Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Attack on FurFest Convention: An Atmosphere Of Hate

Some disclaimers off the bat; I did not attend Midwest Fur Fest (MFF) and I am not writing this from any firsthand reports. This piece is being written while the Police investigation is ongoing and the story is developing.

As you are may be aware, at MFF there was an incident involving a release of chlorine gas injuring 19 attendees that is being investigated as a deliberate attack.  Wherever that investigation leads, as a furry and a longtime convention volunteer I am worried. Not for my own safety, but for the fandom. Earlier this year, someone posted a terror threat to twitter against Anthrocon, another Furry convention, in Philadelphia. Now, every con gets some level of similar mischief, but this threat came from an account who's profile pic was that of Lemonade Coyote, a much beloved soul who, out of suit, was an EMT dedicated to saving lives until his was tragically lost. This was one of the reasons the FBI took it so seriously. As of this writing, I am not aware of the results of the FBI investigation but the Con went off without incident. As a Furry I am unfortunately accustomed to a certain level of disapproval, but this year, it looks much scarier. Furries have been the punchline of jokes among Science Fiction fandom for decades. Lines like “If you take away the drama, furries will suffocate” or “Trying to understand furry drama is like trying to smell the color blue” abound. However, this is something more. This is the willful targeting of a marginalized population which has a chilling effect on a free association. I have been careful in my conversation to not use the T-Word (despite that hesitance feeling like an internalized message of unworthiness) but when you see the pictures of the attack's aftermath...

When the news first broke I braced myself for one of two possibilities from the media. So far, most of the coverage I have seen has been respectful, except for one glaring example:  Mika running off set on Morning Joe. 

Now, here are my problems with this clip. First off, they are mocking people who had just been attacked in the dead of night! These people deserve compassion, not ridicule. Second, who in the booth decided to rub salt in the wound by cutting to Mika running down the hall? You were running a video package, just keep the loop rolling another 5 seconds and come back with a two shot at the desk. Finally, I wonder what they whispered in her ear that provoked such an extreme reaction and the effect that may have on her further coverage and the perception that will reinforce in the viewing public.

FaceBook, in the 24 hours after the Chicago attack, rang with “If they want to make themselves targets” which sounds to me uncomfortably close to my Uncle saying “If you stay in the closet you won't get bashed.” This may sound like I'm on a civil rights soapbox...because I am. I'm not claiming that furries are a suspect class, but rather that we have the same rights to free association as anyone else, and these incidents are only going to make people more frightened of leaving their own homes, which is likely the point. Thankfully, even in this post Ferguson/Staten Island/Cleveland atmosphere, nobody blinked at cooperating with the Police. In fact as this comment from the article on Raw Story about the event (link) suggests the Police even made an extra effort to cooperate with the attendees:

mercedeslackey2 days ago

Be aware that this is all hearsay, but being pretty well plugged into fandom in general, my husband got the following information.

There are suspects being investigated. They were "first timers" who registered with the convention and the hotel using their real names, and vanished immediately after the chlorine powder was discovered.

Used to disorganized conventions, the police were pleasantly surprised to find that the con chairman was waiting for them with the full registration lists which include real names and addresses, and had cleared the hotel to provide the police with the Convention registered hotel guest list. (Attendees of the Convention get a discounted hotel rate, so the hotel had their own list).

Attendees were instructed to cooperate with the police, and did so. The police who wished to "fit in" were provided with ears and tails so they could do so. The police soon began to actively enjoy themselves (as much as could be said of someone investigating a crime scene and a terrorist action) and were seen taking many selfies with costumed attendees.

To the people dismissing this as “those people got scared, nothing to do with me” I counter “We aren't just furries. We're lawyers, teachers, cabbies, firemen, and military personnel.”and any time something like this happens it happens to human beings. Another dismissal I have heard, “So somebody set off a stink bomb. So what?” Here, in a better rebuttal than I would be qualified to give, Skyedancer a retired soldier also comments on the incident on the Raw Story website:

As a Chem Ops Specialist as well as a furry, I don't find this act funny at all. chlorine gas even chlorine powder is lethal. I have friends who were attending that con and when I found out about this I was worried about them. It was used in WWI and WWII to kill enemy soldiers from a distance. it was the first chemical agent used in war. they used mortars to deploy the gas and often caught their own troops in the gas and it killed thousands. if you think this is funny then why don't you go into a room full of this gas and see how funny it is as you're rushed to the ER with extreme difficulty breathing. I hope that the 19 people who went to the hospital will be OK...”

If I can step forward for a moment, I want to plainly address what I've been dancing around, using words like “free association” and “suspect class”. When brainstorming this piece I kept coming back to the reaction I saw online. And I wonder why are we still this, why are we still a country, a geekdom, a species that finds an attack on it's fellow beings the setup for a punchline? I don't think I'm making more of it than it is. I simply don't know who we are anymore. I know people older than me who will look at this and say, “It was ever thus.” But damn it, that doesn't mean it always must be so! Nineteen people were hurt...physically. How many more were hurt far more deeply? That's the point I want to leave people with; we're all in this together and an injury to one is an injury to all.

MalKontent Blizzard signing off.

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