Life

What’s Going On With Those Furry Nazis?

How an anti-fascist Tasmanian Devil fought back against the alt-right in her fandom.

The head and ears of a furry animal costume with a paw in a circle on a red band in the background.
Photo illustration by Slate. Images by the Furry Raiders and Carsten Koall/Getty Images.

Nazi furries were up to no good in 2017. That’s when mainstream outlets like Rolling Stone reported on this very weird but nevertheless very real threat skulking within Trump’s America. Furries have historically faced ridicule from those beyond the walls of the fandom: on television, as with the infamous-among-furries CSI episode “Fur and Loathing”; online, as with consistent barrages of hate comments on furries’ TikTok Lives; and in journalism. The Nazi twist, to this last group of outside observers, was irresistible. When this story unfolded in the community four years ago, headlines like Rolling Stone’s “Does the Furry Community Have a Nazi Problem?” and the New Statesman’s “The Furred Reich: The Truth About Nazi Furries and the Alt-Right” felt like an inevitability.

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Reading those stories, which were about something serious, you still caught a whiff of disdain. Consider the common, overly reductive misconception espoused in that second piece: “[F]urries—people who dress up as animals, occasionally for sexual purposes.” The topic is tantalizing: an outcast group of seeming fetishists, broiled in fascist ideology, served with a side of scandal. But Nazis are a problem for furries, as they are for many online groups, and though reporting on it has mostly stopped, efforts in the community to oust these groups is ongoing.

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It’s been a few years since the big stuff around “Nazi furries” happened, and it’s with a heavy heart that I report the right-wing members of the fandom are still around. They are diffuse and varied in their ideologies, and they continue to recruit members to their ranks. Things have changed for many of these fascist furries, though, and a lot of work has gone into reforming these few who stuck their paws in a bit too deep. Anti-fascism courses through the veins of this fandom, and the success of furries in deradicalizing those in their community shows just how effective anti-fascist efforts in some fandoms and online communities can be.

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Deo, a furry committed to the project of anti-fascist labor in her own niche, plays a part in reforming some of these people, and agreed to speak with me about it. Deo became famous in the fandom back in 2017, as furries and the mainstream media pitted her in a battle against the face of Nazi furries, Foxler Nightfire. Foxler and his “Furry Raiders” parade around in large mascot costumes, or “fursuits,” accessorized with a paw-in-circle red armband, in the style of a Nazi officer. It’s tough to see a picture of Foxler and not emit an awkward laugh at the ludicrousness of it. However, the threats of harm from him and his followers are hardly funny.

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So, how do these sorts of people come to be? As a furry and a furry researcher, I often find myself clearing up misconceptions about what we furries do and what we’re all about, which is crucial background for understanding how Nazi furries are, like, a thing. Furries are a fandom in the vein of sci-fi, comics, and video games fandoms. Think Star Trek’s “Trekkies” or the kind of people who play Dungeons and Dragons. However, instead of a particular piece of media taking center stage in the fandom, furries are interested in depictions of anthropomorphic animals across numerous corporate outlets. Relevant inspirations in media include Disney’s Zootopia, the Warrior Cats series, and the anime Beastars, among others

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Furries mix and match these various anthro-animal styles into their own unique creations, most notably the “fursona.” The fursona is a furry’s alter ego: a new name, face, and species furries know and are known by in furry spaces. Foxler is the fursona of a person named Lee Miller. Deo is a Tasmanian devil. I’m a wolf named “Charlie.” Often, we wear fursuits modeled after our fursonas, to play out online fantasies in real life. Furries’ strange and intense fascination in cartoon animals leaves many feeling lonely. Furries are also overwhelmingly LGBTQ-identifying, so this dual outcast status of queer identity and nerdy fixation leads furries to form community with one another where we can express ourselves in unique, furry-specific ways.

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For Nazi furries, the “outcast” component is crucial. As Deo told me, a lot of furries find their way into these hate groups when they’re young and still figuring themselves out. Many are closeted and hold inward resentment to their queerness. Nazi furries use “degeneracy”—a word deployed in the Third Reich to describe a stain on society that needed to be purged to secure a white homeland—to draw a dividing line between themselves and other furries. These young, could-be-Nazi furries see openly queer people who share their same weird interest in cartoon animals. Because they have not accepted their own identity and are psychologically pliable, older Nazi furries can steer their inward resentment outward. They can take a stance: “Being furry is fine, sure, but we shouldn’t be degenerates.” The process that follows is a cultlike descent into brotherhood, blood and soil, and (what’s most feared) possibly acts of violence.

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Being a Nazi furry is a lot to deal with: managing fascism, furry interests, and possibly a closeted queer identity, as well as getting wrapped up in all the drama. People who find their way in get committed, though, and stick with the program. Deo explained, “When your life is this thing, this hate group, that’s all you have.” Nazi furries, she said, follow the same pattern of other hate groups. They prey on the insecure, and give them a community and a higher cause. She said, “They’re people without a lot of power in their own lives, so the fandom is a place where you can exert that power. Or at least, you can also find more friendships and connections with other people.” Some Nazi furries, especially those in the higher ranks, really believe they are on a path to a white ethnostate. Others are merely grifting. But a lot of them find themselves trapped.

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In 2017, Deo found out how far some of these furries were willing to go. She made a joke on Twitter about punching Nazis, in reference to the now-legendary video of Richard Spencer getting assaulted midinterview. In a complicated series of events—including threats to her life, a ban from a local furry convention, a doxxing of her address, and a subsequent home visit by an armed cadre of Nazi furries—Deo unjustly became a villain in this story, somehow bearing the burden of responsibility for getting Rocky Mountain Fur Con, a large convention in Colorado, shut down for good. But things swung the other way, quickly. The CEO of the con (as the fandom calls “conventions”) was revealed to be a convicted sex offender, with a history of inappropriate actions toward minors, and a friend of Foxler Nightfire, who, beyond Nazism, faces his own allegations of child abuse. (Also—always the biggest sin, in America—the con didn’t pay its taxes.)

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When Deo came on the scene in 2017, her anti-fascist work was a lot more limited, and it was obvious to the casual onlooker. In the fallout from the shutdown of Rocky Mountain Fur Con, people in the community have reached out to her for help, and much of the work she does now happens in quiet logistical ways, like sussing out suspicious characters at events and conventions. Anti-fascist work, she explained to me, is mostly monitoring, seeing where trouble can happen before it does.

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To do this with furries requires expert knowledge on the ins and outs of the fandom, on the identities of those there, and in the ways furries desire things and one another. Furries love anthropomorphic animals, sure, but the real commitment to the fandom comes from the camaraderie of sharing that interest, the friendships, and the romantic pairings that ensue from liking the same things. Furries have an intuition about these interests and are embedded in these relationships, and having that intuition serves furry anti-fascists well in their efforts to curb the appeal of Nazism in the fandom. Anything viciously illegal gets reported to the proper authorities, of course, but as Deo reminds me, being a Nazi furry is not illegal—it’s just really bad.

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Former Nazi furries have reached out to Deo in the years since 2017. Some of them seek her out for forgiveness for being awful to her until they realized they were wrong. Some just want forgiveness, in a grand sense, for committing themselves to something so atrocious. Most feel some sort of shame or embarrassment about it, especially if they’ve grown in age since their foray into fascism. I asked Deo how she feels about these interactions, and she says she is sympathetic toward them. She doesn’t want punishment for these furries; rather, she is happy to see them endeavor to have a more wholesome engagement with the fandom.

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I joined a group chat of these “formers” and asked about their experiences getting in and out of these circles. One who climbed up the ranks, remarkably enough as an out-and-open trans woman, felt the process of gradual radicalization after finding “sanctuary” among the furry far right. She said, “I started going along with the people’s ideas in those groups, I listened, and read what they had to say, and this is where my empathy ended up sabotaging me, because they hijacked that part of me and I ended up feeling sorry for the lot of them. They have essentially become my online family.” Her trans identity proved a useful tool for them: “They were using me and my identity as an example of the ‘golden trans’ to weaponize against other trans folks they come across, and to triangulate them against me. It’s a lot harder to fight back against an adversary, when your adversary bears the face of the oppressed.” Her way out was tough and gradual, as she fought with the feelings of abandoning her newfound family, however problematic they were. She made a new home in the fandom, eventually, with a new, supportive group of friends.

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Another former Nazi furry in this group chat confirmed the internal strife of queer furries wanting to purge “degeneracy” from the fandom. She said, “[There are] a lotta gay people who hate themselves for being gay there. Self-loathing compensated with self-aggrandizement is a really weird combo that seems to be very common along these lines.” This former had been a casual, mostly online furry in the years up to 2017. Her first hook into these far-right groups was her descent into Gamergate communities online, and she eventually found her first intense engagement with the furry fandom through alt-right furry channels. She said, “I guess what attracted me to the whole #altfurry thing at the time was the seemingly ridiculous notion of ‘Nazi furries.’ ” The unmoderated discussion in these groups, all conducted under a veil of irony, was appealing to her. As with many people in these groups, what seemed like a joke to her at first became very real and terrifying. She said, “I stuck around these circles for a while, but I knew something was wrong deep inside.” She stepped out and gradually found her way into leftist furry circles, including a Discord server with Deo.

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After the events that hit national news unfolded in 2017, Foxler Nightfire is still active in his local furry communities—though without as much fame, and with a lot more ridicule—and some furries still identify as Furry Raiders and/or with other similar groups with their own leaders (whom I avoid discussing here to prevent any new traffic to these actors’ content). Deo continues her work with anti-fascism in the furry fandom. Not all Nazi furries find their way out; anti-fascists are nevertheless keeping their numbers low and their activities under close watch, lest an act of stochastic terrorism shine the spotlight on this weird corner of the internet yet again. In the meantime, that threat is always present, staying out of the light of the public eye, trying not to be seen.

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