Milo Yiannopolous was once on top of the world. The former editor at Breitbart News had built his brand around supporting Gamergate and trafficking in racist, misogynistic, Islamophobic, and anti-Semitic rhetoric, winning him a devoted fan base among disaffected young white men and a lucrative career as an author and campus speaker. Then, his career took a swift nose dive after several video clips surfaced, featuring Yiannopolous suggesting that sex between adult men and boys as young as 13 can be “perfectly consensual.” Yiannopolous subsequently lost his book deal, his job, and an invitation to speak at CPAC, and it’s clear he’s been struggling as of late: last week, he complained on the messaging app Telegram thread that he was unable to promote his work because he had been deplatformed by all of the major social media companies, causing many on the internet to play the world’s tiniest violins and revel in his downfall.
Apparently, however, there are still a few spaces where Yiannopolous felt welcome, one of which was MidWest FurFest, a furry convention to be held near Chicago this December. Although Yiannopolous had planned to attend the conference, many within the community weren’t happy, and successfully campaigned to have him banned.
In an email statement to Rolling Stone, a representative for MidWest FurFest says that Yiannopolous’s attendance at the convention “may lead to an inability to provide a safe and welcoming experience for convention participants,” and as a result has rescinded his registration and barred him from registering forMidwest FurFest events.
It all started on Sunday night, when Yiannopolous posted a screengrab of a receipt on Telegram (basically the one social media app where he hasn’t been permanently banned). The screengrab appeared to show that Yiannopolous had registered to attend MidWest FurFest (MWFF), an annual furry convention held in Rosemont, Illinois, not far from O’Hare International Airport. Furries are a subculture involving people who have an interest (sometimes, though not always, sexual) in dressing up as anthropomorphized animal characters. According to the post, Yiannopolous had registered at the “shiny silver” level (which costs about $300). “See you there bitches,” Yiannopolous wrote, adding that he had also submitted a form requesting to host a panel at the event called “The Politics of Fur.”
It’s not immediately clear whether Yiannopolous was serious about attending the convention, and indeed, given that he’s built his entire brand around trolling leftists, it’s entirely possible that he was not. When asked to clarify, Yiannopolous tells Rolling Stone, “I’ve heard nothing from the organizers and have no reason to suppose a handful of well-meaning but misguided activists will be allowed to derail my attendance. The furry community is a welcoming, diverse world and I know they will make space for a disabled queer Jewish immigrant with a black husband.” (A common tactic for Yiannopolous to dispute criticism of inciting far-right violence is to cite his own sexual orientation and ethnicity.)
Many in the furry community were baffled that he wanted to come in the first place. “The initial response was, wow, this is really funny that he feels the need to come to us,” says Sam*, 26, a member of the community and annual MWFF attendee. (Sam asked to remain anonymous for fear of being doxxed by Yiannopolous’ supporters.) But after the initial shock wore off, the reaction within the community shifted from mild bemusement to fear and anger. “A lot of people see these conventions as safe spaces for us to be ourselves,” the man said. “Now people are scared that he’ll bring all of his followers and we’ll be doxxed and harassed.”
Considering Yiannopolous’ history of inciting harassment, these fears were not unfounded. In 2016, Yiannopolous was permanently banned from Twitter after encouraging his followers to barrage Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones with racist and misogynistic harassment. In 2017, the University of Berkley canceled one of Yiannopolous’ scheduled appearances after protests broke out between student protesters and his supporters, resulting in violence and nearly $100,000 in damage. And in Seattle that year, a couple was charged in connection with the shooting of a protester outside of an event where Yiannopolous was slated to speak. The couple had arrived with the express intention of “provok[ing] altercations with protesters who they knew would also be at this controversial event,” Mary Barbosa, senior deputy prosecuting attorney, wrote in their charging papers. (The case ended earlier this year in a mistrial after the jury failed to reach a verdict.)
Some in the community were angered by news of Yiannopolous’ attendance, pointing out that he was clearly targeting a marginalized subculture. Sam says targeting the furry community is particularly egregious because many, if not most, of its members self-identify as LGBTQ, and that the convention provides them with a rare place “where they can be themselves around other people and find a positive sense of community,” he says.
But not everyone was outraged. In recent years, a far-right faction has grown within the community, prompting organizers to cancel at least one prominent furry convention, FurCon, in 2017. One such far-right furry group, the Furry Raiders, whose leader’s fursona goes by “Foxler” and wears a military uniform with a red armband, tweeted that, “The Furry Fandom will always be a open and free place to express yourself. We’re happy to welcome Milo Yiannopoulos to the Furry Fandom and the Furry Raiders.#theycantbanusall.”
In response to the criticism over Yiannopolous’ attendance, MWFF initially released a statement on Twitter, reassuring attendees that their safety was “of the utmost concern” and that it was “investigating all concerns being relayed to us.”
We have received a number of mentions and support tickets today – we assure all attendees that your safety is of the utmost importance and is not being ignored. We are investigating all concerns being relayed to us.
— Midwest FurFest 🌻 (@FurFest) September 15, 2019
Sam tells Rolling Stone he was happy with this statement: “I’m glad they’ve acknowledged it publicly at least,” he says. But he points out that MWFF has a history of turning a blind eye to unsavory attendees, citing an instance in which one member of the community, a convicted pedophile, was allowed to attend the convention despite many attendees’ protests otherwise. But many on Twitter believed that statement didn’t go far enough, and that Yiannopolous should be banned from the festival altogether. Many also said that they would boycott the event if he were allowed to attend.
In an email to Rolling Stone, MWFF issued the following statement:
Mr. Yiannopoulos’s attendance at the convention may lead to an inability to provide a safe and welcoming experience for convention participants. The Board of Midwest Furry Fandom, consistent with our posted code of conduct (insert link) , has rescinded Mr. Yiannopoulos’s registration. In addition, he will be barred from registering for this or future Midwest FurFest events.”
When asked for comment on the banning, Yiannopolous responded, “I’m going anyway. And I’m taking friends. They best be ready.”