Last week, a Mississippi mayor tried to strong-arm a local library into banning some books. The result was swift, and in retrospect, entirely predictable: A group of furries got on Twitter to do something about it.
The first tweet came on Friday, from Soatok, a furry with an avatar of a sparkling, blue, wolf-like creature: “We interrupt your usual program of shitposts, memes, and cute fursuits to bring you something with real-world impact.”
Soatok, who asked to be identified by his online handle, was referring to the news that Mayor Gene McGee of Ridgeland, Mississippi, was withholding $110,000 of funding from the Madison Country Library System. Library officials told the Mississippi Free Press that the mayor had demanded they purge their collection of LGBTQ+ books, which he called “homosexual materials,” before his office would release the money.
Tonja Johnson, the executive director of the county’s library system, told VICE News that the withholding of this money even temporarily would have a “significant impact on services that are available” and potentially affect their ability to pay library employees.
This is where the furries come in. Soatak is a security engineer at a large tech company, but he’s also a furry—a member of a community that’s mostly known for being really into anthropomorphic fantasy animals and dressing up in fursuits at conventions.
That last part probably seems completely ancillary to the very serious matter at hand (the banning of books), but it’s not.
In an attempt to assist this Mississippi library, the furry community has launched a fundraising frenzy over the past few days, to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. While book banning, or attempted book banning, has recently become something of a theme around the country, this small-town mayor seems to have inadvertently picked a fight with the wrong crowd.
After the mayor’s announcement, the library began an online fundraiser. The goal was set at $2,500.
Soatok said that when he first came across it, the fundraiser had yet to raise a single dollar. So, he tweeted out a link to the fundraising site, encouraging his community to donate. To kick things off, he included a screenshot of his inaugural donation of $500.
Restricting access to books is becoming something of a common page in the conservative political playbook.
“For a little bit, nothing really happened,” he told VICE News. “Then, things just started blowing up.”
Though Soatok doesn’t have a large Twitter following, his post was quickly amplified by popular furry accounts. Within hours, the goal of $2,500 had been reached. The next morning, Soatok tweeted a new screenshot: The library’s fundraising page had reached just over $9,000. And over the weekend, the donations continued to pour in.
At the time of writing, the fundraiser is at just over $44,000— slowly creeping toward the halfway point of the $110,000 that McGee is denying the library.
Most furries identify as something other than exclusively straight or heterosexual, and Soatok says that this probably made his community especially sensitive to McGee’s announcement. “When they hear that Ridgeland has a mayor who is being homophobic, it strikes a chord with a lot of people, especially if you’ve been a victim of homophobic violence,” he said.
But more importantly, furries have little patience for discrimination, Soatok added, and they’re pretty used to putting their money where their mouth is.
“It’s kinda in the culture,” he said. “Most of our conventions have a charity they’re trying to raise money for. Like the DEFCON Furs, we raise money for a youth center in Las Vegas. Or Midwest FurFest, which is in Chicago, raises money for a no-kill animal shelter every year.”
Soatok also said that libraries hold a special place for him, as he grew up poor in a town not unlike Ridgeland. The library was a safe haven for him and allowed him to learn how to use a computer, which was an important first step in his career.
Restricting access to books is becoming something of a common page in the conservative political playbook. Last year, a school district in Texas removed over 400 books about gender, sexuality, and race, including Ta-Nehisi Coates’ memoir Between the World and Me, for being “vulgar.” More recently, a school board in Tennessee banned Maus, a graphic novel by Art Spiegelman that depicts the horrors of the Holocaust through the use of drawn animals, citing eight curse words and nude imagery contained in the book.
In Mississippi, Johnson, the executive director of Madison County Library, said McGee had demanded the removal of The Queer Bible, a collection of essays that includes an entry by Elton John. She said the library has also received complaints about books like Grandad’s Camper, a children’s story by a nonbinary author. Johnson said that McGee told her the books went against his Christian beliefs.
That being said, a lot of these policies have come from the decision of a school board or parent group—a single politician attempting to just sit on a bag of money until a library does what he wants is a somewhat novel approach.
Even now, a lot of the excited chatter about this fundraiser is still coming from people with Twitter avatars of sleek purple ponies or fuzzy brown otters.
It’s also not clear if what McGee is doing is even allowed. At a recent board meeting, library officials asked their legal counsel if McGee had the legal ability to do this.
The counsel’s reply: “Uh, no.”
When asked directly if his position as mayor gave him the authority to withhold the $110,000, McGee told the Mississippi Free Press, “That’s a legal question. I don’t know that I do or do not. But right now I’m holding the money.”
VICE News contacted the mayor’s office to ask how he felt about the furry community’s response to his attempted book ban. Messages left on his office’s voicemail were not answered.
But McGee seems to at least be aware of what’s going on; he has blocked Soatok on Twitter.
It’s hard to determine exactly how much of the money that has been donated to the library came from the furry community, though it’s pretty clear that the initial momentum came from them. Even now, a lot of the excited chatter about this fundraiser is still coming from people with Twitter avatars of sleek purple ponies or fuzzy brown otters. (Soatak in particular has adopted the fursona of a dhole, a wild canid that is native to Asia. His happens to be blue.)
And replies to Soatok’s original Twitter thread are full of fellow furries posting that they’ve just donated or are planning on doing so soon.
“These nazi bastards won't get away with this,” reads the reply from a scruffy opossum with antlers. “I'm donating some on payday.”
Perhaps the only place where the furry factor is not obvious is on the library’s fundraising page itself. Most of the contributors appear to be using their legal names, and because furries tend to not like to use their fursona names and their legal names in the same place, it’s nearly impossible to parse out who is part of the community and who found the page after the furries did.
One of the contributors, however, does have a recognizable name: Ray Mabus, governor of Mississippi from 1988-1992, and the 75th secretary of the United States Navy under Barack Obama.
He donated $100, and left the message, “Don’t give into bigots.”