Cold Open

Narrator: There’s a thought that’s probably been in the back of your mind for a long time. Maybe it creeps into your consciousness when you’re lying awake in bed, or plays out in your brain while you’re out walking your dog. Maybe it’s something you obsess over, or maybe it’s something you try your best not to think about. Right now, though, just for a moment, I want you to honestly ask yourself this question — What would you do if the police came to your house, tonight, with a search warrant to search your home?

Maybe you’ve already got a plan. Maybe you’re going through a checklist right now of vital steps you’ve seen shared online. Unplug the computer. Turn off your phone. Don’t answer any questions. Ask for your lawyer to be present.

All good advice. But are you sure you can follow it? What if the police ask persistent questions? It’s rude not to answer. Maybe they tell you that things will be a lot easier if you just cooperate, and after all, you just want the ordeal to be over. Or maybe, even if you have the will to stick to your guns, your roommate isn’t made of iron like you are. Maybe you live at home with your parents, and now they want to know what’s going on. What if your careful strategy falls through when you’re actually faced with the situation you’ve been dreading?

As zoos, we have to live with this looming question repeating itself over and over in the back of our minds, because in many countries, one of the most quintessential expressions of our sexuality… is illegal. We are up against powerful lobbyists and fringe organizations that exploit the ignorance of legislatures, completely unopposed because… well, who would stand against them?

Tonight’s story is about a zoo who decided to do just that — to take a stand against a local animal rights organization lobbying to strengthen legislation against zoophiles at the national level. But there’s always risk when you put yourself on the line to take on a powerful enemy; when you fight the law, you could bring the law right to your front door. Some names have been changed, but the details, dates, and events are 100% accurate.

Stay tuned for Season Four, Episode Eleven of Zooier Than Thou: I Fought the Law.

Part 1

Narrator: Zoophiles exist everywhere humans do, from every conceivable cultural background and in every environment we find a way to call home. As an American podcast, Zooier Than Thou usually focuses on the American zoophile perspective, exploring the nature of US law and discussing community life in this huge, incredibly diverse place. Today’s story, however, takes us across the Atlantic to France, where a sparse but close-knit zoophile community had been growing since the late 2000’s. Aspiryne (Aspirin), as he was known on the French ZooLibre forums, liked hosting parties to bring them together.

Aspiryne: Ours was a small community scattered all around the country. There were the zoos from the east, the zoos from the south, the zoos from the middle, etc. And sometimes a BBQ party was organized where everyone was invited, and this is where everyone would learn about news of what was happening in every part of the country.

Narrator: Members gathered from all corners of the nation, but there were still many who weren’t aware there was a community at all, like Robin Faucher, a younger zoo living in the countryside.

Robin: To be honest, I did not think there was a community to begin with. I always thought that, while there were most likely people interested in or at least curious about it, they would most likely keep quiet about it, out of fear [of] being judged or rejected by family and friends.

Interviewer: Have you ever met any other zoos in real life?

Robin: Can’t say I have. Living in the countryside has its perks, like it’s usually a calmer environment, but meeting new people can be tricky. As far as I know, none of the people I’ve met are zoos. Living in what we sometimes refer to as “diagonale du vide,” which translates as “the empty diagonal,” the least populated part of the country, sure doesn’t help either.

Narrator: Robin’s experience was common. It still is—Zoos often feel isolated and hesitant to reach out to others, whether because of distance, or fear, or due to being burned in the past.

Robin: Even just the few times I did try broaching the subject in a vague, fictional way with friends, most gave me a weirded out, if not grossed out look. A few were at least willing to listen, but they stood on grounds like, “There’s no such thing as consent with animals.”

Narrator: Technology to the rescue. To overcome this isolation, a small group of zoos formed AnimalZooFrance in 2007, and began working on a forum for zoos who shared their values of animal kinship and welfare, as well as a wiki dedicated to disseminating better quality information about zoophilia.

Interviewer: How would you describe AnimalZooFrance as an organization?

Aspiryne: Well, I didn’t know about them for a long time. I joined the community about 4 years ago, so they were here a long time before me. As an organization, I would say they were the origin of the community, and without the forum they made, I don’t think we could have had a community at all. Maybe just a few circles of people knowing each other from some shady fetishist website. With AnimalZooFrance, we had a place to talk with each other, where new members were welcomed (even if sometimes it was a hard path for them to join the community and meet people), and where you could learn more about zoophilia in general.

(A transition in music)

André: (In English) My name is André Toussaint, and I’m a proud member of AnimalZooFrance.

Narrator: Among AnimalZooFrance’s members, André Toussaint stood out as one of the most active and outspoken. André has been a member of AnimalZooFrance for over a decade, and dedicated a lot of his time and energy to helping develop the organization’s French language wiki, and frequently posted on the forums.

Aspiryne: I would say André has a very strong personality. He believes in what he’s doing a lot, and it’s hard to make him change his mind. Once he’ll start something, I don’t think anything can stop him from doing it. He can appear kinda cold when you meet him for the first time, but once you get to know him better, he’s more friendly.

Narrator: Among the various topics detailed on the organization’s wiki, André is particularly focused on documenting French law concerning bestiality and zoophilia. In 2004, Animal sex abuse was outlawed, carrying a penalty of 2 years in prison and a 30,000 euro fine. But what exactly constituted abuse was not always clear, even to French authorities.

Aspiryne: The law before was a bit unclear, but basically practicing only was illegal. Everything else was okay as far as I know.

Interviewer: What aspect of the law made it unclear?

Aspiryne: The text basically read, “If you do some bad or sexual abuse to an animal, [these are the penalties].” Which is not very clear, because as it reads you could think, “OK, so if I don’t sexually abuse an animal and have consensual sex, it’s fine,” while it was not.

Narrator: The courts eventually established that sexual abuse specifically involved the penetration of an animal, and very few cases resulted in convictions. Between 2013 and 2016, a woman referred to in French newspapers only as “Aline” used classified ads on sex websites in order to lure zoophiles, and report them to the police. Aline managed to report fewer than 10 people to the Justice, and in the majority of those, the courts weren’t able to prove that there was abuse. Frustrated, Aline collected all the cases and everything she had seen while lurking on zoophile forums and in the classifieds of seedy sex websites, and presented them to every animal protection association in France. In 2019, her story caught the attention of Animal Cross.

(Transition)

Narrator: Animal Cross is a relatively obscure, fringe animal rights association in France. Behind Animal Cross is founder Benoît Thomé, who is also founder and CEO of Median Conseil, a medical statistics company. Thomé’s clientele include giants like 3M and Bayer, and his resumé includes work with Proctor and Gamble. In addition, he once served on the supervisory board of Biose, a biotherapeutic drug company. Needless to say, Thomé is a man with deep pockets and friends in high places.

André: Animal Cross is a little association, but the president knows a lot of important people.

Narrator: Animal Cross champions various animal welfare causes, including hunting reform, advocacy for animals considered to be pests, and abolishing force feeding in foie gras production. But among the six major campaigns listed on its website, is anti-zoophilia activism. 

Quote: In France, zoophilia is an unknown sexual deviance which nevertheless kills many victims every year… 10,000 PEOPLE GO TO CLASSIFIED AD WEBSITES FOR SEXUAL EXPERIENCES WITH ANIMALS. UNBEARABLE IMAGES ARE ACCESSIBLE IN JUST A FEW CLICKS BY CHILDREN.

Benoît Thomé: The theme of zoophilia is largely overlooked. Without trying to protect morality, an unquestionable observation is essential: animals are the silent victims of these sexual assaults since they are unable to say “no.” The Internet has facilitated the development of zoophilia. Drastic measures must be taken to stop it. — Benoît Thomé

Narrator: By 2020, Animal Cross had the ear of French legislature. On June 23rd that year, National France Assembly Member Loïc Dombreval published a report with his recommendations regarding zoophilia, using language drafted by Animal Cross, verbatim.

Dombreval: Despite the penalty made in 2004, it must be noted that there is a striking contrast between [the amount of zoophilic internet traffic in France] and the rate of criminal prosecution. Indeed, in the [11] cases where the zoophile was convicted by the courts… only one case resulted in prison time… It is therefore advisable to: Purge zoophilic content from the web by blocking the spread of zoophilia; Clarify the concept of animal sexual abuse; Increase criminal penalties; and Dismantle networks of zoophiles. — Dombreval’s Report, Recommendation 36.

Narrator: Also in the same year, Animal Cross held a conference titled “Animals — The New Sex Toys,” featuring Aline the Zoophile Hunter as a guest speaker, as well as Marjorlaine Baron, a veterinarian who published a thesis condemning bestiality. Among their talking points, Animal Cross decried Peter Singer — the father of the modern animal rights movement — for speaking positively of zoophilia. They also cited the ZETA principles as a smokescreen for zoophiles to justify sexual interactions with animals, and alluded to the risque Orangina commercials featuring anthropomorphic animals, as veiled references to zoosexuality. Their accompanying report featured quotes and literature lifted from sources such as ZETA Verein and sociologist Dr. Andrea Beetz, openly citing passages that paint zoophilia in a favorable light. However, Animal Cross’s report ultimately fell back on descriptions of zoosadism and animal injury, and comparisons to child sexual abuse, to drive their position home, characterizing sex with animals as necessarily exploitative and physically harmful for all parties involved. Several members of AnimalZooFrance discretely attended the conference, including André.

Interviewer: What was it like being there at that conference, hearing them say all those things?

André: It was something I had never felt. It’s quite difficult to describe. I would say it’s like participating in a witch trial. Physically. Speakers at the conference were seated facing the audience, on chairs below the projection screen. I had the impression that some of the speakers, especially the whistleblower, were scrutinizing the public. I was really scared. Like when you walk into a sex shop for the first time, you think everyone is watching you. It was a dogmatic atmosphere, with the guru speaking in front of everyone and making these horrible faces.

Interviewer: Was there ever a point where you wanted to stand up and shout, “This is not what we’re about?”

André: No, for 2 reasons: first I was terrified, and I couldn’t get comfortable. Second, there weren’t many things that made me react; we know all the lies that are told about us. What shocked me was seeing all the clichés put together. They were religious fanatics trying to prove that zoophiles were child eaters.

Interviewer: Hypothetically speaking, what would have been the tipping point where you would have felt confident in speaking out right then and there at the conference?

André: I never would have spoken, no matter what, not at the time. Going to this conference required a lot of psychological preparation.

Today it would have been different, because I have taken a step forward, I am no longer at the same level. With what I’ve been through over the course of almost 2 years, I’m not the same person anymore. I would have spoken from the beginning, from the introduction. And even more during the visit of the veterinarian, Marjolaine Baron. Having read her thesis, I knew what she was going to say. And her stats are bogus.

Narrator: André and the others decided not to speak out during the conference, but they did make an effort to talk with some of the speakers. 

André: When the lecture was over, I said to myself, “I can’t leave like this.” So I went for a walk to the bathroom, splashing water on my face, like an actor going on stage. I was like, “Come on, go ahead, go for it, you have no fear.” I then approached a group of people who were talking with the whistleblower. I started talking with Aline, and I asked a lot of questions. She had doubts about me. She was like, “Oh, but who are you?” because everyone knows each other. I replied, “I am a member of L214,” and that kicked things off, because this association, very well known in France, is antispeciesist. Aline immediately asked me, “What do you think of Peter Singer? The father of veganism? Who’s a zoophile!”

Narrator: André himself later reached out to Marjolaine Baron via Facebook, attempting to gain an audience.

André: (quoted) [In a recent interview,] you were asked, “Have you met any zoophiles?” You answered, “I also wanted to get in touch with zoophiles, but I would have been forced to go through zoophilic platforms and at the time, I didn’t know if it was legal! I didn’t want to take the risk of discrediting my work.” Today I offer you the opportunity to correct this, if you feel like it. And based on what you told me last February, it still interests you. Not responding will not make your cause more credible.

Marjolaine: My lack of response is not intended to make “my cause more credible.” I worked on the subject for 3 years to write my thesis, and I already have a solid opinion. I simply have no interest in what you say and I ask you to respect it.

André: You worked on the subject for 3 years, without contacting the people your thesis was about. I believe you are afraid of what you might discover, that your thesis would fall through. I believe that is what prevents you from meeting us. I am offering you today a source of information which comes from your thesis subject, on which you and Benoît Thomé worked… and you answer me that you have no interest in that? We are under attack from your side,. You desire to imprison us, and for this you use fallacious arguments, based on biased studies in order to relieve you of responsibility. This conference was very difficult to bear, seeing us displayed on this screen. Listening to you denounce, with reason, cases of sadism by associating them with us, was very painful. We simply did not understand why such an outpouring of hatred. Almost all of us are involved in animal protection, at the local level. We are recognized and respected by these associations.

Marjolaine: Listen, you can’t force anyone to listen to you or change their mind. You could have talked with us when you had the opportunity, during the conference for example. And if you listened carefully to the conference, you know that we clearly distinguish those who mutilate animals from others, but that does not mean that I agree with your point of view. And if you have read my thesis, I also know that many of you are involved in animal protection; one obviously does not prevent the other for you, but to me it seems contradictory.

Your opinion does not interest me, on the one hand because my convictions are indeed strong and I will not back down from it, but equally because I no longer work with Benoît Thomé… since the conference. I have a life beside the fight against bestiality. If you keep talking to me, I’ll block you. Thank you.

Narrator: By June of 2020, Animal Cross had successfully petitioned Google to delist various zoo websites from its search results, including parts of the French website ZooLibre. In response to the mounting pressure exerted by the small but influential animal rights group, André began posting online in opposition to Animal Cross’s activities. He was a singular voice—loud, outspoken, and visible—using the banner of AnimalZooFrance when tagging various animal rights associations on Twitter.

André: Over time, I discovered I was good at writing, putting ideas together, and making arguments. When we got together for parties, we talked about a lot of zooey subjects. I asked everyone questions, so I had a good idea of what the whole group was thinking. Then I took these overarching ideas and turned them into an argument. I tried to publish those ideas on the wiki and through social media websites like Twitter, because while the law was being discussed, a bunch of French Animal Rights associations were posting stuff on Twitter. I was watching for their tweets and responding as soon as I could with zooey arguments and linking them to the wiki.

Aspiryne: I don’t think he got help from any of the others, and not even support from some, kinda the reverse actually. I think some people were scared of what could happen to them and their partners.

Narrator: However, it turned out André wasn’t alone in his fight against Animal Cross. In September of 2020, an unknown and unidentified zoo activist sent out 50 physical letters to customers of Benoît Thomé’s company, and to neighboring businesses in the offices where Animal Cross was registered.

All 50 of the letters read, Quote: “Warning! Your neighbor Mr. Thomé is a pedophile! He sent a photo of his genitals to my 15-year-old daughter!” End quote.

Narrator: A few days later, the same letter with an accompanying image was posted to an anonymous Twitter account. As a result, Benoît Thomé received two death threats from people who believed the defamatory letters. On September 30, 2020, Thomé filed a complaint with the Justice, citing AnimalZooFrance, the little Zoophile Rights group that had become a small thorn in his side, as a likely culprit.

André: When I saw the death threats for the first time, I didn’t understand. My first reaction was to laugh. It seemed to be a joke, you know, it was so huge, I didn’t get it. I couldn’t imagine a guy working against a ban on zoophilia without any support. I couldn’t, and I still can’t imagine to this day, why this guy never talked to me. My first thought, and I think I’m not that far from truth, was that Animal Cross or someone working with them made the death threats. Because Justice would never be interested to us, unless we were involved in pedophilia, terrorism, or repeated death threats.

Narrator: Then on December 14, 2020, the drafted bill targeting zoophiles was given to the National Assembly. André took the time to register as a member of Animal Cross, providing his full name and email to the organization, in order to monitor their activities. On January 5th, André began personally writing letters to deputies, while Animal Cross sent out a newsletter urging its members to contact lawmakers to vote in favor of the proposed law.

Interviewer: Do you know if there were any other zoos who wrote to lawmakers at that time?

Aspiryne: As far as i know, no, he was the only one.

Narrator: André sent out a new letter every 10 days throughout the National Assembly’s deliberation. The odds were steep—he was a single zoo fighting against a well-connected animal rights group—but the results of the deliberations seemed promising. A deputy working with Animal Cross tried to modify the definition of Sexual Abuse to include “any act of a sexual nature, even without penetration.” But the change in language was not well-received by Julien Denormandie, the French Minister of Agriculture.

Julien: What if I stroke a horse’s mane? Could this be construed in the future to be a sexual act?

Narrator: Nor was the change well-received by National Assembly member Françios-Michel Lambert.

Françios-Michel: Given the difficulty of defining what a sexual relationship is in the animal world, it is possible that what we consider to be a positive gesture may be perceived by the animal as a sexual assault: therefore, what will be the position of the judge? I may be stepping outside the scope of our discussions, but the closer we consider animals to humans, the more complex the case law will be to establish. An association could thus consider itself justified, in view of the particular knowledge it has of an animal and its behavior, in considering that the simple fact of touching [an animal] is a sexual act constituting abuse.

Narrator: Despite Animal Cross’s vision for a much broader definition of animal sexual abuse, the organization only succeeded in increasing the penalty of already illegal penetrative sexual activity from 2 years in prison to 4, and increasing fines from 30,000 Euros to 60,000. The National Assembly also ruled in favor of outlawing the dissemination of zoophilic pornography with a penalty of 2 years imprisonment and a 30,000 Euro fine, and exempted veterinarians from professional secrecy, that is, client-patient confidentiality requirements in the case of animal sexual abuse.

Aspiryne: I would say it was better than i thought it would have been. But I wasn’t very surprised. The campaign lead by Animal Cross against zoophilia was clearly made to influence the deputies and give them a far more negative view about it than it was in reality.

André: It was truly a huge victory. We in our group of friends have different opinions about zoo porn. I am one for whom it is not vital. I prefer watching animals with each other. This point did not interest me compared to the prohibition of any form of zoophilia. I loved the response from the Minister of Agriculture.

Narrator: Meanwhile, Animal Cross decried the results, suggesting that deputies were rolling back the laws against zoophilia. And the battle wasn’t over yet. The bill still needed to be deliberated on in the senate before being signed into law. André and the other members of AnimalZooFrance were hopeful.

André: At this point, we were happy, because the second chamber, senators, are known to be socially conservative and “against” radical animal rights organizations.

Narrator: However, unbeknownst to André, the conflict with Animal Cross was about to heat up. In February of 2021, the mysterious John Doe activist who sent out the defamatory letters published Benoît Thomé’s phone number and the address of his company in a tweet, claiming that Thomé and Animal Cross were Islamophobic. Then in March, John Doe upped the ante, sending high-quality forgeries of Animal Cross communications to various Muslim associations across France. These PDFs, which used Animal Cross colors and logos, denounced ritual slaughter of animals attributed to Muslims, and asserted that Islam was a religion that accepts pedophilia, including outrageous accusations against the religion’s prophet. To bolster the authenticity of the PDFs, these forgeries contained a page from a book published by Animal Cross on hunting, and referenced the logo of an obscure French association which militates against the slaughter of animals.

André: When I learned that Benoit Thomé’s neighbors had received letters accusing him of being a pedophile, I said to myself, “He’s going to use this to come after me.” When I saw the PDF in the association’s colors, I didn’t understand. I had never seen this document, and its quality made my head spin. I didn’t understand where it could have come from because I don’t know anyone who has those layout skills.

Narrator: Shortly after the forged PDFs were sent out, Animal Cross received an email containing physical threats to Thomé’s wife, with an attached photo gallery depicting photoshopped images of his wife being decapitated. The email also referenced Thomé’s home address, which was not public knowledge.

André: Benoît Thomé is an adversary, not an enemy. I can have conversations with him — in fact I have, and I would love to do it again. I looked up a lot of things about him, his life, and his Animal Cross association. Naturally, I came across the address of his company and Animal Cross. The addresses are public and available on the company websites. So I thought that was their home address, because when you go to Google Maps, it’s a residential area with apartments. It was only later that I discovered that this address was not his real address. Nobody knows how this person discovered the real address of Benoît Thomé. He himself couldn’t explain it.

Narrator: On March 17th, Thomé alerted the Justice of the escalating situation, and expressed his doubts to police about a member of Animal Cross who refused to give his physical address when signing up to attend an online meeting. Though he couldn’t be sure at the time, he had singled out André as a potential spy and a suspect in the escalating defamation and death threats being launched at his family. Armed with a legal name, police began their investigation into André’s involvement. But things continued to escalate for Thomé. On May 10th, 2021, Benoît Thomé received three photos depicting child pornography to his home, courtesy of the Photobox online printing service. When the police investigated, they found that the IP address of the perpetrator was hidden behind a VPN, and the credit card used was an anonymized PCS Mastercard. 

André: This person and their actions remain an enigma to me. I have been in this community for more than 15 years now, working alongside its members. We have met dozens of people over the years, maybe hundreds. And I’ve never met anyone who was this technically skilled. Nobody is crazy enough to take the risk of sending pedophile photos over the Internet, let alone to have them printed. The risk is so great that the person who did it must have felt pretty sure they could get away with it. Even if I knew how to do it technically, I would never have taken the risk of pedophilia. That’s something that I do not support.

I admire the professionalism of this person, but I don’t understand why they’ve never come forward in 15 years. They did us wrong, and I can’t help but think that we could’ve done so many beautiful things if this person had joined us.

Narrator: Little did André know, his troubles were only just beginning. AnimalZooFrance was still breathing a sigh of relief over the results in the National Assembly, and were preparing themselves for the now upcoming battle against Animal Cross in the Senate. The battle was about to come right to his front door.

PART 2

Interviewer: Have you ever considered coming out to your family?

Aspiryne: No, at least not all my family. My mom knows, and she’s the only one. For the rest, I don’t plan to come out to my dad and my sister and brother. I don’t trust my dad enough to know what his reaction will be, and I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t understand and wouldn’t even try to understand.

As for my siblings, I tried talking about it with my brother when I was younger. He was disgusted, so I moved to something else and never talked about it again.

My sister is close to animals just like me, so maybe she will understand, but she’s too young for that right now.

For the rest of my family, grandparents, uncles and aunt, well, I won’t tell them. Maybe they will find out on their own when they would see I wouldn’t go anywhere without my future partner. I guess I’ll know they’ve understood when I’m not invited to family gatherings or when they stop asking me when I’m gonna get a girlfriend.

Interviewer: Have you ever considered coming out to your family?

Robin: I did a few times, but they can be quite judgmental on a few things, and zoophilia happens to be one of these things, sadly. I can’t say for sure how they would react to it, but i think they would certainly not like it. The worse take I heard was my own brother, who bluntly claimed, “If you enjoy furry, then you’re a disgusting zoo.”

André: I’m 42, and I’ve lived in a little farm I bought myself for four years now. Three years ago, I asked my father if he wanted to come and live here. He’s 73 years old. I didn’t want him to live alone far from me. He has some health issues with his heart. Nothing very serious, but who knows? Before he came here, I had to tell him about my zoo life. I tried to talk with him for a whole year, and I never found the right timing. But 3 months before he moved here, I had to tell him. So I explained to him my life with my animals. He knew I lived alone, and he thought I was gay, so this is how I started the discussion: “Dad, I have to tell you something before you move into my house. You have to know how I live, and after that, you can make your decision to come or not. There are two things I have to tell you. You’ve never seen me with a girl, right? This is because I prefer men to women, I’m gay. This is the first part. Are you ok with that?”

He answered, “Are you happy that way? Yes? Then, it’s ok for me.”

“Ok, this was the small thing. The big thing is, as you know, I love animals. I really love them… ‘really,’ do you catch my drift?”

“Yes, I get it. You know, I’m 73,” he said. “I’ve seen many things in my life, probably more than what you’re describing. When I was young, with my brother, we used to watch our neighbor through the key hole, she was getting fucked by her great dane…” So we talked a little about that. I didn’t give many details, but I told him practicing zoophilia is quite illegal, that all my friends are like me, and that probably one day police would come to my house, that they already came 10 years ago, and they will probably come again in the near future.

Narrator: Another of André’s friends, Pierre Lachapelle, had made the decision long ago to come out to his family.

André: Pierre had already told his parents 10 or 15 years before that he was a zoo. He was very, very seriously injured in a car accident. Doctors had said he would never walk again, but he had a very strong spirit, and everything ended up alright for him. After recovering and being ‘reborn again,’ so to speak, he decided to be himself, and tell people who he really was, and stop living a lie.

Narrator: Not everyone can come out to their families. Whether it’s an uneasy relationship with their parents, closeminded relatives, or simply having too much to lose, many zoos are forced to live in the closet.

André: My other friend Emile is also in his 40’s, and he never told his parents about his association with us. His family owns a lot of land, and they own horses on some 50 acres. That land is passed down from generation to generation. Because he didn’t want to be a shame on his family and lose everything, he never told his parents, only his brother. 

Narrator: In the summer of 2021, André’s disclosure to his father paid off. On June 29th at 7 am, police came to André’s farm and entered his father’s small house built on the property.

André: My dad is a little paranoid. So, before going to sleep, he always puts a big bell around his door handle, so if someone opens the door from outside at night, the bell will fall and make a loud noise. So when police arrived, they first came to his house, opened the door, and made the bell fall on the ground. My dad woke up, and when he saw police, he was not shocked, because I regularly made jokes about it, that living as a zoophile is illegal, and that maybe one day or another, police would come to our home.

Narrator: André’s father gave André enough time to wake up and prepare for the police to enter his house. He made it clear that he had cameras on the premises and interacted cordially with the officers as they searched his home. 

André: Dad was joking with the policemen. One of them was interested in tech and retro gaming, and he was astonished when he saw my Super Famicom, so we talked about it and other stuff like that. Dad was talking with another about fishing, hunting, growing potatoes in the garden… Everything was OK for both of us. When they took me to the car, I said to him, “They have nothing against me. I’ll be out this evening.” He asked a policeman to enter the police station address in his GPS in order to pick me up when they released me.

Narrator: Pierre, who also lived on the premises, was not so lucky. Police picked him up at work and took him home, where they searched his belongings.

André: The policemen were not cool with him, and they made an incredible mess of his house. I’m sure they were gentle with me because they thought they were being recorded.

Narrator: André and Pierre were taken into custody for questioning over the death threats and the defamation campaign the mysterious John Doe zoo activist was waging against Animal Cross. As they sat in their holding cell, André heard a familiar voice.

André: I’ve known Emile for 15 years. I felt I could put my life in his hands. When he arrived at the police station, Pierre and I were already in a cell. I made a little joke, because I was not afraid of the situation, that we were 3 zoos in jail, in near cells, and that we could chat the day away.

I shouted, “Hey hey hey! I know this voice!”

No answer. He was still with the policeman, so maybe he didn’t want to say he knew me.

Then the policeman moved him into the cell next to mine.

I asked, “Hey dude, how are you?”

He said just one thing, one fucking thing. “My mom cried.”

I can hear myself again, answering, “Oh… I’m sorry about that,” and that was all.

I knew what it meant. When he told me, “My mom cried,” I knew he would never speak to me again.

Narrator: André, Pierre, and Emile were released later that night, 30 minutes apart. André was the last to be released.

André: Pierre went straight to his parents house. He explained to them police could come, and like my dad, since they already knew everything, they were not shocked. When my dad came to take me home in the evening, he didn’t ask anything because he knew everything. The police didn’t come because I was a zoo, because at the time, zoo was in a gray zone in France, both legal and illegal. I explained to my dad that some guy made a complaint for harassment and death threats, we talked about it, and every thing was all right.

André: I gave Emile some time before reaching out again. About a month later, I asked him, “What kind of questions did they ask you? And what did you answer?”

He said, “Mostly the questions were about you and the AnimalZooFrance wiki… I answered everything…”

“What? What you do?”

“I answered everything,” he said again.

“Did you sign the paper with everything you said?”

“Yes.” He really fucked up. I wrote a topic in our zoo board, many years ago, explaining how to react if you’re arrested by the police: don’t answer any questions! It was written everywhere! Just say your name, your parents’ names (to check if it’s you), and that you want to see a lawyer and a doctor. Then shut your mouth! In reality, I’m sure he was afraid of the cops. I believed he was strong enough, but he was not. He explained to me how his mom reacted to the policemen. She started crying, she was like insane. She tried to block the way when they started to take him away to the police station. I’m pretty sure he was really afraid of the policemen, like 95% of people, and he was too afraid to lie. He answered every question, and he signed when they asked him to do it. As justification, he told me they weren’t interested in zoophilia, just in the death threats. And yes, now, 2 years later, I know he was right. But even if the police report was about death threats, I have a feeling that’s not really what Benoît Thomé was interested in when he filed those complaints.

(a pause)

André: I learned two things from this experience. One, it’s VERY, VERY, VERY important to come out to our close family, and to people who might be involved when the police come, because when you’re putting yourself on the line as a zoo and participating in zoo activism, one day or another, the police WILL come. And two, you can’t rely on people, even close friends, to react properly when problems arise. You just can’t know how people will react when they’re awakened by police at 7am. You can only know after their first encounter.

Interviewer: How did you find out about the arrests?

Aspiryne: I found out when André told it to us. He didn’t hide it.

As for how the community reacted? Badly. Since it was prominent members of the ZooLibre forum who got in trouble, everyone was thinking, “Now the authorities are watching the whole forum, so everyone is in danger.” Some people disappeared for a while, clearing everything they thought could lead to them. Some blamed André, telling him it was his fault. And some just did nothing and waited to see what would happen.

Interviewer: Were people aware that he was arrested specifically with regard to death threats? 

Aspiryne: Yes. From the beginning André told us it was a death threat letter that they were arrested for and not something related to zoophilia. 

Interviewer: I’m curious why people were so afraid they’d be linked to him.

Aspiryne: Probably a bit of a paranoid reaction, but kinda understandable.

Interviewer: Have things settled down since then?

Aspiryne: Not completely. The long term consequence is a shattered community. The people of the east barely talk to the rest of us now. I have a friend there I was close to who disappeared for some years now, not even a small message from time to time to tell me if he’s fine or not. They erased us from their lives. Now it’s harder to meet new people. I still host some meeting parties, and it’s a bit better now, but soon after these events, lots of people didn’t want to come because André was here. They where afraid he was watched and the authorities could link them to him.

We don’t have a forum anymore, just the wiki. But it’s not a large place where everyone can join and talk with the rest of the people. I wanted to make a telegram group just like Zoo Furs Unity, but with my work I haven’t found the time for that. Maybe I’ll find some time later, I hope.

(pause)

Narrator: Prior to the arrests, on April 14th, 2021, Benoît Thomé was contacted by student journalists, who explained that they wanted to do an article on his fight against zoophilia. Thomé responded, and also referred the students to AnimalZooFrance, who had made themselves known as an opposing voice to Animal Cross’s agenda. On April 28th, the journalists reached out to AnimalZooFrance, and André, being the writer for the group, answered their questions anonymously via AnimalZooFrance’s ProtonMail. When it became clear that André in particular was under suspicion of sending violent threats to Thomé’s family, André called the journalists by phone on July 12th. Believing he would be granted the courtesy of professional secrecy, he asked the journalists if he could provide their names to the Justice to testify that he was not a violent person, based on their interview. The journalist he spoke with immediately contacted Benoît Thomé, telling him he believed he was contacted by the head of AnimalZooFrance, and gave him André’s phone number. Thomé matched it with Andre’s name on record with Animal Cross. Believing he had official proof that André was the head of AnimalZooFrance, Thomé provided the information to police, who focused their ongoing investigation on André, hoping to connect him to John Doe’s anonymous Twitter accounts and the ongoing harassment campaign. 

Narrator: Meanwhile, Animal Cross hosted another antizoo conference in September, just ahead of the senate hearing. This time, the conference was titled Animals and Children — Victims of Zoophiles, and they brought a guest speaker from across the pond with a long, prolific record of antibestiality activism.

Jenny Edwards: Hi, I’m Jenny Edwards. I specialize in a topic that is a little difficult for people to talk or even think about, and that is the subject of animal sex abuse and exploitation.

Narrator: Jenny Edwards, who bills herself as “an internationally recognized field and subject matter expert in bestiality [and] zoophilia,” began her tenure as one of America’s most active voices against bestiality when her horse rescue organization, Hope for Horses, was tasked with seizing animals involved in the infamous Enumclaw incident, which left Kenneth Pinyan dead and spawned the viral Mr. Hands video. Though Hope for Horses was implicated in multiple animal neglect incidents and eventually lost its contract with the county, Edwards went on to cofound the Chandler Edwards organization, which aimed to assist in animal sex abuse investigation, prosecution, research, and training for law enforcement. Edwards’ work primarily examines bestiality from the lens of criminology, exclusively focusing on convicted criminals and documented legal incidents involving bestiality. As such, her work skews significantly toward violent sex crime, a perspective Animal Cross found particularly valuable. In her testimony, Edwards drew extensive parallels between bestiality and criminality, and in particular, child sex abuse.

Jenny Edwards: Of all of the individuals in my study, the 456 people, 53% of them had a criminal history that frequently involved sexual assault either of an animal or of a person. Kidnapping appeared… Animal sexual abuse may also be a factor in serial homicide, sexual homicide… 

Probably the most significant act though was the fact that 45.6 of the individuals in the study — that’s almost half of the people in the study — had committed either child sexual abuse or child exploitation. They either collected child pornography, directly sexually abused a child, or had another sexual crime involving another adult. In other words, in addition to having sex with the animal in the incident that caused them to be arrested, they also sexually abused a child. A number of those children were forced to have sex with the family animal typically the family dog. At least one study indicated that about a quarter of the sexual murderers interviewed admitted that they had previously had sexual contact with an animal.

Animal sexual abuse and exploitation pornography are significantly linked to human sexual abuse and exploitation.

Kintsugi: (summarized) [All the resources cited by Jenny Edwards in her presentation have one significant flaw — not a single one of them includes data from outside of the criminal justice system. The sample population is made up entirely of convicted criminals. There’s no data regarding the prevalence of zoophilia among otherwise law-abiding citizens referenced.]

Narrator: That’s Kintsugi, queer activist, researcher and fact checker.

Kintsugi: Edwards gets to participate in lectures, talks, hearings, and bill committees, and she can spew her misinformation and bigotry out loud without any pushback. That quite literally gives her more power than any zoo, as it would take a truly heroic — or maybe reckless — person to stand up and contend her in public on that topic.

André: There was something incredible about this conference. It was the sum of the speakers, rather than the ideas of any one individual, that shocked me, more than the first conference. I experienced it as if it were a “why minorities should be locked up” conference, with speakers like: “I present to you Doctor Paul, who is going to explain to you why minorities are inferior and should be put in prison.” “Hello, I’m a doctor, and you should know that you should not have sex with minorities. They are evil and should not exist.” It really felt like that; it was the same kind of experience for me.

Narrator: Meanwhile, Animal Cross was already working with a senator to craft new language to be introduced at the upcoming hearing. On September 21, 2021, Senator Arnaud Bazin presented two amendments to the proposed antizoo legislation, inspired by Animal Cross’s dealings with AnimalZooFrance.

Arnaud: (reciting the language/justification of the law) In addition to punishing people who offer, solicit or accept [zoophilic advertisements], the system provides for the punishment of those who praise [acts of bestiality or zoophilia.] Apology is defined as praise but also as justifying, in writing or orally, an illegal act committed and/or its perpetrator. For example, zoophile forums house Internet users who justify, in writing, sexual acts performed with or towards animals.

Narrator: The clear purpose of this amendment was to target AnimalZooFrance and their outspoken activism in favor of zoophilia. A second amendment aimed to bar zoophiles from owning animals if convicted. 

Arnaud: Natural persons guilty of [acts of or solicitation for acts of bestiality] also incur additional penalties for the permanent prohibition of detaining an animal and of exercising… a professional or social activity once the facilities provided by this activity have been knowingly used to prepare or commit the offense. 

André: It’s very difficult to read all the amendments of a bill. They’re very difficult to understand, because we don’t immediately understand the meaning of these amendments and their real impact. It was only by chance that I understood the scope of these additions to the bill, and the possibility that this senator, Arnaud Bazin, was targeting me personally, and wanted to prohibit me from having animals because I was defending a certain form of zoophilia.

Even if we have processes in case of prohibition, I was afraid, I must admit, to imagine having the police one morning coming to take away my animals. It makes you think. I think about it all day and night. How would I react? Should I just stop everything? It crossed my mind several times, seeing the reaction of many of my friends around me. Some even told me, “If I lose my animals because of what you’re doing, I’m going to come to your house and beat your ass.”

Narrator: The senate’s examination of the law began on September 22. At first, deliberation showed promise. A proposal to include zoophiles in the violent crime and sex offender registry was opposed. Senator Anne Chain-Larché spoke in her unfavorable opinion:

Anne: The [violent crime and sex offender registry] is reserved for sexual offenses against humans, not animals. Let’s avoid confusion.

Narrator: When it was time to vote on September 30th, however, Chain-Larché unexpectedly reversed her position.

Anne: Indeed, I expressed an unfavorable opinion on this amendment in committee. Since then, I have had exchanges with associations fighting against domestic violence, which have confirmed to me the practical usefulness of registering these offenders in such a file. I am therefore in favor of this amendment.

Narrator: Given the nature of the conference put together by Animal Cross just a couple of weeks prior, one has to wonder what influence the misguided studies outlined by Ms. Jenny Edwards had on those who later gained Chain-Larché’s ear.

While the senate deliberated, John Doe made another appearance. Posing as an Animal Cross whistleblower, he made a last minute attempt to sway senators on September 27th, sending out emails accusing Benoît Thomé of manipulating the deputies who filed and defended the law against zoophilia, and warning again of accusations of pedophilia. 

(pause)

Narrator: With the final results of the legislation pending, and with his identity already exposed, André decided to send a letter to Thomé on October 22nd, openly using his real identity. “Come and see for yourself the state of my animals,” he wrote. “They are all well-cared for, and there is no abuse.”

André: I remember once I told Pierre, when he came to live on my property, that I wanted very well cared-for animals, because if one day an animal welfare society came, I wanted them to have nothing negative to say about how we keep our animals. And I knew they would come because over time, I was changing. The more time passed, the more I wanted to be an activist. And it was a goal for me. And I knew that one day, my name would be revealed, and people would come to look at my animals. This time has not come yet. But I know it will come soon.

Narrator: André did not receive a reply to his letter. Instead, on October 26th, Animal Cross published an article on their website entitled “Portrait of a Zoophile,” using a portion of the interview André had given to the student journalists. At the bottom of the article, Thomé provided André’s full legal name and the city where he lived, effectively doxxing him publicly to Thomé’s audience. On October 31st, André made a formal complaint of his own with the Justice against Thomé, who promptly removed the offending information from his website.

Narrator: The following month, the new law went into effect, and the results were a major blow for AnimalZooFrance and the zoophiles they fought to represent. The language regarding animal sexual abuse was changed to include any sexual activity of any kind, with exceptions for artificial insemination, healthcare, and hygiene procedures — language originally shot down by the National Assembly — and carried a penalty of 3 years in jail, with a 45,000 euro fine and sex offender registration. Aggravated sexual assault carried four years and a 60,000 euro fine. Classified ads soliciting bestiality carried a one year, 15,000 euro penalty. Recording or broadcasting bestiality porn carried 2 years with a 30,000 euro fine. In addition, all of these offenses would result in animal confiscation and a permanent ban on keeping animals, and they upheld the National Assembly’s waiver of professional secrecy for vets in instances of suspected sexual activity.

Aspiryne: I was like, “Well nothing much has really changed for me, I just have to stick to what I’m doing already. Stay quiet to avoid the authority’s eye on me, and everything should be fine.” For the community, there were multiple reactions. As I said, some people completely disappeared. Some may have become more discreet than they were, more cautious. And some didn’t change at all, thinking what they were doing was already enough to keep problems away.

André: I’m afraid of how many zoo will be condemned, because many of them won’t know what they’re doing is illegal. And I’m afraid because most of them will say to the police, “I don’t harm my animals, I’m just jerking him off or he’s mounting me,” but it’s enough to be condemned and be forbidden to have animals for the rest of their lives. I’ll keep writing to every deputy, each year, to explain to them that this new law is a time bomb. One of these days, an association will use this new law to condemn some basic form of animal husbandry, like breeding animals.

Robin: Now that I read the law, I feel… how could I say without coming off as either aggressive or vindictive? I could say it feels like an attack, to an extent, but also it makes absolutely no sense in some aspects when you take into account that many agricultural exploitations use artificial, often forced, selective breeding. But that is another debate. It feels like being forced into hiding, ostracized for not “fitting in” or for “being a deviant,” pretty much like homosexuality was considered years back. Different topic and matters, but same basic tactics. In the future, a softening of the rulings, and a per case decision, with proper procedures would be a good start. Sadly things are made and worded in such a way that any contact or interaction will be considered as [on par with zoosadism], most likely due to not knowing enough about the subject, and possibly a mix of false information, premade ideas, and outdated mindsets.

(transition)

Narrator: The battle between Animal Cross and AnimalZooFrance is ongoing. In court appearances, Benoît Thomé has pledged to file a complaint against both André and AnimalZooFrance, now that the new law has gone into effect, hoping to use information gathered by police to press charges. The investigation regarding André’s complaint against Thomé for his doxxing is closed, and André is hopeful that Thomé will be held accountable at the court hearing this April. And though the Justice has found no evidence of André’s involvement in the harassment campaign waged by John Doe, and will not press charges as of this recording, he still remains the primary suspect.

André: The Justice still thinks I’m John Doe. I was at a hearing on the first of December, and the instruction judge asked me if I made the death threats and all the other things, like the pictures of child pornography sent to Benoît Thomé’s home. The judge asked me, “You said you were a computer scientist. Couldn’t you have made the threats?” When I told her no, she was surprised, and seemed to smile, probably thinking I was lying. I had to explain I don’t know how to make a payment with an anonymous blue card behind a VPN.

Narrator: This is a story that is still unfolding, and it’s difficult to predict where it will go next. But even so, there are lessons to learn from the ordeal that André, AnimalZooFrance, and all the zoos in the so-called “Land of Human Rights” have endured. André’s arrest and the subsequent passing of the new laws have left the French community shattered. People are afraid, and understandably so. By taking a stand on his own without the vocal support of his community, André drew all of Animal Cross’ ire directly onto himself. Our purpose is not to shame the French zoophile community, because the reality is that for now, we’re not fully prepared to take on a well-connected animal rights organization that decides to make its name by treading on our backs. ZETA Verein succeeded in protecting the interests of zoophiles in Germany because they were organized and visible as a group, but they had the advantage of fighting on turf where the practice of their sexuality wasn’t already criminalized. But most of us, including the French zoo community, don’t have that advantage. More challenges are coming, and if we’re going to meet them, we need to have a solid foundation in place. 

Zoophiles and Animal Cross are more alike than we are different. We both love animals. We both want to improve their lives and elevate their legal and social status and eliminate cruelty. But our concept for human-animal relationships extends to include the possibility for safe, mutually enjoyable sex. Theirs does not.

To them, sex is always abusive and a prelude to violence against others, impossible to reconcile with animal rights advocacy. To us, ignoring the possibility of sexual relationships is a glaring moral inconsistency that makes it easy to excuse cruelty and sex abuse in other contexts. 

Animal Cross is small, but organized, well-funded, and loud. Crucially, they have the upper hand because their campaign is safer and easier than ours. They can exploit people’s ignorance on zoophilia, emphasize shocking stories, misattribute sadistic acts, and cherry pick from sparse research to connect zoophiles to violent crime, to elicit fear and disgust, and push people in the direction they want them to go. Anybody who pushes back risks their political future, their career, relationships, even violence, by being branded one of us. 

We can get loud and organized too, and we should. But without scientific consensus and support from academics and mental health professionals, we won’t have the credibility we need to mount an opposition against the misinformation that’s propagated by organizations like Animal Cross. Spreading sensational lies is fast and easy; correcting them is much harder. Marjolaine Baron, the French academic who spoke at Animal Cross’s first conference, wasn’t interested in hearing perspectives from the very group she wrote her thesis about, but there are researchers right now who very much are, and we need to cooperate with them. At the time of this recording, a survey is being conducted right now by the University of Massachusetts, and there are more on the horizon, with the possibility for unprecedented collaboration. Academics are listening. This is our chance to tell them who we are. 

If there’s anything we can learn from André’s arrest, it’s that the solidarity gained from coming out to our closest family and friends can be safer than staying closeted, particularly if we plan to work in highly visible roles. Even if your activism isn’t center stage, the more open you can be with people you trust, the better they are able to help you. Not everyone is in a position to make this kind of decision, but consider how things blew up for Emile, who had the chance to come out to his family on his own terms stolen from him when police unexpectedly showed up at his house. We say it a lot: Exposure is the solution, not only because it makes us visible to the people who matter, but also because it helps us manage the risks inherent to our lifestyle and our work.

Laws can’t change who we fundamentally are, and we live our lives as we always have. The future is uncertain for AnimalZooFrance and the French zoophile community, but Robin Faucher remains hopeful.

Robin: Optimistically, I hope that people will come to understand and accept zoos, and learn that most of us are not what they think, just people who genuinely love and care about animals, even if most would rather keep it to themselves. If I could, I’d like to meet others like myself, for sure. Being stuck in the country makes things a bit hard as of now, but meeting new, likeminded people sounds good, and would be a nice thing to have for sure.

Aspiryne: My hope is to get my own partner. My work shift doesn’t allow me enough time to take proper care of a puppy, but next year I hope to welcome him in my life. Hoping for the best for us. I hope my friends won’t get into any trouble with that new law, and that I’ll still be able to meet them when I plan parties for a long time to come. Basically, I’m focused on my partner, me, my friends, and I hope the best for everyone without many troubles.

André: We as a community have the great fortune of having people like Aspiryne with us, and I want to thank him right now. As I said, everyone has a gift, and Aspiryne’s gift is his sociability, his ability to be friends with everybody, and to not be afraid to meet new people. And, thanks to him, the community is still alive. If people like him weren’t here, the community behind AnimalZooFrance, which has been here for over 15 years, wouldn’t be here anymore. So I want to thank him.

Interviewer: You’ve been through quite an ordeal over the past couple of years. What do you plan to do in the future?

André: I won’t change a thing. I’ll do everything I can to keep zoos informed, to explain what they have to be aware of with regard to the new law. I think we have to know exactly what’s legal and what’s illegal. This is really what I want to do. I’ll also try to meet new people in real life. I’d love to visit the US some day and meet new zoos there.