Narrator: I have a question for you. And I want you to really think about it before you answer. How good are you at keeping secrets?
You’re probably overestimating.
Imagine for a second that someone offers to tell you a secret, and that as long as nobody else finds out, you get to enjoy access to whatever that knowledge grants. And it happens to be something you really want. What would that be?
Influence? Money? Friends? Membership? …Acceptance?
Could you do it?
Oh, but there’s a catch. You have to tell them one of your own secrets first. Something you wouldn’t dare tell anybody, because if it got out, it could destroy you. “Don’t worry about it,” they say, “It’s so we can trust each other.” Or maybe it goes, “It’s just to prove you’re for real.”
Or maybe it sounds more like… “Now neither of us will talk, because we’ll both be ruined.”
Still feeling confident?
That’s not trust. It’s a form of mutual assured destruction. A shortcut people take to try to mitigate risk and get what they want, by exchanging threats instead of building trust.
Sure, maybe everything turns out fine in the end. But what happens if the other guy starts breaking the rules, because they’re sure you won’t sacrifice yourself to stop them? What if you’re not the only one who would be hurt?
What if somebody else was forcing them?
So, now you’re in a bad-faith agreement that depends on everyone doing exactly what they said they would do, forever. And if someone gets out of line, you only have two options.
Suck it up… or bring down the whole house of cards.
Ironic, isn’t it? The best outcome requires trust that nobody earned.
I bet this sounds pretty familiar now, but if not, remember all the cautionary tales from your childhood? All the cartoons and fables about things like finding a magic lamp and making your friends lie for you so you can marry a princess… and when you were older, movies and crime dramas about mob bosses and cults and forbidden lovers… and… history. Hate groups and fascist militias and… nuclear war.
And all the words they used for those agreements, like “honor” and “faith” and “protocol” as substitutes for trust.
And how someone end up trapped, and fighting to get out. How can you even do that?
On this episode of Zooier than Thou, we’re telling the true story of a fellow zoophile who found themselves in exactly this predicament, starting with where it all began, how it spun out of control, progressed to blackmail, and eventually violence. And the personal cost of escaping. We’ve had to change some details to protect them of course, but that fits with the theme of the episode. We’ll ask why mutual assured destruction used to be the way that zoos networked, explore the effects that it had on our community, and discuss how we think we can do better today by doing things right, by building trust. And a warning to listeners: some details of this story are disturbing. You already know our show’s not for kids, but this one is not for the faint of heart.
Stay tuned for Season Four, Episode Two of Zooier Than Thou: Going MAD.
Narrator: The year is 1995. Microsoft had just released Internet Explorer to compete against the more popular Netscape Navigator, dialup modems could download at a whopping 33.6 kilobits per second, and Stuart Adams had finally saved up enough money to buy his first computer for a cool $3500. It was here, still living with his parents in Sydney, that Stuart first found the burgeoning online zoophile community.
Stuart: My entry point was the muds, mucks, telnet talkers, IRC. It was a revelation at the time to finally find other zoos just like me. To know I wasn’t alone. To know I wasn’t a monster. To know zoos weren’t monsters. It changed my whole life just to find others to talk to and just seeing they were regular ordinary people across the world and with a range of vocations and interests.
Narrator: Filled with a new sense of identity and purpose, Stuart dove headlong into the online community. Most of the people he met were young, like him, still in their late teens and early twenties, accessing the internet while at university or on the family computer. But there was an older crowd that stood out above the rest. These were the established zoos, elder members of the community who seemed to have everything a zoo could desire: their own homes, their own animals, and a wealth of sexual experience they were more than willing to share with the wide-eyed, longing new members still trying to navigate their sexuality.
Stuart: It seemed this far off, impossible dream, but they were living it. I wasn’t even sure at this stage if I was ready to do anything with animals myself, for real. I hadn’t figured it out yet in my head, so I was kinda awestruck, kinda scared, but my desire to do those things was strong.
Narrator: While Stuart and the other fledgling members of these online spaces looked up at these older, more experienced zoos with awe and admiration, Stuart couldn’t help but feel that these same elders looked down on them. For those living the dream, a zoophile wasn’t a zoophile until they had experience. The solution was simple, they suggested: move out, buy a house, and get your own animals. But for those coming of age in the 90s, the sure footing that allowed Baby Boomers to purchase their own homes right out of high school was already beginning to wear away.
Stuart: I used to resent the established zoos a lot.
Interviewer: How come?
Stuart: Well, these were boomers, thinking back on the time frame now, born in the 40s and 50s, and everything was easy for them to get or achieve. I pledged to never be like them. I pledged to never take what I achieved for granted, and to never view another zoo as somehow lesser if they hadn’t or couldn’t reach a life with animals of their own.
Narrator: As Stuart navigated online zoo spaces throughout the 90’s, another cultural division became clear.
Stuart: The community split other ways around species. Mostly dog vs horse. Canid vs equine. But there were strong dolphin and bigcat groups too.
Interviewer: How did that split manifest itself in the community?
Stuart: Well, you could almost rank the groups in likelihood of ever doing anything for real, with big cat types and more exotic animals living the most far off in fantasy land. Dolphin types sometimes found their kin. Equine types, well, there were less of them than dog types but they were always the loudest, and craziest, and seemed to have no shortage of experiences. Dog types had the most experiences of all, of course. And experience was how you measured things, or at least that’s how I remembered it. If you had experience with animals you were a somebody. If you didn’t you were a nobody.
Narrator: In spite of the social hierarchy that Stuart began to perceive, he found the community overall welcoming and friendly.
Stuart: Every community has its loudmouths and abrasive types, but I learned a lot about how people loved their animals, and how they formed entire lives around them, something I had very little experience of in any respect.
Narrator: Throughout the 90s and into the early 2000s, Stuart spent most of his time online in zoo IRC channels and newsgroups, absorbing the social trends, the debates, and the interpersonal drama of a community trying to find its identity in the face of overwhelming stigma.
Stuart: I remember seeing how people would arrive new into the communities, open and eager, but over time they’d get more savvy and careful and talk much less freely. We were all pretty naive back then though, it was a simpler time.
Narrator: Over time, new platforms usurped old ones. User handles appeared, participated, and were abandoned. There was a woman who went on to become a famous furry artist. There was a man who went on the Jerry Springer show with his horse. There was a zoo who stole his neighbor’s dog and ran away with her because he believed she was being mistreated. Stuart watched all of these things from the sidelines, anonymous and disconnected in the South Pacific, trying to keep up with contacts across different community websites by maintaining the same handle throughout.
Stuart: I wanted so much to make friends, to make connections, to be found. I wanted so much to be seen. Increasingly I wanted to have sex with animals for real too. It’s not that I dismissed the romantic part, you see, but I couldn’t yet see any kind of a life with me and a dog, or any animal. I’d had a lot of time to think about it, and decide that it was ethical, and decide that it was for me, and I wanted it desperately, but I didn’t know anyone with animals near me, let alone anyone who would trust me with their animals.
Narrator: A decade passed, and Stuart had made great strides in his own mental health and self-acceptance. But his lack of experience gnawed at him, like an itch that grew harder and harder to ignore.
Stuart: The older zoos always made me feel like I was missing out. Always made me feel like I was lesser. A part of me wanted to prove myself in their eyes. To show them I wasn’t just some hopeless case.
Interviewer: So even though you’d been around for a decade, people still didn’t accept you as a full-fledged zoo?
Stuart: Don’t get me wrong. Most zoos didn’t make me feel like I had to do the deed to fit in, but a lot did. And I wanted to do the deed. I wanted it more and more as time passed. Plus, my sex life with humans had hardly been stellar either, and frustration doesn’t make for good decision making.
Narrator: Sexually frustrated and eager to prove himself, Stuart connected with a zoo in Queensland who offered to meet with him so Stuart could have his first experience with a canine companion. But there were rules, and penalties for breaking those rules.
Stuart: This guy had an actual rulebook he’d made explaining how things would be if I was to visit, the rules that needed to be respected. Literally, a rulebook.
Interviewer: What kind of rules were there?
Stuart: So for instance, he required my name and address before he’d give out his name and address for meeting. I could film stuff or he could film stuff for me while I was there, on the condition he kept a copy and that I wasn’t to share the film or photos with anyone.
Interviewer: And what if you broke the rules?
Stuart: If I broke the rules, he was to release my name, address, and the film material in public. Which, at the time, seemed fair enough. After all, he was putting his house, his name, his dog at risk. I was just the desperate kid wanting to turn up and get dogfucked.
Narrator: There was a price to pay to get what he so desperately craved, and the Queensland zoo held all the cards. Stuart felt he was at his mercy, and the exchange of information seemed like a reasonable bargain. But as the date grew closer, Stuart began to have doubts. Having sex with an animal was a big line to cross, one he couldn’t undo after the fact. And he’d never met another zoo in real life before. What would they be like in person, this relative stranger willing to offer up their animal companion to someone else in exchange for mementos of the occasion? And what if there was a falling out? If this zoo had his name and address, he could turn up at his parent’s house with a videotape in hand. The night before his fateful trip, Stuart called the whole thing off.
Stuart: He was pretty upset about that. I was never sure what exactly was in it for him, but I guess he liked to watch. We did eventually meet years later and got on okay. I never had to enter that deal, but it still felt like I dodged a bullet.
Narrator: Meanwhile, Stuart’s consistency was beginning to pay off. He’d made something of a name for himself in Anthrochat, a furry IRC network, and people began to recognize him by name on other furry platforms. Stuart was not shy about his sexuality, speaking openly in these forums about his interests.
Stuart: I generally tried to live an open life. It was an important part of self-therapy to be open and unashamed of who I was, in many aspects. I wanted to be liked for who I was, not who I pretended to be. And if I ended up hated for who I was too, so be it.
Narrator: But being out as a zoo left Stuart open to the potential for harm, should a malicious actor set their sights on him.
Stuart: It relied on me living a clean life, a life where the ‘worst’ thing about me was that I was unashamedly zoo, and I thought that I did, at least at first.
Narrator: In 2007, 12 years after first discovering the online zoo community while still living with his parents, Stuart finally had his dream come true.
Stuart: A guy invited me to meet him and his dog, on neutral ground. I’d known him a good while. I liked him and we had some chemistry. And he didn’t ask for anything in return. We met, we saw each other’s faces, and I jacked off his dog.
Narrator: In contrast to his experience with the Queensland zoo, there was no required exchange of information, no set of rules to follow, no punishment for breaking the agreed-upon covenant. There were no expectations for sexual interaction, only a promise to meet up and see where things went from there.
Stuart: I had been transformed by my first ever zoo experience and was in a kind of euphoria. I felt very grateful to him and his dog. It felt like a bonding experience. This was one of the few times it felt healthy, as we asked nothing of one another, and sharing dirt wasn’t a prerequisite to any experiences or opportunities. Another few years down the line it was another person I’d known a while, and we’d already shared social time round each other’s houses before he trusted me to play with his dog. This was organic. This was healthy. I never asked, and it was up to his dog to make the first move. I was lucky and I knew it.
Narrator: As Stuart made more connections, more and more opportunities opened up for him.
Stuart: I built connections. I travelled. I had lucky experiences with people’s dogs, and I wasn’t asked to throw myself under the bus, just show up. I was gradually transforming from a no-hoper ‘nobody’ zoo, to a more experienced ‘somebody’ zoo, whom the zoo elders of old might finally give the time of day to. I had however developed an unfortunate habit of counting my worth, as a zoo, by my experiences and connections.
Narrator: But there was something missing. As Stuart spent more time around other zoos and their animal companions, he began to yearn for something he couldn’t fulfill with sex alone.
Stuart: In my finally spending time around people with dogs, while the sex was amazing, it was the companionship, the relationship, that served to underline what I was truly missing. I remember shifting from want to need. Hanging out, walking, petting, cuddling, this was a world I couldn’t even imagine before experiencing it. So it drove me and drove me, until finally my life was in order, I’d moved out of my parent’s house, and I was bringing my first dog home. That’s when everything changed.
Narrator: Stuart had finally arrived. He was a zoo with his own home and his own dog, a member of the upper echelons of the community.
Stuart: I had suddenly ascended to a higher plane, somehow, and a whole new set of doors opened for me. There were zoos I’d heard about, but rarely encountered, for one simple reason – they didn’t generally talk to or engage with anyone who didn’t have an animal of their own. They didn’t find it worth the risk or worth the time to engage with anyone who hadn’t reached that level yet. And suddenly for the first time they were willing to talk to me.
Narrator: Stuart suddenly found himself in the company of the who’s who of the zoo community, people who were at the center of the social scene, people who knew everyone and who held the keys to a wealth of opportunities, experiences, and connections.
Stuart: I met these people where they lived, and I had sex with their animals, if they were cool with it.
Interviewer: Well, wait a minute, what about your dog? Did you ever —
Stuart: Oh, I want to be clear – my own dog wasn’t offered up as some kind of bargaining chip for sex in return. It was never like that. It was the fact I had a dog at all that opened the door. Their motive, it seemed, was share and share alike, build friends, build networks. And these people knew people. I wanted to get to know people, too. I wanted to network too. These were my main routes in for any of that.
Narrator: Being associated with high-profile zoos carried a certain amount of prestige, and Stuart found himself becoming prominent in the community himself.
Stuart: I tried to remember my early days in the community, my no-hoper days, my ‘nobody’ days, where I resented the established zoos, where I never wanted to take all of my achievements for granted, where I never wanted to judge other zoos as lesser for not being where I was yet. But I developed a certain impatience about people.
Interviewer: What changed?
Stuart: It had taken me an extremely long time to get to where I had, and in the end, a continual push to change my whole life until it revolved around my dog was what it took. I saw other people unwilling to put in the time, unwilling to put in the changes, and then complaining about their lack of a good life, their lack of a dog. They didn’t want to hear what it took, they just wanted things to fall into their lap. I never felt my circumstances came about easily. I felt they were very hard to achieve, I was never dismissive or minimizing in what was needed. But increasingly I had no time for those who seemingly wouldn’t, rather than couldn’t get there. The other thing is, when you have an animal companion, it becomes really clear that sex is maybe 30 minutes out of your day. That’s 23 and a half hours of everything else that comes with that commitment. Walking, playing, making sure they’re living the best lives possible. Like I said, this isn’t something I really grasped before I had an animal of my own, and once you’re in a relationship like that, the people without animals sometimes seem like they just don’t get it. It can be hard to relate to them anymore.
Interviewer: So it’s no longer all about sex.
Stuart: Right. I mean, I think sex is important. And there’s nothing wrong with having sex, or wanting sex. But without that perspective, the 23 and a half hours where everything else that’s not sex matters, it starts to seem like that’s all you care about.
Interviewer: We have talked a lot about the sexual aspects of your life.
Stuart: I think that’s just where it starts for a lot of people. We’re dumb, horny teenagers, or young adults, who desperately want to get laid. But you grow into seeing that there’s more to it than that. And you know, maybe that’s part of the reason some of the more established zoos were cagey about talking to us nobody zoos. If you don’t know what it means to take care of an animal, how can you appreciate the commitment it takes? Sex never stops being a part of your life, but it stops being the only thing that matters.
Narrator: Meanwhile, Stuart found himself with no shortage of opportunities for sex with animals of a variety of species. He networked with zoos all over the world, even traveling across the Pacific to meet zoos in America and visit their farms. These well-connected zoos knew everyone on a first name basis. Everyone was in the same boat, and that boat was kept afloat by a sense that if any one person went down, the whole vessel would sink. An exchange of personal information was customary to gain access to these social circles, and Stuart found himself friends on Facebook with high-profile zoos across Australia, Europe and North America.
Stuart: I could afford to be a bit more choosy now. I wanted friends, I wanted connections, but moreso with people who also had animals. I didn’t exclude those who didn’t, but I put less effort into those who didn’t. At the same time I increasingly adopted the zoo community ways of mutually assured destruction. If you were building a relationship with a zoo, if you both had animals, you both were sexually active with them, you both had something to lose, it somehow made things feel more tenable. To the point you’d gravitate towards people who had more to lose. They had more skin in the game so they were a safer bet to get to know. Surely. Personal details would soon follow, and you had a pact, a seemingly reinforced bond over and above what you might otherwise have. It even became a bit of an impulse, if you had a good vibe about someone, and you wanted to really show you were serious, you’d throw your personal details at them. There you go. I showed you mine, I’m not some rando, you’ll probably show me yours too.
Interviewer: This never struck you as dangerous?
Stuart: Well, after all, what zoo would ever backstab another, in this scenario? What zoo would risk blowing up the ground beneath their feet? It was unthinkable. You have to remember, too, the climate we were in. Antibestiality laws were being passed left and right. When you force a community underground like that, everyone you know’s got a dirty little secret that could unravel their entire lives. We were all sharing that same burden, and the most valuable thing you have in that situation is your own identity. You don’t need trust, you just need to know that if you go down, everyone else is coming with you.
Narrator: Meanwhile, rumors were brewing about some of the major players in the community. Just before leaving for a trip to Germany for a large gathering of zoos, one of Stuart’s local friends pulled him aside and warned him not to make the trip.
Stuart: He told me that my friend Felix in Germany was involved in some very dark stuff, animal torture and trafficking of animals. I knew he had some dark fantasies, but I’d never had a reason to believe there was more to it than that.
Interviewer: Did you not think it was… a red flag? That this guy told you he was into some dark stuff, and then someone else warns you that it’s real?
Stuart: Even if I believed there was anything there beyond fantasies, which I didn’t want to believe, I was long past being able to do anything about it. He had everything on me. He knew where I lived. He’d met my friends, family, colleagues, and me vice versa. We were fully entangled. There were other friends I had, through these networks, with similar issues surrounding them. People I felt uneasy about. People I knew some things about. People I’d been warned about.
Interviewer: Why not heed your friend’s warnings?
Stuart: I didn’t want to hear any of it because I didn’t want to risk my networks of people, but also I didn’t feel able to do anything about it. I was complacent but also scared.
Interviewer: Scared of what?
Stuart: Scared of ever giving them a reason to turn on me. Scared of hearing anything worse about them. Scared of what people might think about my associations with them. Scared of mutually assured destruction. So I did what I’d always done, ignore the problem and carry on and assume things would always stay swept under the rug, as they always did.
Narrator: Then, in September of 2018, the second largest zoo account on Twitter posted its final string of messages before going dark. In it, the leaked telegram logs of Levi Dane Simmons, otherwise known as Nelizar, unveiled a vast network of animal and child abusers hiding just beneath the surface of the furry and zoo communities, and nothing would ever be the same.
Narrator 2: When we come back, we’ll follow Stuart as he reckons with the revelations of the zoosadist leaks and with his own inability to act in the face of mutual assured destruction. Stay tuned for more Zooier Than Thou, right after this.
Narrator: In 1945, the US ended World War 2 on the Pacific front by dropping two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ushering in the era of nuclear warfare. While the second World War saw incredible technological advances, never before had weapons capable of such catastrophic destruction been developed. And for a few years, the US was the only superpower capable of wielding such devastating power, leveraging its stockpile of arms to keep other countries in line. Then, on August 29th, 1949, the Soviet Union tested their first atomic bomb, named “First Lightning,” and an arms race began. As nuclear missiles piled up around the globe, it eventually became clear that if any one side were to launch a nuclear attack on the other, the retaliation would be swift and deadly. Not only this, but the sheer number of weapons and their ability to wipe entire cities off the face of the planet assured complete and total annihilation on both sides. By the 1960’s, the United States had formally adopted a policy of Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD. This wasn’t a new concept — it had been described nearly a century earlier by inventors and authors alike. In 1937, Nikola Tesla proposed his charged particle beam weapon as “a superweapon that would put an end to all war.” Suddenly, there was an overabundance of superweapons strategically placed across the globe. Every nation had a gun pointed at their head, reminding them of the imminent doom that faced them if they dared pull the trigger in their hands.
MAD was the policy of two super-powerful nations trying to prevent global annihilation. So how did such a concept become common parlance in the zoophile community? Why did we begin invoking mutual assured destruction as a basis for building a community? Was it even intentional?
Interviewer: Why do you think the community fell into the habit of utilizing a policy of Mutual Assured Destruction?
Stuart: I’m not sure. I never stopped to question it or even reflect on it until very recently. It was a thing you did. Perhaps an extension of the coming out process itself, when you tell a real life friend you’re gay or zoo, you’re throwing that factoid over the wall at them, something they could use to directly harm you. It’s not quite the same, but it felt similar. A leap of faith, usually based on gut instinct, when you’ve known someone a while and got a good feel about them. But it’s been a long time since I did that and it kinda feels alien to me now. It’s hard to remember the exact thought processes.
Interviewer: Do you think it’s always been like that?
Stuart: I’m not sure how long it was a thing, or if it predated my time. Being a zoo can feel very lonely. All at once you’re bombarded with names and new friends online where you share such an important bond, while at the same time they might be on the opposite side of the world and maybe you’ll never meet. You finally know kindred spirits but they’re so far away. You yearn for connections, something deeper, because while having zoo in common is a big deal, it might be the only thing you have in common — that you know of — and the enforced anonymity prevents more, or the possibility of more.
Interviewer: In your time with Calzoo, did you see zoos engaging with each other on the basis of sharing dirt? Like, the idea that “I know everything about you, so if you fuck me over, we’re both going down.”
Steeeve: I never heard anyone say or do anything of the sort, although of course any of us could’ve outed any of the rest of us at any time.
Interviewer: Do you feel like people shared this stuff openly and freely about themselves without thinking about how that information could be used against them, or was there some knowledge of shared risk in knowing this information about one another?
Steeeve: Probably both, unspoken knowledge of mutually assured destruction, and general goodwill toward zoos.
Interviewer: Why do you think that our community fell into the habit of mutual assured destruction?
Steeeve: Well, it’s kind of like closeted military personnel I met at the gay bar. I knew they were there and queer, they knew I was there and queer, nobody wanted to be outed, so nobody outed someone who could out them back. Plus, it would’ve been deeply uncool. The outer would’ve been ostracized.
Narrator: When you’re a part of a community that’s forced underground, there’s an unspoken understanding that everyone is risking something by taking a part in it. Mutually Assured Destruction may not be the de jure policy, written out in a rulebook like the Queensland zoo that offered Stuart his first chance at experience, but rather a subconscious state of affairs reinforced by social stigma, by cautionary tales of outed zoos losing their animals, their families, their livelihoods. And MAD works, so long as everyone’s willing to play along, so long as everyone is striving for the same goal. But what happens when someone understands the game that everyone else is playing and decides to exploit the system for their own gain? What happens when secrets become a currency, and your place on the totem pole depends on who you know and how much you’re willing to share? In 2018, the foundation the community had built itself upon began to crumble when someone decided to stop playing the game, and Stuart Adams found himself at the center of the devastation, linked inexorably to every prominent player on the board.
(some music for a moment before continuing)
Narrator: When the zoosadist leaks first dropped, things were quiet, and it almost seemed like they might get overlooked, washed away by the endless tide of tweets that characterizes the ephemeral nature of Twitter. But it wasn’t long before prominent accounts took notice and boosted the signal across furry Twitter, and consequently, across zoo Twitter.
Stuart: I found myself with a laundry list of friends, associates, people I’d heard of, into hurting animals, either doing it for real or trading porn of it or associating with either of those types. It took me a while to update to the new reality. The entire calculus of the zoo community had changed forever, but none of us truly knew how much, yet.
Narrator: As more and more prominent members of the community were implicated, zoos at all levels of the social hierarchy scrambled for damage control.
Stuart: I had zoos on one side coming to me saying, “Can you believe so-and-so was into this shit?” And on the other side, people asking me for information about the contents of the leaks so they could cover their tracks.
Narrator: One such zoo was the major player from Germany, Felix Wagner, the one Stuart’s friend had warned him about. In the past, Stuart had served as an ear to the ground when rumors began to circulate about Felix, so it was no surprise when he came to his trusted informer once more.
Stuart: I had seen what happened the last time. There was a zoo who’d tried to warn everyone that something was afoot years before the leaks came out, and he became a pariah. Felix just had more social currency. I didn’t want that to happen to me, so I played along. But this time, things were different.
Interviewer: How were they different?
Stuart: It was undeniable. The fantasy was not fantasy like I’d wanted to believe, and I’d seen too much to look the other way. This was way worse than I ever knew.
Narrator: But there was another, more personal reason Stuart was drawn into the center of the leaks.
Stuart: I was looking through these awful logs, and I just stopped. I couldn’t believe it. One of the photos they were sharing, that was Sam! That was my dog!
Narrator: The photo set featured Stuart’s own dog, his paws bound together crudely with tape, a metal apparatus forcing his muzzle open. And he recognized the location, a friend’s house where he’d left Sam while on a trip to England some years before. When Stuart confronted his friend, he confessed to the deed outright and gave a half-hearted apology.
Stuart: I don’t know if you can understand how I felt. Heartbroken, violated, but much worse than that – I had failed Sam. Failed to keep him safe. And it wasn’t something I could ever fix. I was filled with a grief that he was out there in the world, out in the photo collections of these abusers, his abuse shared freely as porn, and nothing I did could ever change that. Worse still, this abuse had actually happened years before the leaks, and I didn’t even fucking know. I didn’t know till I saw those awful logs. I’d left him with that friend on multiple occasions, not knowing I was leaving with a monster. I couldn’t even know what it would have done to Sam, how it would have changed him. But worst of all, the part that finally broke me, was that I couldn’t tell a soul.
Interviewer: Why not?
Stuart: He knew everything about me. He knew where I lived, he knew where I worked. If I turned him over to the police, it could’ve resulted in a lot of destruction. I was afraid of what would happen if it blew up. There was just too much pressure to stay silent.
Interviewer: That sounds like an awful choice to have to make.
Stuart: I was devastated. I felt useless, helpless. I failed to keep Sam safe. I let him down. I will never forgive myself for that. He paid for my mistakes.
Narrator: Pressured to gather information for his high-profile associate and driven by anger and despair over the violation of his animal companion, Stuart cooperated with investigation groups working to expose the zoosadists, playing the role of a double agent. He kept track of the investigation and reported progress to Felix, while offering up valuable knowledge to the investigation teams. At the same time, lone-wolf vigilantes roamed in and out of these camps. These self-stylized hunters usually worked alone, sometimes cooperating with investigations, other times branching off to pursue their own targets of interest.
Stuart: At first I cooperated willingly, partly through a desire to help, partly through a guilt at my inaction over the years. But I was horribly compromised.
Interviewer: Compromised? Howso?
Stuart: Well first, I now knew multiple animal abusers or enablers or traders in abuse, who knew everything about me. These abusers were in turn being hunted, by those who wanted to bring them to justice for the animal abuse they had caused. And those hunters, those zoosadist hunters, wanted answers, wanted info, wanted these people’s heads on a platter. These hunters knew that I knew the abusers, and they knew I had failed to speak up about anything, about any problems, for decades. And these hunters also knew all of my details, my name, my address, my dox.
Narrator: Suddenly the social currency of secrets Stuart had traded in, the connections he made that gave him power and influence in the community, became his biggest weakness. As his name started popping up in testimonies, the hunters began looking in Stuart’s direction, and due to how freely he’d given his information, he was an easy zoo to find.
Stuart: For the first time in the zoo community, the spell had been broken, and there was now a cost attached to abusing animals, to trading in that abuse, to excusing that abuse, to covering up that abuse, to looking the other way. And I had looked the other way, for a decade.
Narrator: When the zoosadist hunters realized that their informant was holding back key information from them, they turned up the heat.
Stuart: They wanted every bit of information they could squeeze out of me about friend or foe, didn’t matter, and they’d do whatever it took to get it.
Narrator: The hunters were not opposed to using blackmail, extortion, and threats of violence to get what they wanted, leveraging whatever information they could gather against Stuart to force him to divulge more information. Bit by bit, they wore him down until he gave in, even confessing that his own dog had been victimized by a member of the zoosadist ring.
Stuart: They targeted friends, family, even my place of work. Ignoring them only made them escalate further and further, risking the safety of me, my dog and my family. When I finally cooperated with them, they made sure things got even worse.
Narrator: As Stuart left work one evening, he found his former friend waiting for him on his route home. The sadist who had bound his dog didn’t have much to say, but Stuart left the encounter with a black eye and three broken ribs. It turned out that the blackmailers had outed him as a double agent, telling the zoosadists Stuart had testified against them, ensuring that he would be their next victim. In spite of complying, his friends and family were still targeted by the hunters, culminating in the release of his full name, address, and place of work on a doxxing website.
Stuart: It really is true that giving in to a blackmailer never achieves any respite.
Narrator: Everything that Stuart had built up over decades in the zoo community crumbled around him. Mutual Assured Destruction. The system had worked. Despite not taking part in any animal abuse himself, he, too, found his world in ashes, collateral damage of the nuclear fallout surrounding the people who’d committed heinous crimes against animals in his community.
Stuart: I lost everything except for my dog. My friends and zoo associates either thought I died or disappeared. I had to cut contacts with everyone I’d ever known, moved to a new city. For a time I found myself completely alone, under threat, not knowing if it would ever stop. And I can’t truly know if it ever has, to this day.
Stuart: All I was able to do, in the end, was rebuild from scratch. Make a new name and start from zero. And I knew better than most, that earning a good reputation in the zoo community takes a long time, with good reason. Making genuine friendships, making connections, takes a long time, too. And the rules were very different now. I think I’ve made a good effort out of it, and I try to live my life very differently now. But it’ll be many years before I stop being afraid. And many years before I’ve atoned for my part in how the zoo community used to be. I hope my lessons get remembered and get carried forward, for all the people that didn’t experience this themselves. Because while learning the hard way is often the most thorough way, too many animals have paid for our mistakes and will continue doing so. The old ways of dealing with these problems were rotten. The old days were about looking the other way. This has to stop.
Narrator: It’s been over three and a half years since Levi Simmons’ logs were laid bare for all the internet to see, and the landscape is palpably different from before.
Stuart: If the old community was the MAD phase, the community today is the aftermath of those decisions. A whole lot of shit got blown up and a whole lot of people experienced far reaching incineration of some or all of their networks. I recall a zoo describing that time very succinctly on her twitter a few months back. A lot of people had to suddenly learn a lot of things about their friends the hard way.
Interviewer: What do you think is different about the community back then and the community now?
Stuart: In a word – accountability. There was never the room for it before, never the space. How could we be accountable when we all lived under the carpet of shared lies we had all been brushed under? How could we be accountable when to speak up was to strike out? How could we be accountable when we had no shared values, no social fabric, no institutions? All of that has changed now. Whether or not you tell the story of the man who lit the flame, the community as it stands today is building pillar after pillar of what is required to raise all of us up. And we can all be a part of that building if we choose.
Narrator: Somehow, the entire ordeal lit a fire under the community. It’s as if we felt a need to redefine who we were, to prove to ourselves as much as to the world that we are a people who truly love animals. We have a chance to lay a new foundation for the kinds of relationships we want to have, both with animals, and with each other.
Stuart: I don’t consider myself blameless, but certainly a product of my environment. I think about it all the time, how people, how kids the age I was, could lead such different lives in the community with the right pressures. The old community values and pressures to do right or wrong, to speak up or stay quiet, to say something or look the other way, were absolutely terrible. You fall in with the wrong bunch and lack the social structures to do better or be held accountable, it goes bad real fast, in many circles of life.
Narrator: The tenuous peace promised by Mutual Assured Destruction falls apart when someone realizes that no matter what they do, no one is going to pull the trigger. This is the reality even on the global stage, where power-hungry world leaders push boundaries, inciting violence and war, usurping neighboring countries, because they know that the biggest gun pointed at their head, the only source of accountability, is nothing but a bluff. So is there a better way?
When your only other option is loneliness, it’s easy to understand how tempting MAD-first arrangements can be. To be a zoophile is to know isolation and othering. Before the internet, your chance to meet someone was slim, and you might be their first encounter, too. The well-connected, high profile zoos were your gateway to everything. And you connected to them… by word of mouth. By phone. By mail, actually writing something down and physically sending it somewhere. And travel. Finding the time and the money and the courage to visit a stranger in their home. But those days are over. The internet flattened access to information and people. It created hubs and neutral ground to make it easier to find each other. Just as it was designed to do!
And thats not all. It’s a medium with global scope, letting you reach way outside your local community to find someone else, somewhere else, and with some degree of anonymity. Enough to feel safe talking about something taboo.
Queer people, including zoophiles, were among the very first to realize the power of the net and use it to socialize and organize. That was more than 30 years ago. Today facebook has nearly 3 billion monthly active users. Our entire world is more connected than it’s ever been before.
A smaller community might have made a culture of secrets more tenable in the past, but that culture doesn’t scale easily. Consider our global example. At first, only two major superpowers had the capability to produce weapons of mass destruction, and the uneasy peace they brokered only relied on two actors behaving. Today, that peace requires the cooperation of nine different countries, one of which is North Korea.
When you’re dealing with a community of thousands, secrets are much harder to keep, making the likelihood of avoiding mutual assured destruction that many times more difficult to manage.
So if MAD is an untenable method of building community, what can we replace it with? Solidarity.
Solidarity is a sense of unity in a group when its members are aware of their shared interests, standards, sympathies… Purpose. Solidarity is built on a foundation of trust, which takes a combination of time and vulnerability. And there’s a difference between sharing dirt and being vulnerable. Vulnerability is not sharing your name and address with a stranger so that they can destroy you. It’s what allows you to feel comfortable letting your hair down when you’re around your favorite group of people. It’s why you’re willing to stay up until 3 am when your best friend calls you crying with an existential crisis. It’s an essential ingredient in gaining a deeper understanding of a fellow human being. Solidarity, the investment of time and vulnerability, is fundamentally about building relationships.
Mutual Assured Destruction, on the other hand, is a method of gaining access to something you want quickly, eschewing trust in favor of fear, vulnerability in favor of dirt. It’s quick and easy, while solidarity can be slow and difficult to foster. But when you take the time to build relationships through solidarity, you come away with something deeper, stronger, and more resilient. When shit hits the fan under a MAD scenario, it’s every man for himself. Everyone is scrambling to take as little personal damage as possible, at the cost of everyone else. When a community has a backbone of solidarity, its members work together during times of hardship. Solidarity gives people a reason to care about their group’s health and moral composition, beyond what mere membership offers. Only solidarity offers protection to the group from rogue actors, from inside and out. And the good news is, we’re already building these foundations in our community today.
While MAD is no longer remotely necessary, conditions still exist that could turn cohesion and solidarity into a scenario of mutually assured destruction. So how can we minimize the chances that we find ourselves in a situation like Stuart Adams found himself in in 2018?
We start by decoupling trust from dirt. You don’t need to know sensitive information about someone to trust them. Activists and countercultures like furries have known this for years. Among furries in particular, it’s incredibly commonplace to know your closest and dearest friends only by their fursona and nothing else. Trust is fostered through time and vulnerability.
Next, we need to agree that dirt is not a social currency. Who you know and who you’ve fucked, how many people whose secrets you hold, and what information you’re willing to give to others cannot be a prerequisite for access to social spaces in the community.
Third, we must resist blackmail and extortion. This is the primary exploit of a bad actor. Never, ever give in to a blackmailer’s demands, and neutralize threats by disclosing the harmful information they hold yourself. It’s a radical idea, but it’s proven to work.
Fourth, we need to hide less, and talk more. When there are problems in the community, we should deal with them quickly rather than letting them fester, and we should deal with them together rather than sweeping them under the rug. This is what the Double Shield Initiative was created to do: deal with and remove bad actors from community spaces through group consensus so that they can’t cause any damage to the community.
Finally, we have to collectively defang threats by fighting stigma and countering the bullshit we face as a marginalized group, and we need to be seen doing this by the people who matter. Speak out where you can as a counterpoint to the prevailing narratives society has about us as a people and about animals as a whole. If we successfully remove the stigma, the conditions that make mutual assured destruction viable to exploit are largely dismantled.
The zoo community is changing. In the past three years, we’ve become healthier, more visible, and more active. We are creating, we are building, we are defining ourselves with shared values and institutions. The foundation of solidarity is already being laid, and if we decide collectively that we want something more than the systems of mutually assured destruction that defined the old guard, we have all the tools we need to achieve it.
Interviewer: What is your hope for the future?
Stuart: My hope is that we never see a repeat of the disastrous and toxic community pressures I found myself immersed in from the old zoo community, as surely many others did and may still be doing so. Animals paid the price for the values of the old zoo community and we must never again fail to put their needs first. Every kid like me we instill our new shared values into, every kid like me we mentor and educate, every kid like me we raise up and inspire to do better, leads to happy healthy animals that we will never let down.