Rocky Mountain Fur Con 2017 – a convention for enthusiasts who wear animal costumes ingrained with human characteristics for roleplaying – has been canceled. On Monday, the RMFC board of directors organizing the 10th annual event, set to be held in Denver next August, posted a statement that a "movement has grown into a community that promotes violence" which resulted in a "sudden and drastic increase in security costs" exceeding a third of the event's operating budget.
The announcement came after the founder of the Furry Raiders, an outlier group within the anthropomorphic subculture, adopted an armband which featured a black paw on a red background that some thought had a striking resemblance to a part of the Nazi uniform. Convention chairman Zachary Brooks did not directly name the Furry Raiders in his account, but convention staff identified the Furry Raiders as being at the center of the controversy after being labeled a neo-Nazi group throughout the community, which largely exists online.
Lee Miller, the 29-year-old Fort Collins furry who wears the armband as his Foxler Nightfire fursona, has in turn been accused of being a neo-Nazi. He denies any connection between his armband and that of the Third Reich. Online forums have characterized the Furry Raiders as a "neo-nazi cult-like group" recruiting members with "gifts, grooming and manipulation," according to Dogpatch Press, a blog covering the furry community. But Miller does not agree with such descriptions. "We have a strong stance about keeping equal rights and personal creativity within the fandom," says Miller, who adds that he has never been banned from a convention contrary to other furry beliefs.
On January 26th, a furry identifying as a Tasmanian Devil named Deo tweeted, "Can't wait to punch Nazis," which led another furry with a now-deleted Twitter handle of @Oliviameles to comment, "Watching you get shot by someone defending themselves from unprovoked assault will be far more entertaining."
The Denver Police eventually investigated the comments and found the threats credible enough that convention host Marriott Tech Center demanded $22,000 to hire off-duty officers for security, according to Flayrah, an online news magazine for furry fandom. "People overreacted," Brooks told the Denver Post. "As it got more and more heated, people started talking about beating up people wearing the symbol. They said, 'We've got a right to protect ourselves and we are going to bring weapons.'"
The RMFC board puts on one of the top-10 attended conventions in the United States, and expected over 2,000 furries to attend this summer, according to David Gonzalez, director of marketing at RMFC in Colorado. Their parent company, Mid-American Anthropomorphic and Arts Corporation (MAAAC), is now focused on issuing refunds for the cancelled convention. "The board of MAAAC has not voted to dissolve the corporation, but the continuation of RMFC beyond 2017 does not look very likely," says Gonzalez. Turns out the in-fighting has been an ongoing situation for at least the past year and a half. "The casual threats they were tossing at one another were the final straw," says Gonzalez. "It may be the end for RMFC, but the online threats of violence will crop up again for other conventions." To shed light on the recent cancellation, Rolling Stone interviewed furries to find out what's happening in their community.
Rocky Mountain Fur Con was created for all persuasions
In 2007, the MAAAC hosted the first RMFC convention for the growing number of furries seeking acceptance in Colorado. The social events have since attracted furries mostly of Millennial age to mingle, dance, listen to guest speakers and attend literary events, as well as hosting informational panels. "It's just like any fan-base conference," says Gonzalez. Furry comedian 2 Gryphon often makes appearances and artists sell paintings of their part-animal, part-human avatars. Last year, the RMFC welcomed about 1,670 furries, 65 vendors and 35 artists.
The Furry Raiders say they have no political agenda
The year of the RMFC debut, a small group of furries started the "Furry Raiders project" formed in the online virtual world Second Life, with no goals other than to "help furries purchase items in the game," says Miller, the founder. The group grew to 1,000 members over three years and he backed out because he could not afford to give furries real money to buy hairstyles for their characters or gardens and castles for their in-game properties. But in 2014, Miller resurrected the Furry Raiders after seeing media accounts describing their community not as a creative safe zone but as a world for kinky fetishists.
"Our goal became to continue the furry fandom in the way it was founded, where everyone has the chance to express themselves and have the creativity they desired," says Miller, who joined the community as a 12-year-old loner struggling with the death of his father. But after a while, he realized some furries were not as accepting as he thought. "People were governing the image of what furry fandom should be," says Miller, referring to furries who told him to remove his armband. "We realized we can't pick and choose what people do. There are furries that are into bestiality. Others draw younger characters and it gives them a creative outlet in a safe manner. If they continue to stay in a creative community like this they won't harm people or animals. We can't just say we hate you."
Despite Miller's comments, furries like Crummles Upton believe that the Furry Raiders are "notorious for breaking rules under the guise of free speech." In an interview conducted with Rolling Stone via Twitter, the furry mentions examples of how group members troll furries online and spread hate speech at conventions. "The Raiders have an M.O. of publicly saying stuff along the lines of wanting inclusiveness and just getting along with people, but in person or in DMs they act contrary to that," according to Upton.
Foxer Nightfire's arm band is a furry symbol, he says, not a nod to neo-Nazism
Miller discovered the infamous armband in 2007 as a free item in Second Life. The Furry Raiders then spent over $700 to physically make 100 armbands that varied in color. "The red armband became part of my persona, but people started telling me I had to change and I wouldn't do that," says Miller. Five years ago, furries began calling him a neo-Nazi because they felt there were similarities between his armband and those of the Nazis, as well as a resemblance to armbands worn by the "Furzis" on Second Life, a contentious group of furries interested in German history and World War II. Miller, who describes himself as a high school dropout "knowledgeable in computers but uneducated in history and politics," reached out to actual actual neo-Nazis via online forums. "I told them I was a furry and they said, 'What the fuck is this shit?'" says Miller. "They found out 60 percent of furries are gay males and told me, 'Get the fuck out of here.'"
Last year, Miller wore an armband to the RMFC. "It grew into a big problem," says Miller. After the election last November, a group calling themselves Anti-Fascist Furries organized and tried to get Nazi Furs banned from such conventions, and also encouraged furries to "boycott events that didn’t ban the Furry Raiders from attending," according to Vice.
In January, the RMFC board issued a statement announcing that in light of the controversy, they would ban all clothing and accessories showing "offensive messages or symbols." The RMFC board struggled to weigh the balance between total acceptance and having to get a handle on furry in-fighting. "It's kind of difficult for any kind of convention to police anybody's outside behavior," says Gonzalez. "Ostensibly, we would have a lot of people banned." That same month, Miller tweeted a photo as Foxer Nightfire wearing an armband with the hashtag #altfurry. He believes some furries have abandoned their original message of acceptance. "People have given us a lot of shit for the arm band that I wear," says Miller. "If you want to accept everyone else, I should be welcomed, too."
So, is Miller a neo-Nazi? "I don't know politics," says Miller, who notes that he voted for Foxer Nightlife in last year's presidential election. "I'm not in a position to make any decision on Nazis, Republicans, Democrats and Libertarians. I stick with the furry concept. Some ideas in America need to be protected." Furzis, Nazi Furs and Soviet Furs have asked him about the armband, and he believes they are questioning him because they are "non-political, history buffs, nothing more."
"I do not see my armband as National Socialism," says Miller, who makes a point to say that he has German and Thai lineage and is now dating a man who identifies as African-and Asian-American. "I see the armband as a symbol of furriness. It's not a tool or device to promote Nazism. It's a roleplaying tool. Anything in the furry community is just created out of fantasy and taking it seriously is just asinine. Given my background, Hitler would be rolling in his grave."
A MAAAC board member sent a cease and desist letter to a furry
In January, Deo reached out to the RMFC board via Twitter and sent an email to their security team to report the threats, she tells Rolling Stone through Twitter. There was no response until April 3rd when she received a letter from Kendal Emery aka Kahuki, a board member of MAAAC and RMFC, who personally sent a cease and desist letter to Deo's house. Emery, who stepped down as RMFC chair after a 1993 felony conviction for Criminal Sexual Contact with a Minor was revealed in 2008, wrote that Deo's "false statements" caused "substantial commercial injury damage" and mentioned the possibility of a class-action lawsuit. He ended the letter with a red ink thumbprint, according to Deo. The FBI views such seals and content as representative of the Sovereign Citizens Movement, a lethal subculture whose followers "hold truly bizarre, complex antigovernment beliefs" that are "rooted in racism and anti-Semitism," according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. In a recent interview with The Daily Beast, he denied any association with that group, noting that the fingerprint "just means it's me that wrote it."
After receiving the letter, Deo contacted police in her home state, along with a Colorado lawyer. "I do not take lightly to convicted felons mailing me threatening things," says Deo. On April 10th, she went public with the letter to "warn my furry community of these unstable individuals." Later that day, Brooks announced that the RMFC was cancelled. Deo maintains that her tweeting about punching Nazis was a "joke I said to my friend" referring to a meme of Alt-Right leader Richard Spencer.
The RMFC board became aware of Emery's letter after it was made public. "We're not pursuing it," says Gonzalez, speaking as a member of the organizing committee for RMFC. "We deeply regret it was ever sent and contacted the recipient." (Emery told the Daily Beast that he had the full approval of the board to send the letter.) Today, the furry community is heartbroken, angry and confused. "We try to be as inclusive as possible," says Gonzalez. "But furries have become far more politically polarized and there's a greater willingness to call someone out publicly and try to force them to act. That's what happened here. It's fair to say that we're not prepared for that."
Miller, who remains perhaps one of the most polarizing of figures in the furry community, claims that he has been "trolled, slandered, harassed and threatened" over the past year. From his computer, Miller watches the online bickering and he is filled with shame to see the MAAAC and RMFC crumble. "For me, being a furry is a personal outlet to understand the real world," says Miller. "Others find it fun. Others find it spiritual. And others go for sexual purposes. People take on completely different characteristics and sometimes I can't even tell who's in the suit. I'm the same person in and out of the suit."