to officially try to get them to release the rooms, but we’re sorry to say that neither the convention nor the hotel currently have policies in place to prevent this behavior, though we strongly disapprove of it.”
“It ended up being a significant portion of rooms that prevented our other attendees from coming in and enjoying the convention,” Brooks told The Daily Beast. “It was seen by many as a malicious act by them to try to control who could and couldn’t attend. So that’s what really began the controversy with them.”
Outrage at the overbooking led other convention-goers to research the group holding the hotel rooms hostage, a former organizer named Newlyn said. And when furries started investigating the Furry Raiders, they said they uncovered ties between the group and leaders of the Fur Con.
“I think that particular situation was a start to the overall cause-and-effect that followed,” Newlyn told The Daily Beast of the hotel room dispute. “Announcement of investigations led to people inside and outside the Convention doing their own research, leading to the outlash of public opinion regarding [the Fur Con], and the need for change in the community.”
And in the ensuing months, the furry community did some soul-searching. While the #AltFurry hashtag grew in popularity at the tail end of 2016 and into 2017, a left-wing movement rose to meet them. The antifa furry movement coalesced around a rallying cry of “Nazi Furs Fuck Off,” and began organizing to block perceived Nazis from furry gatherings.
In January 2017, the Furry Raiders’ hotel putsch was still on some anti-fascist furs’ minds when a group began discussing the Furry Raiders on Twitter.
“My friend made a tweet and I responded with a joke saying ‘can’t wait to punch these nazis,’” Deo said.
Deo said she had not planned on attending the Fur Con. She wrote the tweet days after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, during which a protester had punched Richard Spencer in the face, inspiring a viral video and a meme about punching Nazis.
Then someone on Twitter told Deo she would enjoy watching Deo get shot at the convention.
Deo reached out to Fur Con organizers to warn them of the gun threat. The Marriott hotel where the convention was scheduled to take place also learned of the threat. The hotel consulted with Denver Police who deemed the exchange a credible threat. The Marriott asked Fur Con organizers to provide a security force, which would have cost over $20,000, about a third of the convention’s operating budget, according to Brooks. But Deo said the convention organizers were slower to respond.
“I emailed RMFC [Rocky Mountain Fur Con] security to warn them of the threat,” Deo said. “RMFC never responded to my email.”
Instead, Deo received a strange letter in the mail late last month. Snail mail is a big deal for furries, many of whom choose not to reveal their real names, let alone their home addresses. And the notice—purportedly a cease and desist order—that found its way to Deo’s home was full of threatening pseudo-legal jargon. It was signed by Kendal Emery, the Fur Con founder who still sat on the convention’s board.
Introducing himself as a member of the Fur Con board, Emery claimed to be “in possession of what appears as False statements issued by you and your other potentially damaging criminal activities causing substantial commercial injury damages against us and ours and possible other plaintiffs including but not limited to Furry Raiders… and many other yet to be discovered and named in a possible class action lawsuit as we continue to investigate these potential crimes.”
Emery also blamed Deo for the gun threat she received, and accused her of incitement to riot and “criminal activities such as creating an entire meme… that we are something we are not which may rise to the level of felonious activities.”
Finally, the letter banned Deo from Fur Con.
At the bottom was Emery’s red fingerprint, a symbol sometimes used by members of the sovereign citizen movement, who believe themselves independent of the U.S. legal system. “My first thought was it was a fake letter, sent by someone trying to threaten me,” Deo said. “But I looked into it and the letter sent on behalf of RMFC by Kendal Emery was real. So I talked to a few lawyers, who explained how the letter was crazy bullshit. I hired one to write a response letter anyway, even if there was no need to reply to this sovereign citizen mess.”
She also tweeted a copy of the letter. Furries were quick to point out its irregularities. The letter banned Deo from ever attended the Fur Con, a significant move from Emery, who had previously boasted of never banning conference attendees, according to Dogpatch Press, a furry news site. Furries began sifting through old stories of Emery’s past and speculating whether he was a sovereign citizen.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, Emery denied being a sovereign citizen.
“I am a citizen of the United States,” Emery said. The red fingerprint at the bottom of his self-issued legal letter, “just means it’s me that wrote it.”
Brooks said Emery had written the letter, but that it had Fur Con’s blessing.
“The letter was initiated by him,” Brooks told The Daily Beast. “The board was aware of it, but he made the final decision to send it.”
Emery’s account was slightly different. “That was the opinion of the whole [Fur Con] board,” he said of the decision to ban Deo and send her the wild legal threat.
The letter’s ambiguous origin led some furries to speculate that the Fur Con was over-friendly with the Furry Raiders, whom the letter named as possible plaintiffs in a class-action suit over Deo’s tweets.
Deo offered up what she said is evidence of Emery’s association with the Furry Raiders, a video showing Emery and Foxler play-fighting at the 2016 convention. Emery told The Daily Beast that he and Foxler were friends, but said that friendship did “absolutely not” contribute to his decision to ban Deo.
Alarmed by the letter, furries demanded greater accountability from the conference, demanding the Fur Con disavow fascists in their ranks.
But when they dug into the convention and its leaders, they found other problems.
Until recently, the Fur Con claimed to be run by a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, but furry news site Flayrah found that the convention’s parent company had its nonprofit status revoked in 2011 by the IRS for “failure to file a Form 990-series return or notice for three consecutive years.” (Brooks told The Daily Beast that, while they had lost their federal tax-exempt status, they were still registered as a state nonprofit in Colorado.)
Then the furries learned Emery was a registered sex offender for his 1993 conviction for sexual contact with a minor. Emery’s past had been something of an open secret since 2008, when furry forums got wind of his criminal history and he stepped down as head of the convention in 2008.
“They decided to drag up my past, which has nothing to do with this,” Emery told The Daily Beast, chalking the furries’ motivation up to “when you are losing an argument, you do your best to discredit your foe in any way you can.”
On Monday, it was announced Fur Con was canceled—possibly for good.
“Last month, we were faced with a sudden and drastic increase in security costs amounting to more than a third of our entire existing operating budget,” Brooks wrote in a statement. “This cost increase stemmed directly from the very public threats of violence against one another by members of this community, as well as the negative backlash from misinformation spread about the convention, its staff and attendees. Therefore, Rocky Mountain Fur Con 2017 is officially canceled. I will no longer continue to subject my staff and our community to the lies, hate, violence and slander that was disseminated by a small, vocal minority.”
If the statement was vague about who it considered to be the “vocal minority” spreading “lies, hate, violence and slander,” Emery was not. He told The Daily Beast that Deo’s joke about punching a Nazi, and not the threat of a gun led police to declare Fur Con a security risk.
“First of all, the person who [made the gun threat] wasn’t a Furry Raider, and second of all, if it was, all she said was it would be funny if somebody did bring a gun shot you,” Emery said, adding that, “I don’t think that would be funny, I think that would be tragic.”
“All the stories about ‘oh, we closed because I’m a sex offender,’ ‘we closed because of tax evasion,’ no,” Emery said. “We closed because of the violence.”
Former attendees said the closure came as a disappointment. “I’ve gone to this con in the past and sincerely enjoyed myself,” one person wrote on the Fur Con’s Facebook page after the cancellation. “I’m sorry to see it crash and burn due to utterly incompetent leadership.”
“I am saddened by the shutdown,” Newlyn, the former volunteer, said. “It has affected a large number of people not only here in Colorado but around the world, some of whom could only attend RMFC each year due to real-life responsibilities. I have eight years of great memories from this Convention, and I’ll cherish them forever.”
Even though she hadn’t planned on attending the convention, Deo said the experience has been rattling.
“I’m upset they threatened me, called me a criminal, made up lies, impersonated an attorney, and are trying to make the villain for speaking publicly about the letter they should never have sent,” she said.
Brooks said he has no plans to start a new convention, and Emery said he “will not be involved in another convention ever.”
For now, the Colorado furry community’s alt-right and anti-fascists will have to hash out their differences outside the convention hall.
“The main issue that led to the shutdown was the conflict between the Furry Raiders and the antifa furs,” Brooks said. “It was not what we wanted to do.”
Foxler said he doesn’t understand how the situation got so out of hand.
“I’m really furry,” he said. “I don’t see human problems.”