All is not well in the burgeoning media empire of YouTube political commentator Tim Pool. Amid an acrimonious falling out over who controls the future of a digital news site that Pool helped launch, the YouTube star is facing accusations from former partners that he used a cat named Betsy as a hostage in business negotiations, only handing the pet over after police were called.
“He was trying to use my cat as leverage,” said Emily Molli, Betsy’s owner and a former Pool business partner.
Pool says he never had custody of the cat, whose return to Molli was eventually arranged through an animal shelter and a Maryland sheriff’s lieutenant.
When he’s not facing cat-related accusations, Pool is living the life of a YouTube star.
His videos, based on Pool’s background as a liberal reporter who became a Trump voter after feeling alienated from the modern left, have amassed more than 1.1 billion cumulative views. He has a million-dollar mansion in the Maryland woods, complete with a podcast studio and a skate park. Donald Trump invited him to the White House.
Pool’s business has boomed even as he faces accusations that he’s a major vector for right-wing disinformation. A recent report from a consortium of election-integrity groups listed Pool alongside the likes of Donald Trump Jr. and pro-Trump lawyer Sidney Powell as a “superspreader” for false election information. That doesn’t appear to dissuade his more than three million YouTube subscribers, who can pay $21.99 for a T-shirt bearing the image of Pool’s trademark beanie.
The allegations that Pool used a cat as a bargaining chip in a business dispute go beyond the fate of Betsy, who is now back with Molli in Los Angeles.
The fracas sheds new light on how Pool and his co-founders failed to launch a news site amid infighting, despite more than $1 million in crowdfunded backing. This year was supposed to be the time that Pool’s news company approached 50 staffers and opened satellite offices in Los Angeles and Chicago, according to a pitch deck shown to investors. Instead, Pool has wondered whether his site even exists anymore as a going concern.
In May 2019, Pool, Molli, and a third co-founder launched Subverse, a news site/YouTube channel/news footage service. The site raised more than $1 million on crowdfunding platform WeFunder, with a buzzword-heavy pitch that promised to create a “decentralized news network” boosted by Pool’s massive social-media following and background reporting on protest movements like Occupy Wall Street.
Molli worked as Subverse’s chief content officer, where she was billed as the “queen of content.” In May 2020, Pool brought in Rocco Castoro, a former Vice editor-in-chief who once journeyed to Guatemala to meet with fugitive cybersecurity baron John McAfee, to run the site’s editorial and business operations. Subverse’s name was changed to SCNR, pronounced “scanner,” for several reasons.
“There’s a porn game called ‘Subverse,’ so you can’t really compete with porn on SEO,” Castoro explained recently to The Daily Beast.
Castoro and Molli imbued SCNR with the trash-talking pirate ethos of early Vice. In a November update to SCNR’s backers, the pair promised to “yank what you thought you knew straight out your nose like Tutankhamen’s brain.” They told backers unhappy with a lack of new YouTube videos that “YouTube sucks a fat one,” and advised them to not complain directly through the crowdfunding site “like a ding-dong.”
In response to questions about why Pool appeared to have a diminished role in the site, Castoro and Molli told Pool’s fans to email their “glorious leader.”
“Say a little prayer, maybe he'll see it!” they wrote.
As she traveled the country last year with Castoro to produce videos for SCNR, Molli put her cat in the care of Ian Crossland, one of the co-hosts of Pool’s podcast. Crossland eventually joined a rotating cast of Pool associates living in the Maryland mansion that Pool had purchased in 2020, bringing the cat with him.
Tensions between Pool and his other partners flared this fall over who had access to various internal systems connected to Subverse. Castoro and Molli took the unusual step of investigating Pool themselves, with Castoro claiming he found evidence that Pool was involved in unsavory internet schemes. The Daily Beast was unable to independently confirm Castoro’s allegations, and Pool declined to comment on all allegations made by Castoro and Molli that didn’t relate to the cat, citing “ongoing legal issues.”
That fall and winter, a number of far-right figures appeared at Pool’s Maryland mansion to appear on his internet show as Donald Trump fought his election defeat. They included Infowars conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who helped fund the pro-Trump rally that preceded the Jan. 6 riot, and Proud Boys chairman Enrique Tarrio. Tarrio is now facing felony charges for unlicensed possession of a gun magazine in Washington, D.C. ahead of the riot.
Castoro began posting cryptically about his investigations into Pool on Twitter, taunting Pool, who was ostensibly still his business partner. The fight climaxed on Jan. 6, as Molli prepared to cover protests outside the U.S. Capitol. As Molli filmed the protests that would soon culminate in a riot, Castoro, in Los Angeles and increasingly alienated from Pool, tweeted a cryptic message he now claims would prove that he was aware of some scheme of Pool’s.
It’s difficult to discern the meaning of Castoro’s tweet, which consists of screenshots of IP logs and domain names. Still, the tweet set off Pool, who could apparently understand exactly what Castoro meant.
“Rocco is posting insane shit and private details,” Pool wrote in a text message to Molli.
As the riot began, Pool demanded in a voicemail that Molli return to his home in Maryland immediately.
“You need to call me back right now,” a person whose voice closely resembles Pool’s said in the message, which was shared with The Daily Beast. “I don’t know what you did, but this is beyond serious.”
Pool continued, without naming exactly what he was angry about.
“I don’t know what’s going on, other than what the fuck did you do?” Pool said. “You need to call me back right. This one’s on you. Whatever ends up happening, I had nothing to do with it.”
Asked to explain the voicemail, Pool wrote in an email to The Daily Beast that it “pertains to an internal corporate legal dispute.”
“Much more information on this will be made public in the coming weeks,” Pool told The Daily Beast.
In a labor complaint filed in California, Castoro alleges that Pool “made irrational and angry threats and demands,” demanding that Molli give him the footage Molli shot of the riot. Castoro told The Daily Beast that Molli shot footage during the riot of several Pool associates, including Jones.
“We can only assume he did not want something specifically that was happening at the Capitol to be filmed by Emily that day,” Castoro writes in the labor complaint.
Pool removed Castoro and Molli’s access to SCNR’s YouTube channel on Jan. 6. A day later, Pool officially fired Castoro and Molli, setting off a dispute over who controls what’s left of SCNR and who has equity in the company. Pool continued to ask Molli to visit his remote Maryland mansion, according to Molli.
“I wasn’t going to go to his house, because he was going to try to take my footage,” Molli said.
The growing rift between SCNR’s executives was bad news for Betsy the cat, who was still living in Pool’s Maryland mansion. Molli says Crossland claimed to be unable to help her regain custody of her cat, providing text messages supposedly from Crossland that appear to show him suggesting that Pool, not he, has control over the cat’s fate.
“I can’t get involved with Betsy; you will have to run everything by Tim,” Crossland allegedly wrote to Molli. “She is in good hands until you take her.”
Crossland didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Molli says she was reluctant to send anyone to Pool’s mansion, which looms large in the imaginations of Pool’s former partners. In a recording of a 2020 meeting obtained by The Daily Beast, Pool discusses owning multiple guns and abandoning urban life after living in New York City and deciding that he was “getting the fuck out of cities” after sensing the potential for unspecified “escalation.”
“He’s terrified of cities, because he thinks antifa is going to attack him,” Molli told The Daily Beast.
Pool disputed Molli’s characterization, saying he’s not concerned about antifa.
“I live in the DC area, the political hotspot, and am not worried about antifa,” Pool told The Daily Beast.
Molli was also reluctant to send anyone in her place to Pool’s estate.
“Tim freaks a lot of people out, and telling people you have to go to Tim’s compound in the middle of Maryland freaks people out,” Molli said.
When Molli tried to get her cat back by sending Pool an email offering to send people to pick him up at the house anyway and to pay for a veterinarian visit so the cat could be cleared to fly on an airplane, Pool referred her to his lawyer.
“Any correspondence must go through our attorney,” Pool wrote on Feb. 22. “Please contact them I will not reply to further emails.”
But Wylie Stecklow, a lawyer who had been asked to untangle the fight over SCNR’s future, told Molli he wasn’t handling the increasingly elaborate cat exchange.
“To the extent your question involves a cat or pet, I can affirmatively set forth that I am not representing anyone regarding a cat or pet,” Stecklow wrote in a Feb. 22 email to Molli and Castoro.
“Clients, like cats, come in all stripes,” Stecklow told The Daily Beast. “I did not represent any cat as I do not have the requisite experience to represent cats.”
Molli eventually called the sheriff’s department in Washington County, Maryland, whose jurisdiction includes Pool’s house. While the case wasn’t a straightforward theft case, since Crossland had legally taken custody of the cat from Molli, Washington County Lieutenant Joshua McCauley tried to settle the dispute. He talked to someone who identified himself as Pool in an attempt to get the cat back.
“While the cat was there, communications with the parties broke down because of some ongoing criminal or civil matter between them,” McCauley told The Daily Beast. “Mr. Pool was reluctant to have any contact because of that, so he stated that he really wanted to give the cat back. He didn’t want the cat, but he didn’t really know how to do it without having contact.”
The sheriff’s lieutenant recommended that Pool drop the cat at an animal shelter, where one of Molli’s friends could pick him up in an arrangement that would prevent the cat from entering the shelter’s general adoption system or being put down. After a few days, the exchange took place and one of Molli’s friends flew the cat to Los Angeles.
Pool insisted he never had custody of the cat.
“The cat was never transferred to me, Emily left it with Ian and she was talking with him,” Pool wrote in an email to The Daily Beast. “The Sheriff asked about Ian returning the cat and that was it.”
Molli’s friends celebrated the cat’s safe return by releasing a video under the banner of “The Bobo,” a play on real animal-news website The Dodo. In the place of the extinct bird, the bogus site’s logo featured a rat wearing Pool’s trademark gray beanie.
The fight over SCNR remains unresolved, with the prospect of future conflict between its executives looming. On Tuesday, Castoro claimed yet again he has new proof of Pool’s perfidy. It’s not clear who actually owns the site.
For the cat, though, the saga is over.
“She’s happy,” Molli said.