How a Connecticut Politician’s Love of Cartoon Animals Ended His Career
By Isaac Fornarola
The town of New Milford sits between the Housatonic River and the Eastern shore of Connecticut, a warren of one-lane roads that lead to hill-top cottages adorned with American flags. It shares the paradoxes of class and culture that are characteristic of many towns within an hour of New York City. “Upscale rednecks,” says Scott Chamberlain, a New Milford Town Councilman who resigned this September after a local uproar made national headlines. “You’ll find Cadillacs parked on people’s lawns, leather furniture on the porches of their double-wide mobile homes.”
Chamberlain is a 63-year-old father of two and a grandfather of nine. He’s a Connecticut native and a family man with an interest in sports cars and Siamese cats. In the town of New Milford, he’s known as a community advocate and a staunch, outspoken Democrat. But online, he’s better known as Gray Muzzle, a large brown and white fox with pointed ears and kind, emotive eyes. Chamberlain is a “furry,” a person interested in cartoonish creatures with anthropomorphic qualities. Gray Muzzle is his “fursona,” an alter-ego of his own invention. He’s a fox who speaks in full sentences and walks on two legs, and he lives online in the furry fandom, a community of like-minded human-animal hybrids.
Furries connect online through social media sites such as SoFurry, Fur Affinity, and Inkbunny. They attend real-life conventions called “furcons” in hotels across the country, where thousands of attendees share fan fiction, art, and in some circles, pornography. In September, two months before a town election in New Milford, a local Republican named Rick Agee posted screenshots of Chamberlain’s SoFurry profile to Facebook. One screenshot showed that Chamberlain said he “tolerated” rape. Within hours, the mayor of New Milford asked Chamberlain to resign, and that day, he did.
The internet is a platform for self-portraiture, but a byproduct of the social media era is a public log of private life to which everyone will have to answer, as well as an informal court of digital opinion that has yet to define its statutes. The movement to hold politicians accountable for sexual misconduct and the acceptance of sexual subcultures are growing online concurrently, blurring the line between what is justifiable and what is unacceptable. New Milford, one small and divided American town, became a battleground for warring principles this year.
Chamberlain has been infatuated with cartoon animals since he was a child. He was the kid who saved Kellogg cereal box tops to send away for the Tony the Tiger doll. He collected plush replicas of Domino the Sugar Bear and Toucan Sam. Over the years, he amassed a whopping collection of characters used in marketing campaigns in the 1960s. Chamberlain says he loves anthropomorphic animals for the same reason advertisers have used them with great success. “They’ve got the adorable qualities of humans and none of the nasty qualities,” he says. “We can perfect them and make them as cute and huggable as they can possibly be. What’s not to like?” In his law office, next to his beige leather chair and fountain pen desk set, is a mousepad covered in cartoons. At home, posters of human-animal hybrids cover the walls.
For a young Chamberlain, the only thing that rivaled his obsession with cartoons was his interest in law and politics. When he was 10, he handed out fliers for Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign. As a teenage Republican in 1969, he worked for Connecticut Senator Lowell Weicker. Later, he was a guest at the Nixon White House. But in his early twenties, his politics began to change. “I was sitting at a desk in Weicker’s Greenwich headquarters, and I said, ‘You know what, I just don’t belong here.’ So, I left and walked across the street and went to work for his opponent, Joe Duffy.” He’s been a Democrat ever since.
At 18, Chamberlain left Connecticut to attend college, settling in eventually at Louisiana State, where he studied for eleven years and graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science and a law degree. After a judicial clerkship and a year as the Director of Governmental Affairs for the Louisiana Realtor Association, Chamberlain made his way back to Connecticut, where he started his own law practice, one that’s lasted 30 years.
He stayed involved in politics, donating to and canvassing for New Milford Democrats. In 2014, after twelve years of a Republican-dominated local government stacked with real estate developers and social conservatives, a progressive faction of New Milford politicians started a campaign to oust the Democratic candidates from the 2015 ballot, on the grounds that they were indistinguishable from the Republicans. “I got a phone call from someone in the Democratic Town Committee saying ‘We’re filing an opposition ticket, a rebellion ticket. They’re in bed with the Republicans, they don’t do anything, and we’re going to run them out.” Good for you, he remembers saying, and he told them they had his support. A few minutes later, he got a call from the Chairman of the Committee, asking him if he’d run for a Town Council position. “Damn straight I will,” he remembers saying. At the Democratic caucus, the rebellion ticket swept the primary.
The party named Chamberlain the Nominating and Recruiting Chair and Democrats then managed to put together a full ballot of local candidates to compete with the Republicans for the first time in years. Much to everyone’s surprise, they swept. “We took the Mayor’s office, we swept the Town Council, we got the Board of Education, we got the Board of Finance,” Chamberlain says. “We killed them.”
The political climate of New Milford is marked by small-town fervor, with the upkeep of the sewer system as hotly contested as nuclear war. There are more registered Republicans than Democrats in New Milford, but there are more Independents than either of those.
By the time the Democrats took office in January of 2015, partisan clashes had intensified and polarization had set in, with neither side keen on reaching across the aisle.
Chamberlain and the New Milford Democrats were focused on reversing years of what he describes as unfettered real estate development. In 2004 John Spatola, a member of the New Milford Planning Committee, voted to approve subdivisions developed by a local Republican named Thomas Pilla. Spatola acquired property in the subdivisions at no cost and later sold them for over $200,000. “New Milford has a budget of over $100 million,” says Chamberlain. “The ability to flim-flam, pad your pockets, reward your friends, is huge.” Chamberlain and his new Democratic colleagues sought to reign in development and return the focus to schools, small businesses, and social welfare programs.
But residents weren’t wholly supportive of the New Milford Democrats, who did little to quell the partisan bickering that had led to years of political stalemates. Chamberlain himself was a controversial figure, often attacking local Republicans, both politicians and citizens, online. New Milford resident Mark Conrad remembers Chamberlain lambasting New Milford Trump supporters, describing him as “partisan, divisive, and nasty.” Through Facebook posts and public comments, says Conrad, Mr. Chamberlain was perceived as having no interest in the opinion of anyone who wasn’t a Democrat. “As a representative for the town,” he says, “he should have been more discrete in his public comments. He was not a good politician, but not atypical of many in both parties at the present.”
As the first term of the Democratic administration came to a close, it yielded to a contentious and churlish election campaign by both parties, wrought with accusations and inflammatory discourse. Two months before the November vote, one such shouting match became the story of the campaign. Rick Agee, an outspoken Republican farmer and owner of a local business called Goatboy Soaps, had posted screenshots on his personal Facebook page of Scott Chamberlain’s Gray Muzzle profile from SoFurry.com. When users sign up for the site, they’re prompted to rank a list of interests into four categories: Loves, Likes, Tolerates, and Hates. The screenshots showed that Chamberlain had ranked several sexually explicit interests in each category, the most egregious of which was rape, which he’d listed under Tolerates. The post prompted dozens of pictures of Chamberlain at conventions in his Gray Muzzle fur suit, accompanied by screenshots of his web comic, Tina’s Story, a pornographic cartoon about a canine hybrid who falls in love with a human at her job at the DMV. Most injurious to the Democratic Party were pictures of Chamberlain and the mayor together, sharing laughs and celebrating their 2015 victory.
“Let me get this straight, Goat Boy,” commented Chamberlain on social media. “You got a problem with this?”
The next day, Chamberlain and his wife were preparing the catering for the grand opening of the new Democratic Town Committee Headquarters. Chamberlain thought the whole thing would blow over, until a reporter from the Danbury News-Times called him for comment. Within a few hours of the call, Chamberlain received a text message from the mayor’s assistant, asking for his resignation. After talking with a political consultant, Chamberlain agreed to step down. “Essentially, we concluded that it was not a salvageable situation, that I would be a liability to the other candidates on the ticket,” he says. “Regardless of what my feelings were, I had a lot invested in the people, I had loyalty to the cause, and I didn’t want to be responsible for standing in the way of the goals that we all shared.”
The result was a town divided. “This guy is a lawyer and should be disbarred for being unfit in sound mind and is a bona fide freak,” wrote one commenter on the Danbury News-Times article. “Do you watch police TV shows? Game of Thrones? Guess what, you tolerate rape in your fiction,” wrote another. Rick Agee stoked the public uproar, joining a small group of protestors in front of the Democratic Town Committee Headquarters with a sign that read, “No perverts running our town!”
Chamberlain says the response was choreographed by Republicans to thwart the Democrats in the election, and was a result of money spent on opposition research. “Mind you, it didn’t take any fucking research,” says Chamberlain. Prior to his resignation, his furry profiles, along with all 500 pages of Tina’s Story, were public. His personal Twitter page was filled with pictures of his Gray Muzzle costume and group photos with other furries at conventions. “You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure out what kind of person has that Twitter page,” he says. “So, research? It’s like going into a comic book store and saying, ‘My God, they’ve got comics here!’”
Chamberlain believes that Joe DeGregorio, a Town Councilman at the time, was behind the campaign to publicly humiliate him. But DeGregorio denies having played a role, and sees Chamberlain’s accusation as a deflection of blame. “He did it to himself,” says DeGregorio. In fact, he says, he looked up to Chamberlain. Still, he feels the personal lives of politicians should stay private, “and it would behoove you to keep them private.”
So why did Chamberlain keep his profiles public? Chamberlain talks about being a furry with a kind of brazen pride. His uncompromising fortitude echoes the spirit that has fueled gender and sexuality movements for decades — we’ve done no harm, we will not hide. “People have told me, ‘You have to be careful.’ I don’t,” he says. “If I were Muslim, if I were gay, if I were black, would I have to apologize for that? Would I have to hide that fact?” He says that while he knew his profiles could be a liability, he’d made a conscious decision during his campaign to not take them down. “What I’m involved in is perfectly legitimate, legal, moral, and everything else. If you don’t like it, too bad.”
But New Milford wasn’t up in arms because Chamberlain is a furry. After all, Chamberlain had told constituents about his involvement in the fandom, describing it as an interest in sci-fi and animal cartoons. It was that he’d said he tolerated rape that had caused the controversy. Chamberlain told the Danbury News-Times that his hobby was wholesome. “It’s nothing to do with sex,” he’s quoted as saying. “It’s an interest in cartoon animals.”
Still, archived screenshots of Chamberlain’s furry profile show that he’d been listing sexual interests in all four categories for nearly a decade. Chamberlain says he listed them by accident, believing the list was a search filter that he was unaware was public. And even if he had ranked explicit content in favorable categories, he insists, the interests are in relation to art and fiction, not reality.
According to studies conducted by the International Anthropomorphic Research Project, 84% of furries are male, 75% are under the age of 25, and 83% are white. Approximately 70% of furries say they have told almost no one about their interest. The majority of furries say their fursona has a personality similar to their own, with 35% saying they are virtually identical.
Chamberlain likens his relationship to Gray Muzzle to Marion Morrison’s relationship with his stage name, John Wayne. But Chamberlain is uncertain about which name is meant for the stage. “I guess at some point, more people know me as Gray Muzzle than know Scott Chamberlain.” Strictly speaking, he says, the sexual interests were Gray’s. “Scott’s a lawyer, Scott’s a politician. Scott doesn’t go around talking to other people about sex.”
Chamberlain regrets little about his involvement in the furry fandom — in fact, he says one of the best things to come out of the scandal was the realization that the community had his back, a community he considers family. Reflecting on the furries, Chamberlain teared up. “It’s important that I be me,” he says. “It’s the one thing that I can do better than anything or anybody else. I have a family,” he says of the furry fandom, “and they’ve been incredibly loving, and accepting, and funny, and creative, and they’ve gotten me through one of the worst times in my life. And politics, however important, isn’t going to cause me to turn my back on the people I love.”
The Republicans won the 2017 election, ousting the Mayor and flipping the Town Council. Chamberlain says he doesn’t think his furry profile had anything to do with the loss — the Republicans had raised $30,000 to the Democrats’ $6,000. But Town Councilman John Kane, the Democrat who replaced Chamberlain after he resigned, disagrees. When I asked him if he thought the controversy had a hand in their overwhelming loss, his answer was simple: “Yes.”
Two weeks after the election, Chamberlain was in the hospital. Doctors had found a blood clot that they fear could spread to his lungs. “This is scary stuff,” he says. “I’ve been a healthy person all my life, and the notion that you’re dealing with blood and guts and real pain and things that carry the threat of death…” he paused, “it sure as fuck gets your attention.” He says his health problems have helped to put New Milford politics in perspective, and his own role in the drama now seemed trivial. “I’ve had something odd and wonderful happen to me,” he says of the public fallout. “In most cases, we have to die to hear what our friends think of us. And I haven’t had to go through that trouble yet.”
Before we finished our last interview, Chamberlain told me he had one more story to tell. He was at a furcon in 2008, at a hotel attached to a waterpark (“Never, ever, ever, attend a furcon attached to a waterpark,” he advised. “Don’t ask me why.”) It was the first furcon he attended in his Gray Muzzle fursuit, and he was nervous and overwhelmed as he left his hotel room for the lobby. On his way down the stairs, a black and white cat with a patch over one eye grabbed him by the arm. “You look hungry!” he remembers the cat saying. “Let’s get a pizza.” That was how he met Neko Kitty, his first furry friend. In a photograph that he’s kept for a decade, Neko Kitty and Gray Muzzle are leaving a fursuit parade with their animal heads in hand, walking arm in arm.