A false rumor about RMFC is repeating history from the Burned Furs.
by Patch O'Furr
Remember Rainfurrest? Bad behavior was blamed for the con’s demise. In 2015, vandalism caused a fatal economic issue between the con and its hotel. Popular attention focused on fetish activity, but the public didn’t care about it and the media was incredibly positive. That debate stayed between furries, but it was at least based on partial truth (the real reason was economic, not bad PR.) That’s different from dishonesty you can see below. It connects the long-dead 2000-era Burned Furs and the end of ConFurence, with falsehoods that exploit the closing of Rocky Mountain Fur Con. It shows an agenda to divide fandom. (You may ask: why is this still happening in 2017?)
ConFurence, the first fur con, drew criticism about bad behavior. Organizers were blamed for advertising in gay lifestyle magazines to increase attendance, supposedly attracting fetishists who had nothing to do with furry fandom. Then in 2015, a fur dug up the actual 1997 “ad” that people were citing without seeing it. It wasn’t an ad, and it didn’t come from furries. The obscure ‘zine publication happened at a time when it couldn’t have influenced anyone. The rumor was a false smear.
The rumor is almost 20 years old now, but it still exists:
“we still hear stories about the early ConFurence when the organizers allowed some BDSM people in to improve attendance, with horrible results” Ask Papabear, 4/12/17 (graciously modified after discussion.)
Pernicious is a good word for such a long-standing rumor. It spread by conveniently serving agendas, including for the Burned Furs, a group of puritans against “perversion” in fandom. They lasted about as long as a wet fart, but they’re still a topic because they started this kind of thing. Put them in a “stupid idea” category full of false “us vs. them” divisions against sex, sin, or “SJW’s”. (Another stupid idea: defending 2 The Ranting Gryphon because he’s “us”.) Maybe call it “hypertribalism?”
At Further Confusion 2017, I got dinner with Mark Merlino, Rod O’Riley, and Changa Lion, staff and founders of ConFurence. They graciously answered questions about how the con died after the ownership was transferred in 1999. The next owner was a Burned Fur. Meanwhile, Burned Furs spread the rumors against fetishists and just plain gay people. (They are in fandom and were never outsiders.) The rumors went so far, you could call it a malicious hoax.
From 2005, here’s a look at a Burned Fur not just passing on a rumor, but trumping up a falsehood:
“Regarding Merlino’s marketing of ConFurence to the gay community through specialty magazines, this was confirmed at ConDorCon in the mid-’90s when furry artist Lia Graf directly faced down Mr. Merlino at a convention panel (where I was in attendance) and asked him if he had been doing this. He admitted to the action and said he felt that sexual diversity would do the fandom good.”
– Calbeck, AKA Scott Malcomson, from Wikipedia. (But there was no confirmation of such marketing, as you can see.)
In 2017, here’s the same Burned Fur @Calbeck joining “Bronies For Trump” to make a new accusation about RMFC. The agenda is to blame the con’s problems on “SJW’s” and particularly on Deo. It scapegoats her alone among everything else, for her report of a threat to con security:
@HyenaGrin you don't have to take it from me. Here's a first hand account of a journalist contacting the hotel (@roycalbeck) #fur4peace #altfurry pic.twitter.com/o98CcIp9Zg— #BroniesForTrump (@GWSSDelta) April 18, 2017
There are blatant lies going around that I contacted the Denver Police and/or contacted the RMFC hotel Marriott and neither are true. https://t.co/XsdLSzmQCw— Deo (@DeoTasDevil) April 19, 2017
I keep telling people just fucking ask the Denver PD and hotel. I'm out of state my phone number would be obvious.— Deo (@DeoTasDevil) April 19, 2017
Fatally stupid fuckers.
This accuses Deo of causing RMFC to lose support from the hotel, and it’s one of many such claims:
What we know is that Deo sent claims of “gun threats” to the police and hotel, said “threats” being a direct response of intent to defend against their own actual threat. – Calbeck on FA
Except that Deo reported to the con itself, and didn’t call the hotel. She handed responsibility to con security to do what they’re meant for. Months later her report only returned for widespread public discussion after it was reported by Dogpatch Press 12 hours before the con was canceled. The fatal security cost was caused by activity from many sides (according to the con chair) and it happened weeks earlier:
We had been approached by our hotel only 2 (maybe 3) weeks before the convention was canceled with the new costs and that was the first we had heard of them or even the possibility. – RMFC chair Sorin to Dogpatch Press on 4/18/17 (lengthy interview posting soon)
In between were many events, that even led RMFC board member Scorch to contradict Calbeck with a dubious story of the hotel “discovering” random tweets. On FA, LucanShepherd answers Scorch:
Deo and her actions are not the only influence on the sequence of events. The Raiders and upset Colorado locals and other people were involved. Both before and after Deo had any involvement… Yet you continually defend the Raiders.
For the purpose of dishonestly scapegoating Deo on Twitter, Calbeck is representing himself as a journalist… but just take his word for it:
In that I actually get paid to produce articles for a journalism outlet. Feel free to disbelieve, reality doesn't care about opinions. -:)— Pointed Commentary (@RoyCalbeck) April 18, 2017
> evidence or examples of said journalism to go back and check.— Harle A. Hyena (@HyenaGrin) April 18, 2017
Do you think people should just accept unverified statements on twitter?
Notice how this “actual paid journalist” NEVER SPOKE TO DEO, who he is accusing. Or to me (who he pre-emptively blocked), who did speak with her.
Dogpatch calls out an actual paid journalist for doing the most basic research, which they made zero effort to attempt. Typical clickbait.— Pointed Commentary (@RoyCalbeck) April 19, 2017
He gets paid, so it must be real? Does that apply to working for nutbag sites like World Net Daily or Infowars, and is that why he’s embarrassed to show it? How embarrassing for a “real journalist” to get owned by this hobbyist here, while he’s revealed as a common link for falsehoods about TWO cons.
It took 3 minutes for Deo to answer my hobbyist contact to her. She told me:
Calbeck just said it was my fault out of the blue. I had never heard of the guy, and for someone who calls himself a “journalist” he did zero effort at research or getting any sort of communication with me. Called me a man, said I was part of a plot, said Art Decade was my leader, all sorts of conspiracy bullshit and regular bullshit that would have been easy to fact check if only minimal effort had been attempted. Dishonest and negligent should also be used to describe this liar.
If you’d like to read more from Calbeck, visit his journal that absurdly claims:
“I don’t value ANYONE or ANYTHING more than I do HONOR.”
Interesting that Calbeck and Foxler are both Burned Furs. Hmmm... 🤔 pic.twitter.com/fSASiEcLcK— Deo (@DeoTasDevil) April 21, 2017
With one side of the story about RMFC being dishonestly spread to scapegoat Deo entirely for everything – by 2000-era Burned Furs with friends like the Furry Raiders – smart and reasonable furs may not wish to join their “us vs. them” agenda. And perhaps it’s all “us”, but some of us are just stuck in the past. Like back in the 1930’s before it stopped being OK to be cool with nazis. So what horribly difficult solution does the “SJW” side have for settling this division, so the other side can join us in the modern world of 2017? Does it take a time machine?
It’s as simple as taking off the hateful armbands and ceasing the malicious rumor spreading.
Listen, do you hear barking about BIAS!? Ignore that noise. But since this article talks about truth and honesty, remember that the job of journalism isn’t to report both sides. “Both sides” means equal time between a scientist and a flat-earther. The job is to report the truth. If it’s about furries and you are a furry, there is no “objectivity” for that (how many furry stories can be told by non-members?) This isn’t mass media, and people who are mad that a furry is putting out a fan-based voice probably aren’t even paying 2 cents to get theirs in. (So start your own blog, or leave a comment below.)
If you would like to send a few cents to help me be a REAL PAID JOUNRALIST or get better at being savage, please visit Dogpatch Press on Patreon. You can access exclusive stuff for just $1, and support furry writing by all of the team, from opinions to book reviews.
This is ancient history today, but I was on the ConFurence committee in 2003 when it was cancelled, and I can say authoritatively that what passes today as why it was cancelled is BULLSHIT! And those who are familiar with my record in furry fandom since 1980 know that I don’t use language like BULLSHIT lightly.
First, ConFurence was never incorporated as a not-for-profit organization, as several furs urged and Further Confusion’s parent group and many s-f conventions were. ConFurence’s chairmen Mark Merlino and later Darrel Exline refused to “engage in the pointless bureaucracy” of incorporation. That means that the chairman of ConFurence was personally liable for all of the convention’s debts.
Second, when ConFurence began shrinking in attendance after 1999, it was due to its popular January dates being taken over by Further Confusion, and by the creation of new Eastern furry conventions like Albany Anthrocon, Midwest FurFest, Mephit FurMeet, and Megaplex. Furries realized that they didn’t have to go to Southern California to attend a furry convention. Yes, there was criticism in the 1990s of how ConFurence was being run, but it wasn’t responsible for the drop in attendance.
Third, it’s true that Darrel Exline was either a Burned Fur or thought to be sympathetic to them, but he never instituted any policies against anyone else. Any fears by dealers that the ConFurence under him would ban dearer den sales of adult merchandise were imaginary. At most adult merchandise was required to be covered up rather than displayed.
But the ConFurence’s attendance did steadily shrink after 1999. The convention’s ability to meet its guaranteed room block became increasingly unrealistic. Since ConFurence was unincorporated, this meant that its chairman, Darrel Exline, was personally liable for its debts.
At ConFurence 2003, I was on its committee as the head of its awards committee. Everyone on the committee was told to give anything to be included in its souvenir Program Book to the chairman, Darrel Exline; he was publishing the Program Book personally. We found out why at the ConFurence; the Program Book contained an editorial that the ConFurence was being cancelled after sixteen years. When most of us on the committee protested that we were perfectly ready to continue it, Exline replied that the ConFurence was owned by him personally and he could cancel it if he wanted to. He said that if anyone tried to contract with another hotel to continue the ConFurences, he would threaten to sue that hotel, which would cause it to back out of the agreement. The committee members who wanted to continue the ConFurences started the CaliFurs instead.
We later found out that the ConFurence’s failure to incorporate had left Exline personally owing $60,000 for ConFurence 2003’s defaulted room block guarantee.
So the ConFurence was never discontinued because of any scandal in furry fandom.
The only comment I have to make here is that 1999 was the first year that ConFurence shifted to an April, rather than January date. I’m not sure whether Further Confusion went for January because CF had moved to April, or whether CF moved to April because FC was planned for January. But the rest of this–having a convention in Silicon Valley, where a lot of furries were working at the time, and having another one for the east-coasters, along with change of management at CF, almost assuredly did have a lot to do with the decline of CF.
Mark talked to them at the time and in a sense gave them the ok to take those dates. The Shift to April was really bad in the end.
> Second, when ConFurence began shrinking in attendance after 1999, it was due to its popular January dates being taken over by Further Confusion, and by the creation of new Eastern furry conventions like Albany Anthrocon, Midwest FurFest, Mephit FurMeet, and Megaplex. Furries realized that they didn’t have to go to Southern California to attend a furry convention. Yes, there was criticism in the 1990s of how ConFurence was being run, but it wasn’t responsible for the drop in attendance.
I was there closer to the ground.
The drop in attendance was due to moving to San Diego to the Town and Country.
People like Darrel insisted that we would pick up more San Diego furs but that never happened and we lost most all of the local LA foot traffic.
The date change to Easter really compounded all of that and gave space for Further Confusion to take over.
One of the big factors in going there was the function space as the con kept growing and couldn’t accommodate the art show and dealer space.
Throw on top of this mix actual sabotage by a staff members mom. The previous years embezzlement of the art show funds. Most all of this just piled on to Mark to the point of giving up and quitting the staff voted to hand it off to Darrel who couldn’t negotiate a Hotel contract to save his life.
Darrel managed to annoy most of the staff by trying slowly trying to replace them with Loscon staffers who had more of a “Us vs Them” attitude towards furs.
The hotel lead was a Loscon person who I would hear say thing like “These furs better not ruin things with my hotel!” (Serious paraphrase since it’s been a long time)
Darrel never quite got away from the stink of the Burned Fur connection and while he never did implement their ideas lots of people avoided the con due to that.
Yes, Darrel’s finances were the killing blow but all the other things really did pile up into the con’s death.
I believe Fred has a good explanation and believe your bottom line there too. It makes sense to have a mix of reasons.
I think it leaves the point standing that the fetish and/or gay “problem” (depending on the source) is a story spread dishonestly, as nasty reaction to those members and with hypersensitivity about 2000-era media negativity. While the media did leech on to the fandom, it didn’t block it from exploding in size from that exact point in time.
Your point is spot on.
Failure or willing refusal to incorporate a convention is practically always an indication that the convention faces significant management issues. I’ve seen it too many times, and it’s one of the gravest errors a convention can make. (Next to “Failure to have and enforce a conduct & harassment policy”)
Most of all of this is true. When the ConFurence moved in 1999 from January to Easter/April and from Orange County to San Diego, it was because the January period wasn’t available in Orange County, and because Merlino & Co. couldn’t find an Orange Co. hotel large enough to take the ConFurence’s growth.
Many fans in the Orange Co. area would not go down to San Diego. But for fans coming to the ConFurence from hundreds of miles away, it didn’t really matter whether they came to the Disneyland area or to San Diego. It was the growth of new furry conventions that made it not worth coming to California at all.
I wouldn’t say that Art Show funds were embezzled as much as they were really ineptly handled — so much that a charge of criminal incompetence might have been applicable. In any case, it took place when Merlino was in charge, and he accepted responsibility and personally covered the missing money. All this was kept secret at the time and did not affect attendance, but it probably was partly responsible for Merino stepping down.
Exline did annoy many staffers by arbitrarily changing little things like the name from ConFurence 12 to Confurence 2002, and answering all objections with, “I’m running the ConFurence now, and I can do whatever I want.”
> Merlino & Co.
Yes, I’m one of the & Co and have been for 20 years.
We lost the Buena Park hotel after CF9 due to a change of management. There were possible places in Orange County at the time for January but San Diego staff members were pushing us towards the Town and Country. It seemed like a venue that we could grow into and the belief was what we would lose in LA furs we would gain in San Diego furs, that did not pan out.
Once we got the Town and Country we just stopped looking, like everything hindsight is 20/20.
> I wouldn’t say that Art Show funds were embezzled as much as they were really ineptly handled
Now that is seriously unfair of you there.
This was around 1997ish and taking credit cards on a shoestring budget for 2 days a year was not really practical. We had a deal with one of our dealers that ran a comic book store who for several years would be the agent for all the art show sales that were by credit card. All went well except he suddenly had a problem with the CA franchise tax board that he failed to mention. He had taken over another Comic Book store that apparently never paid it’s sales tax. So when we went to collect the artists money he refused to give it to use, I would call that embezzled. Remember, we are a fan convention with no real corporate sponsors unlike an Anime expo that can pull strings like that. Furry has always been a rather poor fandom and especially in the 90s. It’s very easy to apply 2017 standards to what you could pull off in 1995 these days it is FAR easier to deal with credit cards with services like Square.
I was there right next to Mark when he refinanced his house to pay the bill while the artists talked shit about him on alt.fan.furry.
It was one of the reasons why he stepped down but the final straw was the sabotage incident that caused the Town and Country to ban porn at the 11th hour. That and the lack of getting enough staff to go to San Diego and actually do the work. There was a joke on staff:
Question: “How many staff members does it take to change a light bulb?”
Answer: “3 to stand about and one to call Mark to ask how to deal with this problem.”
The stress broke him and he wanted out.
> Exline did annoy many staffers by arbitrarily changing little things like the name from ConFurence 12 to Confurence 2002
Yes he had a serious my way or the highway attitude that rubbed staffers the wrong way. It was apparent early on he wanted to run the con like Los Con down to handing entire departments to LASFS.
The reality is he wanted to run a Sci-Fi con and not a Furry convention.
Great perspectives from both of you guys. Thank you! This is what the site is for 🙂
Really as a furry news blogger I find it nearly impossible to know the truth on why RMFC is closing. This is despite the official press release which I find as truthful as a certain president speeches. Really when you have people who were actually there telling you one thing, social media telling you another, and so called ‘Official accounts” and none of them agree with one another what can you honestly do….really.
If you’re a journalist, you keep digging until you get to the truth. That’s what journalists do. They don’t throw their hands up and say, “Gosh, this is too hard to figure out. I guess we’ll never know.”
Ah yes, Darrel Exline: the burned fur who burned so much, he endorsed Michele Bachmann for President! Just let that sink in…
Just FYI, it is not legal to defend yourself with lethal force after being threatened with single punch.
Not clearing Deo of wrong doing, but threatening gun violence in response to a punch is not legally considered self-defense. You can only respond to force with like force.
Threatening gun violence was a bad idea, is not legally protected, and it shouldn’t be so easily brushed aside like this article did. Deo shouldn’t have been threatening to punch people in the face either. Neither side is cleared of wrong doing and shouldn’t be treated as such.
In other news, members of the Furry Raiders doxxed me on Flayrah, including a member of the Flayrah contributors.
Sorry to hear that. It’s no surprise from a group that exists to troll. Don’t worry, they can do their worst to attack but it doesn’t make them any less a bunch of trolls with no redeeming value.
Your coverage of this mess has been really good. Although I’m saddened by how the discussions raging everywhere seem to focus only on the political implications of the situation (Nazis vs. SJWs, etc.).
I’d love to see an article setting the political stuff aside entirely and instead focusing on the criminally gross incompetence that the RMFC staff has given proof of. As I’m not involved in the USA political climate that’s what stands out the most to me in this whole matter. The convention has been literally run outside of the law for years, ever since they stopped filing tax documents. The staff failed to comply with laws, obfuscated who was actually on the board taking decisions, allowed one of them pose as a lawyer and send fake legal documents, closed an eye upon meddling with the registration process by personal friends of theirs, and finally canceled the convention out of the blue after people had already paid for this year’s registration while not even making clear how refunds (if any) will be handled. In their final official message they blame their own attendees while excusing themselves with vague doublespeak. We are talking about people who ran an event of 1500+ attendees.
I think most fans don’t realize yet how much of a big deal this is – but I certainly hope other convention staffers and people close to them do. The more the fandom grows the less it can afford to tolerate (or even worse defend) people behaving so unprofessionally when they are responsible for the safety of hundreds, for handling money (see in the comments above the issues with Confurence Art Show money) and for PR with outside entities like hotels and city offices.
Thanks!! Well I have a long interview with the chair Sorin where we get into some of that. It was very good of him to do that and I’m grateful.
I do have a sense that there was messed up stuff going on, but I also think leading a nonprofit con is a tough job and thankless in many ways, and you could say Sorin was caught between sides. If anything, in my opinion, I would guess the issue was some board members taking the wrong side and others not taking sides enough. Making a mess that hopefully is best fixed by starting with a clean slate for a new con.
I can imagine that running such a large event must be a titanic endeavour. I’m part of the staff of the main Italian furry convention since a couple years and I’ve already seen first hand how many complex situations and problems a con staff has to face even when it’s a relatively small con. Those difficulties are right why the bad apples should be singled out though – there are many others who manage to run even larger conventions smoothly overcoming the same kind of problems.
Now this RMFC case has been overtaken by political issues, but there are signs that the furry community is entering a stage in which certain above-the-rules behaviors of “popufurs” and people in charge of events and such will no longer be tolerated as easily as they have been so far. There are pros and cons coming with that but it just seems unavoidable as the fandom numbers continue to increase.
My thanks to Zampacon in Italy for sending me full information and a selection of illustrations for my “Furry Fandom Conventions” book when I asked. I wish that all furry conventions had been so cooperative.
Oh thanks to you for including our con in the book! 🙂 I’ve bought a copy of it and it’s an awesome volume, explains a lot of fandom history bits and things I’ve always wondered about US conventions.
Yarst! Okay, here is what I was told about twenty years ago; very hush-hush, off the record, so I was not supposed to ask anyone else for verification. Since it seems to be coming onto the record today, please confirm this or correct it if it’s wrong.
I don’t even remember whether it happened in 1997 or 1998.
Back then, the Art Show was one of the biggest things about the then-still-growing ConFurence; around 1,000 attendees. This was back when the Art Show was mostly original paintings with high prices, not prints. (I was not on the ConFurence staff yet, so all this was second-hand gossip to me.) An increasing number of attendees wanted to pay for purchases by credit card; some Dealer’s Den purchases, but mostly Art Show sales. ConFurence did not have a credit card account or machine.
The ConFurence committee felt it was not worth the expenses of getting its own year-long credit card account for sales of only three days a year, so the convention arranged to borrow the credit card machine of a local comic-book store. The ConFurence attendees would pay the convention by credit card, but the purchases would actually be registered to the comic-book store. The store was expected to give the money back to the convention after it was over.
What the ConFurence didn’t know – and I never found out if nobody knew it at the time, or if the shop knew but didn’t tell the convention – was that the shop had recently taken over a second shop that had not paid its sales tax for years; so the first shop had become liable for the second shop’s back taxes. Just before the ConFurence, the California State Board of Equalization sent one or more agents to inspect the shop’s sales. So when that year’s ConFurence started making big credit card sales, over $10,000, the money was registered to the shop (which was a commercial shop, not a not-for-profit organization) and the State Board of Equalization was there to record it.
Result: when the ConFurence Committee went to the shop after the convention to get the money, which was mostly owed to the artists whose paintings had been bought, the state government had already claimed its percent as sales taxes, and the comics shop and the convention couldn’t figure out how to give anything back to the convention with the state still looking on. This would legally have been the shop giving $10,000+ to the convention for unexplained reasons; and the State Board of Equalization would certainly have demanded a reason. The shop owed it to ConFurence – well, what was the ConFurence? It had never incorporated itself, so legally it was Mark Merlino’s personal business – and he had never paid any taxes on it. It didn’t matter that he had actually run the ConFurence as a not-for-profit organization, and had never kept any of the money himself; he still owed it. The ConFurence couldn’t sue the comics shop for the same reason; it would have revealed that the ConFurence had been operating since 1989 without incorporating or paying taxes, and it was legally Merlino’s own enterprise.
It seemed better for the ConFurence to just keep quiet about it. Merlino personally assumed the responsibility for the missing money, and took out that refinancing on the Prancing Skiltaire to cover it.
Now, was that embezzlement, incompetence, or knowingly refusing to give in to bureaucracy? Could the comics shop have repaid anything to the ConFurence or to Merlino without attracting the state’s notice? The only thing definite was that when Merlino stepped down in 1999 and Exline took over the ConFurence, it was still never incorporated. Exline paid for that in 2003.
Please correct anything wrong in this.
By the way, I believe that CaliFur is still unincorporated…
Uggh, what a mess.
It sounds like incompetence to have sales covered that way for the con. (I wonder what the options were like pre-internet payment systems? Bet they were bad.) Expensive or not, having some option is just part of start up costs for an event production business – or they should have said check/cash only. Having someone else handle charges is playing fast and loose with accounting, at the least.
It sounds like incompetence of the comic shop to agree to do that. Possibly compounded by incompetence if they didn’t know of those back taxes, if they made a money hole where the sales fell into.
It sounds like when they figured out the mess, the comic shop still owed -something- back. It could have involved deducting sales tax from the gross, then more owed for a transfer as it’s own transaction, a poor way to do things but still sharing a portion.
If they didn’t at least pay that, it sounds fair to call it stealing. But if they just didn’t have it because of the back tax problem, then the only option would be to sue and become a creditor. Just a clusterf*ck for everyone.
The credit card options back in those days were what Anthrocon had to suck up and do after becoming incorporated and transitioning from Albany AnthroCon: Purchase a credit card terminal for several hundred dollars, and pay about $15 a month in merchant account fees all year long, whether or not any transactions were processed. Anthrocon opened two merchant accounts and bought two terminals, one strictly for Art Show transactions, and the other for everything else.
Having another business process your credit card transactions is a practice called factoring and, if not downright illegal in a particular locality, violates the terms of the business’s merchant account agreement. See https://www.merchantequip.com/merchant-account-blog/140/factoring-credit-card-laundering .
Great comment Petercat. You laid out the exact details I was guessing. Bad of CF to try to cut a corner. Good of the management to pay the debt out of pocket.
That was a messy situation indeed. Sounds like multiple mistakes were made by the various parts and I have no idea how that would have worked out in a court. But at the very least Merlino deserves credit for standing up to his responsabilities as chairman and fixing the situation as best as he could. That’s what a person who has been entrusted by the community does if he cares about it. It is precisely what seems to be lacking in the RMFC case.
Well it seems Deo has set the record straight on this mess http://www.echoplexmedia.com/the-plex/2017/4/21/the-plex-interview-deo-the-tasmanian-devil-on-nazi-furries