Junius, a horse in his early 20s, is handing out stickers at a Hilton DoubleTree in suburban Philadelphia. It’s August, a week after the deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that roiled the country, and he’s set up a booth that has attracted an assortment of animals—from fennec foxes to Munchkin cats—all waiting in line for his merch.
Junius isn’t actually an equine. And his customers walk on two legs. They’re all furries, people who identify with—and often dress up like—their favorite animals, a fantasy that may include various forms of sex but not bestiality. These hirsute hobbyists are in town for Furrydelphia, the area’s first convention for furries. Many are queer and very left-wing, so it’s no surprise that the stickers—a swastika inside a paw print with a red slash through it—hold special appeal.
Many of these people grew up as outcasts and were bullied at school, and though they’re often mocked as horny fetishists, the furries insist they stand for much more than their sexual proclivities. They say they’re all about being inclusive and have welcomed people with niche gender identities and odd social quirks into their fold. But there are limits to that tolerance, and since the 2016 election, Junius and other furries have been confronting their version of the right-wing extremists who descended on Charlottesville. These “alt-furries,” as they’re known, hold similar views as the so-called alt-right, a white nationalist, anti-globalist movement that largely supports President Donald Trump.
The alt-furries started as a joke on Twitter, as right-leaning furries used the #AltFurries hashtag to share pro-Trump, furry-themed memes and promote satirical policies, like a ban on “species mixing.” But as the popularity of the hashtag grew, it attracted people who critics say are racist.
Today, most alt-furries interact only online, but some have taken their ideas into the real world. This past summer, one man came to Anthrocon, the world’s largest furry convention, in a Confederate flag “fursuit,” holding a Trump sign, and some people distributed alt-furry pamphlets at an Orlando, Florida, furry convention. Others have started wearing armbands strikingly similar to those worn by Nazis. To many furries, what started as an online joke isn’t funny anymore.
Before Junius arrived in Philly, alt-furries had threatened him online for slamming them on social media, calling them bigots and fascists; some said they wanted to “break his neck.” One forum group attempted to find his personal information and release it online. The threats don’t frighten him—but he is worried that a growing number of furries are vulnerable to recruitment by white supremacists. “Nazis are looking for these same types of alienated white dudes,” he says. (Like most furries Newsweek spoke to, he didn’t want his real name used in print.) “These people just want to hurt and incite—and are beginning to take their trolling offline.”
Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad (Nazi) Wolf?
It’s the first day of the convention in Philly, and outside the Hilton, a group of furries stand in a circle, sipping cocktails and smoking cigarettes. Most are dressed in some sort of animal attire: There are bears, wolves and even dragons. It’s hot outside, so not everyone is wearing a full-body fursuit; those are poorly ventilated, and many furries say they’re too expensive (they can cost more than $3,000). Some simply wear animal heads or just ears. The only requirement for being a furry, attendees tell me, is saying you are a furry. These furries want a judgment-free environment, one that allows them to be themselves—hairballs and all. “We’re trying to create the world we want to live in,” says a Canadian marbled fox named Xiao Mei. “Like the Stonewall of the ’70s.”
But when it comes to the alt-right, the furries are definitely passing judgment. Just ask a goat named Dionysius, who announced his arrival in Philadelphia with a cryptic post on Gab, a social media site for people banned from Twitter. “Made it to Philly, funny how a fifth of Jack Daniels makes the drive go faster. Always happy to meet new friends who hate commies like I do.” He knew he’d have to do most of that meeting outside the convention because he—and some of his friends—were banned from it for threatening furries. Before the convention, he spent $105 to commission artwork of his “fursona,” or furry alter ego, throwing Junius and two other furries out of a helicopter—a nod to a right-wing meme about how an Argentine junta killed dissidents during the 1970s. (Fan art is popular among furries, who pay artists to draw their fursonas.) Dionysius had planned to commission a new drawing, showing him running over another furry in a truck (someone leaked the plans on Twitter). He’s also part of the Furry Raiders, a Colorado-based group that wears the allegedly Nazi-inspired armbands.
Junius doesn’t think Dionysius would throw him out of a helicopter, and when he learned of the artwork, he thought it was silly. “These people hate me and other folks enough to invest their time, energy or money on lavish hate fan art,” he says. But the imagery was threatening enough that he and others felt Dionysius and the alt-furries shouldn’t be allowed to join in the flocculent festivities. On Twitter, Junius posted an old photo of Dionysius—a squat, bearded man in a Carolina Panthers jersey— leaning on a massive blue truck. “For public safety’s sake,” he posted, “if you see this truck or this man, report to staff.”
Drayne the Wolf, the convention’s chairman (his real name is Randy Hill), agreed. “We did not set out to make a political statement,” he says of the ban. “But we had to make sure the attendees felt safe.”
Dionysius thinks his banishment was an overreaction—and one typical of what he calls “social justice warriors.” He says he commissioned the artwork in response to left-wing furries threatening to punch “Nazi furs” (they didn’t actually punch them). “I would like to note that punching someone is an action that can be done very easily at a furry convention,” he says. “No one has ever brought a helicopter to any furry convention that I know of. I chose that setting, as well as the cartoony style, precisely because I did not want to make it a threat.”
The alt-furries believe their group is misunderstood. Len Gilbert, a prominent alt-furry, says they are not Nazis, and most of the members are not white supremacists or national socialists either. Gilbert’s name is a pseudonym, one he used to pen a furry erotic novel, The Furred Reich, about a young Nazi officer’s encounter with an anthropomorphic female snow leopard. He keeps his fursona a secret to allow him to attend furry conventions without getting banned, punched in the face or both.
He was not surprised members of his movement were barred from Furrydelphia. “Many conventions are run by social justice warriors,” he said. “Several venues talked about banning armbands or other attire, as if that somehow applies to us. We don’t wear armbands or uniforms. We show up in fursuits like everyone else, so I’m not sure how they’d even enforce those bans.” (Like Gilbert, most alt-furries conceal their real identities, and Furrydelphia enforced the ban informally, promising to kick out anyone accused of making threats against another attendee.)
The alt-furries have disrupted events. In June, a group of alt-furries, posing as cops and journalists, claimed a panel at a small convention in Pomona, California, was promoting pedophilia and animal abuse. The topic: “babyfurs,” furries who “age play” as baby animals. (Most babyfurs are benign, though there is some obscene artwork in dark corners of the internet.) The hotel canceled the panel, but charged organizers $24,000 for off-duty police protection.
But does this prank mean the alt-furries are violent Nazis and white supremacists? Dionysius says he’s can’t be either because he’s Jewish. Foxler Nightfire, the head of the Furry Raiders, says he once tried to join a neo-Nazi group but was kicked out for being gay, half-Asian…and a furry. Another prominent alt-furry, a rat named Chairman Squeek, claims to be a “cross-dressing, communist Gypsy.” (Newsweekcould not verify their ethnic backgrounds)
Outside the Philadelphia convention, Babalu, a burly, bull-bear hybrid who works for the Defense Department, is equally confused. He’s debating politics and checking out fursuits with the other smokers. For most furries, he explains, their fursonas are whimsical performances or earnest representations of what type of animal they believe they personify. “That’s what makes this Nazi shit so difficult to wrap your head around,” he says. “Are they just performing, or is this what they legitimately believe?”
Moles and Rabbit Holes
Deo the Tasmanian Devil thinks she knows the answer. She was featured in Dionysius’s fictional helicopter ride. A self-described communist, she was also at the center of another alt-furry controversy. In response to news that dozens of Furry Raiders were planning to attend Denver’s Rocky Mountain Fur Con in April, she tweeted, “Can’t wait to punch Nazis.” An anonymous furry commented, “Watching you get shot by someone defending themselves from unprovoked assault will be far more entertaining.” This prompted Deo to contact the Denver police, who investigated and found the threats credible. The probe led the Marriott Tech Center to charge the convention an additional $22,000 in security fees for off-duty officers.
These increased security fees, along with tax problems (the organizers didn’t file their nonprofit paperwork on time) and an uproar over news that one of the people behind the event had been convicted of criminal sexual contact with a minor in the 1990s, eventually sunk the convention. In response, the organizers sent a cease-and-desist letter to Deo’s home, threatening a class-action lawsuit that accused her of making false statements to police.
As a result of the incident, Deo says she and her family received a barrage of threatening messages. “I will rape you to death nigger bitch,” someone wrote to her. “One less kike!” another said after her grandfather died. She reported these threats to her local police, who were unable to track down her harassers. She says she bought a gun and starting going to the range to learn how to use it
Deo did not attend Furrydelphia, but she did lobby for its alt-furry ban. She does not think her harassers are being ironic or just trolling. For months, Deo was a mole in the alt-furry chat group on Discord, a private messaging service popular with gamers. The group had hundreds of members with varying rates of activity. After Charlottesville, Deo leaked the contents—about a month of conversations. Many of the comments were racist, but more disturbing to Deo: One of the alt-furry members suggested hiring a hitman to kill her. Deo gave this information to her local police. “My family’s Jewish,” Deo says. “I’m not using the term Nazi without knowing the full weight of what it means.”
Gilbert, the Furred Reich author, was the head of the alt-furry Discord server. He says the group was not a meetinghouse of Nazis. “I’ve always considered ‘alt-furry’ a big-tent movement on the right of the fandom,” he tells Newsweek. He didn’t want to ban anyone because some might consider their views bigoted or unsavory.
The day after Deo leaked the chat, someone also leaked a left-wing private furry chat. Deo was also a member of that group, although a fairly inactive one. This chat also had mole (who was actually a raven). And its logs contained multiple calls for violence. Some members discussed making bombs; one even proposed poisoning Foxler, the leader of the Furry Raiders, with polonium. “They’re dumb, and they shouldn’t have said that shit,” Deo says about the chat. “I’ve been telling them for months to stop saying that kind of cringey stuff.”
The alt-furries, however, say they take those chat logs very seriously. The anonymous raven says the chat was used to indoctrinate left-leaning furries into communism. “Ninety-five percent of the furries who proudly proclaim they want to ‘punch Nazis’ are in there.”
Perhaps, but there are real connections between alt-furries, white supremacists and even the mayhem last August in Charlottesville. In the Discord leak, Dionysius said he had sent his helicopter comic to Christopher Cantwell to “get some airtime” on Cantwell’s YouTube show. Cantwell was one of the more prominent alt-right leaders in Charlottesville and was charged with three felonies as a result of the violence at the event. There was even one former furry holding a tiki torch amongst the alt-right in Charlottesville, a golden retriever named Golden Zoltan.
The most damning link between white supremacists and alt-furries is Nathan Gate, a young alt-right neo-Nazi. He does not consider himself a furry, but he helped create and moderate the alt-furry Discord channel. (He also set up the AltRight.com server for the news and commentary website run by alt-right leader Richard Spencer). Gate even organized the campaign against the Califur convention in Pomona, posing as a local reporter and calling the hotel, while mobilizing alt-furries to do the same on Discord. At the rally in Charlottesville, Gate recorded a two-and-a-half hour live stream of the day’s chaotic events. In the stream, he is surrounded by neo-Nazis in white polos, armed militiamen and even David Duke, one of the country’s most prominent white supremacists.
Despite these credentials, his ties to the furries have upset his prejudiced pals. “I consider furries degenerates and only worked with them to accomplish common goals, like getting CaliFur shut down,” Gate says. “The association is causing problems for me.”
And then there’s Gate’s 18-year-old girlfriend, KKKutie. She offers anecdotal evidence that furries are being recruited by Nazis. Gate and KKKutie have been dating for over a year, but she stopped being a furry only a few months ago. She was perhaps one of the most virulent posters on the alt-furry Discord, and the one who talked about hiring a hitman to kill Deo. “I think alt-furry ends up being kind of an exodus for many furries,” she says. “As they are dragged further right…they start to mature in mind and in body and in turn grow out of the whole furry thing and leave it behind for real political activism. I’ve experienced this firsthand as well as witnessing several of my friends do the same.”
KKKutie says she was truly radicalized into white supremacy by the alt-right, but the alt-furries were her gateway out of the shaggy subculture. In the leaked chat logs, you can see her contempt for furries grow as she discusses making money doing fan art for her flocculent friends. “If I draw furry porn for them,” she wrote, “they gib [sic] me money, they go broke, they starve, killing commies and degeneracy at the same time.”
KKKutie’s words, Deo claims, prove her point about the racism of the alt-furries. “They [white supremacists] use these nerd groups because it’s prime picking grounds,” she says. “They’re full of bitter, sad, lonely people.”
Hell Hath No Furry
Back at Furrydelphia, Junius is packing up his wares after a successful day of business in the convention’s merch room. The anti-Nazi stickers sold quickly—donations are going to a Charlottesville relief fund, he says—and they appeared much more popular than the forbidden alt-furries.
Dionysius stayed holed up in his hotel room, not wanting to attract the attention of Furrydelphia attendees on the lookout for him and his cohorts. He says he spent the weekend visiting friends in the area and never entered the convention space, which was in a separate wing of the hotel.
While most of the people at Furrydelphia considered the event a success, the controversy around the alt-furries is still swirling. Recently, some furries threatened to boycott this year’s FurryCon in upstate New York after one of the organizers said on Twitter that Black Lives Matter was a hate group like the KKK. Fur Affinity, the furry equivalent of Facebook, also banned Nazi images and iconography, leading one alt-furry to threaten a lawsuit. And both sides of the conflict are keeping tabs on each other on social media, blocking their critics then following them on alternative accounts.
Apparently, they’ve really gotten under each other’s fur.