My first impressions of furries– people that dress up as cartoon animal characters of their own invention, known as “fursonas” were from the media pieces I saw in the late 90s and early 2000s, which were overall pretty unkind. Vanity Fair and MTV did hit pieces on furries and an infamous episode of CSI that used the fandom as a plot only added to their sordid reputation. At best these portrayals were mocking, mean, and depicted furries as being just a weird sex fetish. At worst they implied that adults dressed as cartoonish animals equated pedophilia, bestiality, or both.
Last year, I conducted a “2020 Furry Fandom” survey of 275 furries, and in a question that asked what they felt the biggest misconception of the subculture was, almost 100% answered that they felt that they were viewed as a fetish community or were mainly about sex.
Sex between consenting adults dressed as foxes, tigers, hyenas, cats, coyotes, leopards, and other animals is a thing, as well as art depicting it (just Google “furry erotic art” if you want a NSFW eyefull), but it isn’t what the fandom is all about– furries are about art and music and socializing at conventions and just having fun celebrating their love of anthropomorphic animals.
Media and thus the public in general has perhaps started to come around from early harsh takes with articles like “Inside the misunderstood culture of Furries,”( a CNN headline) and the stigma has dissipated a bit. Perhaps the best example of this is Anthrocon, a furry convention that takes place in Pittsburgh every year (except during the pandemic, of course). Anthrocon is one of Pittsburgh’s biggest events, attracting thousands of “furs” from around the world each year, who bring tourist money with them. Anthrocon started in 1997 and moved to Pittsburgh in 2005, steadily growing there, with 2019 attendance being 9,358 furry fans and included a parade of over 2,000 people in “fursuits,” which is what furry costumes are called.
The city has embraced the subculture with a big, hairy hug– local businesses put up signs and banners and issue specials for their furry customers. And the furries reciprocate– when word got out that one of the convention’s favorite eating spots, Fernando’s Downtown Cafe (owner Fernando DeCarvalho changes the sign to read “Furnando’s Furryland Cafe” during the convention) had hit hard financial times and was likely to close, furries from around the world crowd-funded over $23,000 to save the business.
The “Furry fandom” as it’s usually referred, has roots that can be traced to sci-fi conventions in California in the 1980s. In his book Furry Nation: The True Story of America’s Most Misunderstood Subculture, author (and furry) Joe Strike does an excellent job researching the roots of the furry breed. Fans of anthropomorphic animal comics and cartoons began hosting “furry parties” in hotel rooms at the conventions where they watched cartoons, passed around comic books and drew illustrations of each other or themselves as cartoon animals. There was a strong enough interest that the first furry themed convention, ConFurence, took place at a Holiday Inn in Costa Mesa, California in January 1989. 65 people attended, but attendance doubled the next year and continued to grow. As the fandom grew and spread around the world, more conferences began to appear.
Some of the noteworthy furry gatherings today include Midwest FurFest, held in Chicago, which has become the biggest fur convention (11,019 in 2019), closely followed by the aforementioned Anthrocon in Pittsburgh and several conventions with attendance in the 4,000-5,000 range in Reno, Atlanta, Dallas, San Jose, and Orlando. Outside the states, Berlin’s Eurofurence drew 3,412 furs from Germany and beyond in 2019, and other conferences take place in Sweden, Taiwan, Australia, Mexico, the Philippines, and Russia– truly a global phenomenon.
With such a large following– multiple sources estimate the world fur population to be about 1 million– different philosophies about the fur life have emerged.
In the early 2000s for example, there were a group of furries who called themselves the “Burned Furs.” They were sick of media portrayals of furries as sex freaks, so they launched a sort of moral movement to “clean house” and attempt to remove any whiff of erotica from the scene. Imagine being confronted by a group of people dressed as dogs, foxes, and giant mice for selling artwork depicting anthropomorphic otter men in flagrante delicto— get that stuff out of here!
“(The Burned Furs) organized and they were like ‘we are against degeneracy’– they were very puritanical about all that, like ‘we are going to cleanse and return it back to normal people,’” explained Patch O’Furr, the fursona of a reporter who runs the site Dogpatch Press. “Well, what is normal? The thing is, (furries) are not normal people– we don’t want to be conformists. We’re not here to get careers, we’re here to make our own stuff that people are making themselves that has the sex, drugs, rock and roll, all that kind of freedom, it’s DIY. So the whole DIY fandom was pinned against an internal conformist reactionary movement–the Burned Furs. It sort of blew up in the 90s and it fell apart because of infighting, backstabbing each other and they just disappeared.”
Patch’s furry news site, Dogpatch Press, promises “fluff pieces every week,” but that tagline is a misleading understatement because Patch routinely uncovers hard news and sometimes dark and terrifying stories in the furry fandom. He’s the furry equivalent of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the reporters who busted open Watergate for The Washington Post.
When I saw this car-crash gawking headline from Newsweek: “Neo-Nazi Furries are Trump’s Latest and Most Puzzling Alt-Right Supporter,” I knew I would have to find an expert to explain to me just what the hell was going on. Patch was absolutely the dog for the job.
Patch at first had a mild interest in furries. He was an animator and he encountered them at a convention. He loved cartoons, weird stuff, and subcultures, so he appreciated the scene. He moved from the east coast to San Francisco and his interest grew in 2011 when he saw that a gay bar in his neighborhood, The Eagle, was hosting a furry party night. He decided to attend.
“I realized ‘oh my God, these guys I ran into in the 90s, they’re having a party down the street from me, a dance party!’ I was like ‘this is crazy, this is too crazy and weird, and it sounds fun,’” Patch recalled. “I was like ‘I don’t know if I’m going to fit in, but I will just go check it out.’ I showed up and it blew my mind, because it’s like here are these six foot tall, fully costumed cartoon characters that you can touch, and they were dancing and shit and it was wild– music, the drinks were flowing. I was like ‘holy shit!’”
Patch decided the fur life was for him, so he started working on his fursona–a scrappy dog with star-shaped shades, suspenders, and costumes ranging from punk rocker to man-on-the-street reporter. He started blogging about furries on LiveJournal, but decided to try to build an audience and launched Dogpatch Press in 2012. He started becoming active in the scene, going to conventions and posting reports. He also helps organize a league of furries– usually a couple hundred that participates in San Francisco’s annual pride parade.
But in December 2014, Patch found himself unraveling a terrible story, a dark turn from his usual stories of colorful furry fun. At the Midwest FurFest, a chemical attack was unleashed on the furries.
“Somebody went up to the 10th floor of the hotel and dropped a bunch of chlorine powder, like concentrated chlorine pool chemicals, it might have been activated with something like sprinkling some bleach on it or something, so that it made some sort of chlorine gas. I’m not sure– they botched the testing, which is a big part of the story,” Patch said. “19 people went to the hospital with burns to the lungs, some people were pretty seriously harmed for a long time– out of work for a year, that type of thing. Nobody died, I think everyone recovered, but it was bad. This was at midnight, so you had thousands of people evacuated out onto the street from whatever they were doing, they had just come out of parties and there’s fire trucks everywhere, everyone is freaking out, people are really afraid, they didn’t even know what was going on. So besides 19 people going to the hospital, it had like, a psychological effect.”
And then, to add insult to injury, the media rolled in.
“(They were) like, look at these weird silly people, and it was like comedy to some of them. Like there was a news anchor that was reporting on it and on air someone whispers in her ear what these people are like– ‘oh they wear animal costumes, psst psst psst,’ and she suddenly broke down in the middle of reporting this serious story and ran out off the set laughing,” Patch said bitterly. He’s referring to Mika Brezezinski, reporting on MSNBC’s Morning Joe. “A lot of people were like ‘look at these fucking media assholes, just once again treating us like a laughing stock during this really serious moment.’”
Afterward, Patch set to work trying to figure out who the perpetrator was, interviewing convention staff and doing detective work on potential suspects. Although he doesn’t have hard evidence, he’s pretty confident he tracked down who it was, a guy known as the “Confederate Fursuiter,” a red, white, and blue fox or coyote with the stars and bars emblazoned in his fur along the entire back of his costume.
“This guy had a long felony record, he was jailed for a kind of chemical attack on a bank, and he was very dedicated as a troll inside of the community,” Patch explained. He found that he also worked as a lifeguard, a possible lead to where the chlorine chemicals came from. And he had connections to Alt-Right groups. “He had actually been detained by the police, so from everything that I’ve seen I would be really surprised if this guy was not the guy. It could be the case that he was part of several people, but I kind of doubt it, I think it was just this guy acting alone.”
The incident showed Patch that there were dark forces infiltrating the furry community.
“There were these bad actors that were using this subculture, this was the same time that Gamergate was starting to be a thing, this was like the proto Alt-Right, they were encouraged in these online spaces,” Patch said. “I started looking into it in 2016, writing a little bit about what Trump could mean to society in general and also to marginalized people– this is going to be bad for LGBT people, I started writing about that.”
Patch’s work shows the importance of subculture insider media– without Patch’s exposes, the Alt-furry presence would have probably festered silently, a rumor whispered about on conference floors instead of shared in a report. The Midwest FurFest chemical attack was really just a warm-up for Patch’s next big story– the Rocky Mountain Fur Con and their Alt-Right furry fiasco.
In April 2017, Patch busted an explosive story wide open. He discovered that the Rocky Mountain Fur Con in Denver was being run by members who identified as “Alt-Furries.” The most infamous of these groups was the Furry Raiders, led by Foxler Nightfire (Patch says “Foxler” is a mashup of “fox” and “Hitler”) of Fort Collins, a fox fursona in Nazi uniform, sporting an odd symbol of cuteness and hate: the pawstika, exactly what it sounds like– a paw print replacing the swastika in the armband of the Nazi Party. Patch says he estimates that there are currently about a hundred to two hundred Alt-Furries operating in 5 or 6 organized groups, but might be diminishing because of infighting.
In my Furry Fandom Survey, one of the questions asked if furries were familiar with Alt-Furries and if they had encountered them at conventions or other events. Several said “no,” but a majority said that they were familiar with Alt-Furries or Nazifurs and had encountered them online or in person.
“Unfortunately, yes, I’m aware of this group, I’ve been fortunate enough not to encounter them too much, but I do keep aware of them so that I know which people in the fandom to avoid,” answered a furry.
Several others said they had encountered the Alt-Furries muzzle-to-muzzle.
“They’re insufferable,” another furry replied. “I’m glad to see several of the worst ones have been told to leave and never return. Bigotry is not a valid expression.” A furry who was a volunteer at the Alamo City Furry Invasion event answered that they had found someone had left Alt-Furry literature “scattered on table.” Others said they had spotted them at conventions or “furmeets.” But most commonly, people said they had argued with or been harassed by them online.
“The encounters used to be constant online, forever grateful I enabled the Alt-Furry block lists,” replied one of the survey respondents.
“I wrote an expose about the Nazis invading the convention in Denver, the Rocky Mountain Fur Con. I had gotten into that because people had seen my writing and they said ‘we should talk to Patch, because he seems like he should be able to help us.’” Patch said. “These were people local to Denver and they said they were going to stage a walkout if they didn’t stop these Nazis from coming, because the people running the convention were in cahoots with the Nazis, it was just like a 7 layer shit cake– just drama and scandal. I wrote about it and it blew up and the convention shut down 12 hours after I published. I was going to publish this so it was out there and then the staff were going to demand things, and walk off if they didn’t get their demands, but they shut down first.”
There was backlash. Patch said Alt-Furries targeted CaliFur, the next big convention after the cancelled Denver convention, calling the hotel to try to get them to shut the convention down. One of the people making the calls was an organizer of the Unite the Right event in Charlottesville, according to Patch. A similar round came when a new “no Nazis allowed” furry convention started up to replace Rocky Mountain Fur Con, called DenFur. Alt-Furries “tried to book all the hotel rooms to fraud the convention so it would start up and have nobody paying– all these rooms would be booked and then nobody would show, that was their fraud scheme,” Patch told me.
The Alt-Furries seem to have been beaten back in the years since the Denver fiasco and Patch explained that they are “burning embers buried underneath. They are still there, still plotting stuff.”
A major blow to the Alt-Furries was when one of their leaders, the aforementioned Foxler Nightfire, was arrested in 2019 for allegations he had sex with a minor at a furry convention in 2015. That’s a story that Patch continues to cover on Dogpatch Press.
Alt-Furries might seem baffling, but hate groups have long tried to infiltrate subcultures and social movements. They see these disenfranchised people who are outside of society as potential recruits. Neo-nazis hijacked the skinhead aesthetic and have long creeped around punk, metal, and neo-folk scenes. Recently, the yoga and wellness community have had a QAnon problem. So it makes sense then that the Alt-Right, which tries to portray itself as a hip, funny movement based on memes and trolling would attempt to put on a fursuit and sneak into the furry subculture.
In 2019 Alt-Right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos posted on his Telegram account (he had been banned from Twitter) a picture of a snow leopard fursuit and a ticket to Midwest FurFest, but once the event organizers were notified, he was banned from the event.
In my 2020 Furry Fandom survey, one of the multiple choice questions was “Which of these, in your opinion, is the right response to Alt-Furies?” The strongest response, with 50.18% was “They should be confronted and banned from conventions,” followed by “ignore them, they can be debated if needed” at 24.54% and 21.97% answered “I don’t care” or “none of these answers.”
1.47% (4 respondents) answered that they were Alt-Furries.
One response to the invasion of Alt-Furries is yes, you guessed it: Antifa Furries. A person who identifies as Antifa I interviewed for a Shepherd Express article told me that any time in history you find fascism gathering in the streets, people will show up to confront them. As it turns out, that confrontation might involve both parties dressed as dogs and foxes. An Anti-fascist Furries group created patches and other work that read “Nazi Furs Fuck Off” (ala the Dead Kennedy’s “Nazi Punks Fuck Off.” By the way, Patch did a great interview with Jello Biafra and discovered his fursona would be the lamprey eel on the cover of his band Lard’s The Power of Lard album). Another design shows the Antifa symbol of the three arrows of the Iron Front shooting over a paw.
The fight carries on, the fur continues to fly. And Dogpatch Press will be there to report it.
Dogpatch Press can be found at: dogpatch.press and on social media.
Tea’s Weird Week, episode 06: Tea talks more with Patch O’Furr on his introduction to the furry fandom and some of the major stories he’s dug up, then Tea and Heidi share weird news: Flat Earthers…in space? Scottish Bigfoot? Football energy rituals? New cave paintings discovered in Tanzania and the guy who says he made a guitar out of his uncle’s skeleton- fact or faked? Plus trivia, cryptid poll results, and we close out with a track by Avian Invasion, “Carnival of Animals.” And check out original art of the Tea’s Weird Week staff’s fursonas by David Beyer below!
Listen here: https://teasweirdweek.podbean.com/e/teas-weird-week-episode-06-how-a-dogged-reporter-sniffed-out-an-alt-right-furry-infiltration/
Or on: Podbean//Spotify//Soundcloud//Google Podcasts//iHeartRadio//PlayerFM//Apple//Stitcher//Pocket Casts
Check out my books:
American Madness: The Story of the Phantom Patriot and How Conspiracy Theories Hijacked American Consciousness: bookshop.org/books/american-madness-the-story-of-the-phantom-patriot-and-how-conspiracy-theories-hijacked-american-consciousness/9781627310963
Tea’s Weird Week: 2020 Review (e-book): https://www.amazon.com/Teas-Weird-Week-2020-Review-ebook/dp/B08SGL97YJ/ref=sr_1_1
I’m working on a project where I’m conducting surveys with a few subcultures/ social movements/ fandoms. I currently have an open survey for those that identify with the furry fandom. The goal is to find data to how furs have responded to events of the last few years and in particular, 2020.
Patch O’Furr, who reports on news related to the furry fandom on his site Dogpatch Press, was very helpful in reviewing my survey questions to make sure they were worded in a sensible way. He wrote a nice intro to me and the survey here: https://dogpatch.press/2020/08/11/furry-survey-tea-krulos/
I’m writing about furries in a respectful (but truthful) way. Personal info won’t be shared. If you’re reading this and identify as a furry, I hope you participate/ share! Here’s a direct link to the survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ZC2B88S
This survey will be open until Halloween (Oct.31)
Thank you, my furry friends!
author, American Madness