What does justice mean among furries? An unauthorized account of Megaplex, VancouFur, and Samuel Conway
It can feel a kind of madness when the memory of the world has moved on without you and you are left unsmothered. It is not madness, however. The feeling is called injustice, and what I aim to show in this account of events, beginning in May of 2020 and ending with Megaplex of 2021, is that this injustice is a cultural issue in furry, produced from west coast to east by figures as disparate as Samuel Conway, the Megaplex convention board, and the British Columbia Anthropomorphic Events Association (BCAEA). I take these as case studies because they involve prolific figures, because they are current, or—with the BCAEA—because they are well-known to me even if they are not well known in general.
I could have chosen other case studies. There’s no scarcity of them—every few months there is a new bad story about a furry-run community group, a fursuit maker, a popular furry personality, or, most recently, a furry convention. This account, in its intention, is both to attempt a brief history of furry spaces since May of 2020 and to explain them as a part of a larger, overarching, and cultural issue. I do this in part because when there is a bad story every few months—one which often involves trauma of some kind—and numerous smaller pains arrive in the weeks in between, it can feel as though you have walked into a numbing fog.
The details become fuzzy and their dates more distant in memory, although they may have only happened months or weeks ago. For others, however, those bad stories aren’t just stories—they are real things that happened to a person and the numbing fog is not always so kind to them. It can feel a kind of madness, and historicizing them, putting them into context and connecting them with other, similar events, is my choice of remedy.
I grew up a nerdy theatre kid who wanted to be a punk. It taught me that I loathe the spotlight (I was compelled by an editor to add this section on myself). I get stage fright, with only the shakiest of legs, and, while I have an excellent memory—as this account may demonstrate—my perpetually flat affect made me unsuitable for serious acting. After that, I turned to writing, first stage plays, then later and with much more enjoyment, fanfiction. Furry as a subculture was a short leap away. While doing what amounts to queer/feminist studies at university, I joined a small poetry community on FurAffinity in 2016, and, unexpectedly, encountered a few poets who were upset whenever my poems mentioned punching Nazis.
My furry experience has continued in that general fashion ever since.
June of 2020 - Furries, Racism, and the Apolitical Myth
In June of 2020, furries as a subculture experienced a political reckoning. They were living in the wake of the #MeToo movement and under the unavoidable spotlight on police brutality against people of color, stemming from the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department—a murder so egregious and so well-documented it provoked feelings of outrage and solidarity among even the most brunch-loving of apathetic white people. Black Lives Matter once again became a household name as communities across the globe organized solidarity rallies, protests, and occasions for grieving and healing, all often while under siege by their local police departments. The rising tide of fascism and the proliferation of nazifurs ensured that this political discourse penetrated many parts of furry Twitter. Those who couldn’t look away from the human rights abuses perpetrated by the state, however, invariably noticed that there were some furries who could look away, and rather easily too. A growing sentiment was emerging.
On June 2nd, Twitter user @DemetriusTrader was ratioed, a social media neologism which indicates a lack of public favor of a tweet through response metrics, for declining to use his platform to speak about police brutality or Black Lives Matter. Or, that is the narrative that Trader proposed.
Those commenting, however, did in fact express their feelings directly, multiple times, and with many repeating the same thesis: that not only was it irresponsible to look away from a human rights crisis—particularly when Trader had gladly thrown his clout behind funding ALS research in honor of Dogbomb—it was worse that Trader, rather than stay silent about the whole matter, had gone out of his way to inform his followers, loudly, that he would not be posting about Black Lives Matter.
Trader was not the only figure to draw ire for their repeated insistence (in many more characters than it took to simply say “Black Lives Matter”) that their furry existence wasn’t meant for political undertakings. More broadly, what had before been recognized as apathy, a normally neutral, boring, and detached feeling, became increasingly recognized for what it had been all along: contempt. To those furries who had once believed in it, the myth of an apolitical existence was dispelled. And with that, the floodgates opened.
On June 4th, a number of things happened. Twitter user @LYDARKAON posted a megathread of furry racists (many tweets link to now-deleted tweets and accounts), compiling a list of prominent racist furries who had said or done racist things, often but not always in response to the ongoing Black Lives Matter movements across the United States. Earlier that same morning, now-deceased user @MiniMikeKD shared an imgur album (preserved via web-archive here) via informant of the Stray Cattu vore/cryptofascist chat, which features a number of racist, transphobic, and antisemitic furries posting a number of racist, transphobic, and antisemitic things too terrible and too numerous to list in this account. Among said furries was vore and macro artist Aerys Bat, who would be entirely unremarkable in the sea of nazifurs if not for a voice that spoke up in Aerys’ defense. This voice would be familiar to anyone who had ever engaged with any advice for furries on how to interact with public media.
Twitter user @RogueMegawolf is the alternate account for Samuel Conway, chair of Anthrocon and known more commonly among furries as Uncle Kage. This is not a well-kept secret. Posts from user @Bengaley demonstrate this, and if you’d rather not take the word of a furry librarian, perhaps you’ll accept the words of Conway himself.
Why Conway chose his alternate account to speak in defense of a racist transphobic anti-Semite is as obvious as why Conway has such an account in the first place. Sockpuppets allow people to contradict themselves online, publicly and unabashedly, with little to no direct consequence to their main persona. While those who knew Conway’s alternate identity would take issue with him supporting a cryptofascist nazifur for several years, many of those same folks had—by nature of being big name furries in a relatively small fandom—a semi-personal relationship with Conway and a need to stay in Anthrocon’s good graces. This was not a bridge, evidently, they felt they could burn. Conversely, the hundreds of other Twitter users who flocked to @RogueMegawolf’s mentions were unlikely to know that they were addressing Conway instead of some random Nazi-sympathizing shmuck.
Conway (to my knowledge) never appeared on @LYDARKAON’s list of racist furries, and that particular matter was dropped after a few days. More things were happening. Police violence was destroying cities, silencing reporters, and robbing people of their eyes. Midwest FurFest released a statement in support of BIPOC communities, followed later by other conventions such as Anthrocon. FurSquared posted about Juneteenth. Con staff queried the masses as to which BIPOC furries they would like to see as guests of honor at their next conventions and what queer and/or BIPOC-oriented charities they would like to see featured. Peacewolf was dragged again for following a 3%er—an anti-government white supremacist militia movement—after said Nazi wished death on a furry of color.
Naturally, more callouts came out, and, like @LYDARKAON’s list, they targeted a certain type of furry: those with structural power. Not in the sense of those who held judgeships or sat on police review boards, no, but in the form of furries who held the power to bring meaningful antiracist change to their communities, whether broad or niche, and had chosen, loudly, to do nothing of the sort. Chat moderators, discord server owners, niche fetishists, artists and fursuiters, and convention leaders (both current and former) were thrust into the limelight. Conventions themselves were put under Nazi-spotting magnifying lenses. Anthro SouthEast removed one of their vice chairs after it came out that they had lied about their PhD in biology to make false claims about COVID and, worse, was discovered to be an apologist for anti-Black police brutality. A furry convention in Kentucky, named The Menagerie, cancelled itself and disbanded after refusing to separate from their nazifur staff.
During—and because of—the wave of reporting on these furries with structural power, on June 14th I posted screenshots of the (then) British Columbia Anthropomorphic Events Association board president, Kyroo, stanning Ben Shapiro, Jordan Peterson, and being frightened of trans liberation. The BCAEA facilitates two conventions, VancouFur and Vanhoover Pony Expo and, like many other furry convention boards, elects its membership only by its own whims (in accordance with their self-styled bylaws). The following day, Kyroo was no longer listed as a board member.
Before the month ended, four furries, Wolf (@ISANANIKA), Chise (@sailorrooscout), Vatika, and Nasir raised over $9000.00 in four hours for BIPOC charities (The Navajo Nation and The Okra Project), thereby dispelling the myth that furries would not open their wallets for “political” charities that dealt with people instead of “apolitical” charities that dealt with animals. Little more than a day later, Chise announced that plans had begun for Harvest Moon Howl Fest, what would be the first prominent BIPOC-led furry convention.
It was now July of 2020. NONSTOPWORLD was happening in 18 days. Black Lives Matter movements had held strong for a month and would continue to do so for many more thereafter.
July of 2020 - Abuse in the Vancouver Anthropomorphic Community
This part of the account will not cover the wider ongoings of the fandom during July. Not because July wasn’t eventful, but because I was personally involved in a long, drawn-out struggle alongside several other well-intentioned individuals seeking, however unfeasibly, some sort of justice for a person who had been wronged. Sure, I could give you the gist of it: the Fandom Documentary came out and many white tears followed; more callouts happened, this time with longer and much sadder fallout for those caught in the periphery, as well as those with the courage to come forward; but what swallowed much of my time was when, on July 6th, Twitter user @SunsetSilvally, AKA Noctis posted about the abuse they had suffered under then-VancouFur chair Zanwolf, with a number of other folks coming forward with supporting testimony.
The Lower Mainland furry community has a long and sordid and ultimately not-so-complicated history, and although I was a late arrival, hearing everything that had happened—and then living through the things that hadn’t yet occurred—tore a loose thread in my mind which I couldn’t stop unraveling. There were blows and counterblows, fights with losers and winners, but never had I encountered a furry who, in telling me their tale, expressed that they had reached something that, to them, felt like justice. The more I learned, in fact, the more my understanding of what justice could possibly be unraveled. It continues to unravel to this day, and it is the majority reason behind me writing this account.
To understand what happened in July of 2020, we must go back four years further to October of 2016, when, in the aftermath of a sexual assault, Twitter user and former department lead for the VancouFur Art Show @Messy_Muse posted this TwitLonger, describing how the con chair at the time, Trapa Civet, said that banning an accused rapist (one who had admitted guilt, just not before a jury) was “SJW bullshit,” and how the BCAEA refused to review any of the submitted evidence before coming to their decision. Their decision, of course, being a familiar claim: that they would not do anything without a police report (more on that later). I encourage you to read the whole post, long as it is, because it captures not only the history of the time but also the affect: the disappointment, the pain, the optimism, and the resilience.
And, if for whatever terrible reason you doubt that those words were said or that those things happened—as many have to my face—you need look no further than the BCAEA’s own Twitter, which has preserved the text in question.
In the BCAEA’s October 16th statement, they promised to do the following:
- determine [sexual harassment and assault] policies at other local conventions;
- ask members of the Furry Convention Leadership Roundtable (FCLR) for advice;
- determine [sic] outside organizations that support rape victims to determine what their limitations are;
- determine if there are any specific laws which may come into effect on these matters;
- get together a working group and an executive / board meeting for a review of suggested policies.
This will sound familiar later.
Four years later on January 15th, 2020, Vanhoover Pony Expo released a statement defending their choice to allow two-time convicted sex offender and statutory rapist Alex McMullen to attend their convention. Convention chair Aphinity also chimed in on his personal account, indicating that they knew ahead of time, that it was a “non-violent” conviction, and that McMullen had a sterling reputation because he had run other brony events before. Three days later, on January 18th, the BCAEA released their own statement, claiming that they had received “new information” and that McMullen was “not welcomed to attend BCAEA events (including VancouFur and Vanhoover Pony Expo) indefinitely.” Six months later in July, Aphinity would claim that “had evidence [regarding McMullen] been presented in a more timely fashion, and not as an attack, [he] would have taken action sooner.”
Which is curious. I think one has to question what qualifies as a “more timely fashion” when Twitter user @NeroSybertyger alerted both VancouFur and Vanhoover Pony Expo (who have the same governing board) to McMullen’s past and attendance in August of 2019, five months prior. Both Vanhoover Pony Expo as well as VancouFur confirmed receipt and that they were investigating the evidence—evidence which included paperwork listing the charges and their dates, and a conviction which Anime News Network was able to authenticate within two weeks of posting.
Unless, of course, they weren’t investigating. Why would they?
The board continues to deny that these events happened and by extension their own culpability, both in informal text (previous) and the email exchanges they ask for. They, like most other furry convention leaders, have a vested interest in doing so. Acknowledging their past—with Trapa calling the banning of a rapist SJW bullshit, with Aphinity and the board defending a convicted sex offender’s attendance—would make every contradiction immediately obvious. If, in October of 2016, the board had their hands tied by the lack of a police report, why was the conviction of McMullen (from 2013) insufficient for any action to be taken until after McMullen had attended the convention? If the BCAEA had met with lawyers to update its harassment and sexual assault policies in 2016, why did they change their policy four years later to remove safeguarding protections for victims reporting harm but add rumor-spreading as a ban-worthy offense tantamount to harassment?
The answer is retaliation. The BCAEA did not take kindly to our tactics for getting their attention. After a week of nonresponse to Noctis’ coming forward about the chair’s abusive history, I waited for dead air (around midnight or thereabouts) and then encouraged folks to raise hell about the Zanwolf allegations and other unreckoned issues in the VancouFur chat, such as a VancouFur admin, who had theretofore occupied a human resources style position, claiming that there was no difference between rape and sex.
And it worked! Or so we thought. At the very least, we got their attention and forced them to publicly acknowledge that they had seen the allegations.
Many moons later, I would discover that according to the BCAEA’s minutes, they submitted their new harassment policy for board review the following day after Noctis made their allegations, and, somewhat conspicuously, held a four hour meeting the night after our hellraising to amend their harassment policy to the safeguard-less, libel-fixated version that persists today. The BCAEA’s long-withheld minutes held other information, too: Ace Coyote, our community representative, supposedly the voice for the community and whose job it was to bring to the board concerns such as abuse allegations against one of their convention chairs, had been absent from 47% of board meetings in 2020. Moreover, it was clear that from the July 9th meeting, the BCAEA had banned people from attending the convention without requiring a police report: they had done so at least once before for a furry banned from VancouFur 2019, whose identity I suspect but cannot prove.
There is no exciting or comforting end to Noctis’s story. On Wednesday, July 22nd, I received an email from the BCAEA in response to their long-form email request, which indicated two things: they did not read my email in its entirety before they started to respond to it, and that they had reviewed all the evidence and were standing by Zanwolf.
This was somewhat undercut when, two days later, the BCAEA confirmed that they had received Zanwolf’s resignation as chair—something Noctis had been requesting the entire time (contrary to what some opponents believed). Zanwolf also released a statement of his own (now locked, but readable via screenshot here), and so did one of his partners, AddyPup / WinterNightDog, which is no longer publicly available. As I recall, they indicated they were washing their hands of the local Vancouver furry scene, both in-person and online.
To my limited knowledge, this remains true.
The Culture of Injustice
The time after Zanwolf’s resignation was a time of relief and inner turmoil. Relief, of course, because he had resigned as chair, and turmoil because I felt a distinct lack of justice. Not that I had any qualms with my methods, nor did I doubt the veracity of Noctis’ claims at any point—but with the BCAEA having remained doggedly loyal to their now-vanished con chair and denying their history, let alone their culpability, it was clear that no one had entirely gotten what they wanted. Zanwolf had resigned, yet the system and furries that supported him, and people like him, were still entrenched in their board positions. The BCAEA had committed social suicide by standing by their chair, and in doing so committed themselves to appearing just as their predecessors. Worst of all, all the hurtful things that Zanwolf had done, whether to Noctis or to the circus of others around him, had still happened. We had won a battle, but there was still no justice to be had.
Over time, I realized that the majority of my anger was sourced from and directed at not the individual sins of a given furry, but at the structure around them that required this same cycle of harms being committed against a person, followed then by punishment which was, on some level, substitute for restitution. You had to put the world on trial to show that your rights had been violated, instead of putting it on trial for not guaranteeing those rights in the first place. Those who are familiar with prison abolition movements will recognize this sentiment. What I found so upsetting, both in hearing stories from 2016 and the after, was that our convention leadership—and community more broadly—was still operating on a logic of crime and punishment instead of literally any other option that didn’t require people to get raped (or almost) before action could possibly be taken. The notion that a convention requires a police report or a court sentencing before they can intervene is absurd on too many levels to count. It is a liberating policy to have, as a convention, because it means that at no point, ever, must a convention do anything.
Think about it. If a harm has not yet been done, they shrug their shoulders and say it’s not their problem. If harm is currently being done, they shrug their shoulders and say you should call the police. And if harm has been done, they shrug their shoulders and say it’s up to the courts to decide. Never minding, of course, that police and courts are rarely kind to survivors of harm.
I stewed in quarantine with my thoughts of justice as time reluctantly crawled forward. NONSTOPWORLD had come and gone. I did not attend, but heard it was wildly successful and an uncredited source of inspiration for many other online convention-style events. Soon came the end of July. Black Lives still Mattered. Racist, teary-eyed furries attempted, on many occasions, to shutter Harvest Moon Howl Fest long before it launched. More detailed documents came out about prominent members of the fandom. Some survived their cancellings. Others attempted to tweet through it. In September, allegations were brought against BlondeFoxy / Lucky Coyote, and furries reckoned with whether trading their immortal soul for the clout of a Don’t Hug Cacti fursuit was a worthwhile trade.
Nearly a year later, in August, Megaplex became the first North American furry convention to happen since March of 2020.
At the time of writing—nearly a month ago now—the situation was still unfolding. When I began this account, Megaplex was still being dragged for posting their statistics instead of addressing the report of an attendee testing positive for COVID, the assault and stalking of an attendee by a sex offender, the con’s previous malicious ignorance toward a staff member sexually assaulting two minors or the fact that Megaplex was warned in advance of 2021’s offender attending but declined to do anything about it.
Sometimes I wonder where and from whom this idea spawned that a convention could not ban anyone without a criminal conviction and a direct commandment from the Archangel Gabriel. This idea is noxious and noisome and a plague in its own right, having spread as far as the western coast of Canada to the southeastern malarial swamp that is Orlando, Florida. I hesitate to speculate—as I enjoy thorough research and am quick to admit when I do not know anything about a subject—yet, I can’t help but think that, because Anthrocon (which did not ban Growly, and which prominently features Conway), VancouFur, and Megaplex all attend the Furry Convention Leadership Roundtable, and because many other listed conventions not discussed in this account have had issues with their leadership, abuse, and lacking protections, all centered on this idea of legal liability, that perhaps this is not an accident. It feels like an old-guard cover story in a new furry world. A story that buries social liability in a shallow grave next to their own hidden skeletons and the justice promised to the survivors who come forward to protect their communities.
Often, you hear these leadership figures—like Conway himself, in the guise of @RogueMegawolf—admit that they are haunted by their actions from decades past, but are somehow detached from them, a different person, not culpable, yet still paradoxically afraid, I think, that their own misdeeds will one day come to light. As such, they are invested in the subversion of justice. They have no reason to seek it out because justice in their context is rarely something that is done for them and, in their worst nightmares, is something done to them. The rest of us are burned like sacrifices on the pyre to ensure that justice never, ever rears its ugly head while they still hold power.
There is an apocryphal story (that is to say, a story of questionable authenticity) I think of often about the rats of Autun in France. As the story goes, the rats were to be put on trial by the ecclesiastical court for eating and destroying all the province’s barley crops. (Animal trials were, in fact, a thing.) If convicted, the rats would be anathemized and excommunicated—in a word, cursed—and if they did not arrive, they would be tried in absentia.
Of course, no rats arrived for the trial, but before they could be sentenced, the medieval equivalent of the rats’ defense lawyer (stay with me here) argued that it was not just a rat but all the rats who were to be put on trial, so they had to be given proper notice. Notices were posted and the charges announced throughout the province, and the trial held a second time. No rats arrived once more. Their lawyer argued, this time, that the rats, like humans, need not show up for court if it would threaten their lives, and indeed all the cats and dogs would pounce on them if they left their shelters to travel to the courthouse. Moreover, the threat was universal. Wherever they went, the rats would face the same threat, so they could not be tried anywhere. In the version I was told, this resulted in the charges being dropped.
This story is often shared, I think, to show the cleverness of the lawyer, but when I think of it, I mainly think of how stupid a system had to be to allow such a thing to happen. The barley was still gone and would likely be eaten up again the next harvest by the same rats, and yet by all technical accounts, justice had been carried out. Even if the rats had been tried in absentia, however, and subsequently anathemized and excommunicated, it wouldn’t have protected the crop or brought back their barley. The whole thing, either way, was a giant, pointless show that wasted everyone’s time and never bothered the fattened rats.
Often, these days, I feel like we are the people waiting in that courthouse for rats that will never arrive.
Less often, on worse days, I feel we are the barley.