On Tuesday, Benjamin Jeffrey Smith was identified as the suspect in Saturday’s deadly shooting at a Justice for Amir Locke rally in Portland, Oregon, and charged with murder and attempted murder. As details of his online persona began coming out — according to those who know him, he is openly antisemitic and actively engaged in hateful discourse — one stood out to some in a particular role-playing fandom: he appeared to have spent time on forums devoted to furries.
For those in the furry community — a deeply internet-entrenched subculture of people who enjoy dressing up as anthropomorphized animals — this hit hard. Though the subculture is largely a family friendly place filled with creatives who enjoy lighthearted fun, furries have long struggled to root out a small but vocal far-right contingent. With this shooting, which left one protester dead and four injured, furries apparently saw that online hostility transformed into real-world violence.
Deo, a furry who identifies as a Tasmanian Devil, describes efforts to eliminate hate from their forums. “For about a half-decade, I’ve infiltrated these alt-right furry chat groups to identify these people before they enact violence. Obviously, in the case of Polybun,” she explains — referring to the handle used by Smith — “he slipped my radar, and I’m fucked up about it.” (Rolling Stone was not able to locate a lawyer for Smith.)
According to Patch, editor-in-chief of Dogpatch Press, a blog covering the furry community, it’s not an isolated event. He says some have compared the shooting to the July 2020 murder of Garrett Foster by Daniel Perry, a radicalized furry. “Fears have been percolating for years about a shooting happening at a furry convention,” Patch told me. “There’s a fairly dedicated little fringe of malcontents who want to hurt people because they’re damaged inside.” However, the furry community is vigorously sending the message that violence is not welcome. “You can’t be a furry and a Nazi at the same time,” he explains. “They still try, but there’s no place they should belong.”
Laurence ‘GreenReaper’ Parry, editor-in-chief of Flayrah, an online furry publication, tells Rolling Stone that he did some digging on Smith’s internet presence in the community after the shooting. “My overall impression is of someone on the periphery who regularly lashed out in anger,” he says. “He seems to have used a furry art site I now lead, Inkbunny, a decade ago for a period of roughly a year.” Flayrah says that Smith’s accounts were banned and IP blocked in 2012 by moderators for abusive comments.
According to several furries who spoke with Rolling Stone, Smith was considered an outcast and a problematic personality, banned from many of Oregon’s furry conventions and events. “Bad people exist everywhere, but they are largely not tolerated by the furry community. This is not who we are” writes Triss Winters, who tweeted that Smith previously attended a party at their house and threatened to stab one of their guests.
Members of the community say they have warned authorities about Polybun in the past. Ariadne Conill claimed on Twitter thread that Smith “used to join the IRC [instant messaging system] channel for my community, and describe in substantial detail, how he was going to go on a cross-country road trip, visiting and murdering all of us in ways that we would suffer.” She goes on to write, “to say that we got in touch with law enforcement would be an understatement. They didn’t care.” She claims that multiple people filed police reports about doxxing and death threats, but the Portland Police Bureau never took any action. (A representative for PPB declined to comment, citing the open investigation.)
Internet sleuths like Himbotomy found Smith’s internet footprint in multiple obscure subcultures online, such as Zoobombing, salt flat racing, and amateur radio. Parry writes in an email to Rolling Stone, “he likes ham radio stuff,” referencing a comment posted online by an artist who gifted Smith a picture of Smith’s fursona, a golden-furred rabbit holding a walkie-talkie. “I think we’d all have been a lot happier if he’d stuck with that and never picked up a gun.” Deo agrees. “He’s been a fucker for a long time, but he wasn’t always extreme,” she says. She describes it as the cultic milieu — a term coined by British sociologist Colin Campbell referring to a set of fringe counter-cultural beliefs opposed to conventional wisdom. “These groups are using online spaces to cross-pollinate rapidly, and we can’t close our eyes and pretend it’s not happening.”
“It’s partly a tech platform issue; sites like Twitter and Facebook have allowed this dangerous discourse to spread,” says Patch. “We need to identify the people benefiting from preying on lost souls like Ben Smith, examine their networks, and explore how to shut them down.”