The concept of “furries” might have reached some readers for the first time yesterday in a story on our front page (“Congressional candidate touted debunked myths, but now says it was a mistake,” Oct. 13). 

The report detailed a July interview given by Ed Thelander to an alternative conservative website, as part of which the Republican candidate for U.S. representative said – are you sitting comfortably? – the following:

“A major company here [in Maine] had to fire somebody because they hired them knowing she was a cat, thought she was a cat. Sitting down in a lunchroom eating tunafish, squatting down in the corner somebody walked by and meowed at her, because she meows all day long. She jumped up and leaped and she bit somebody. And that’s a factual story. That’s insane.”

Thelander was in the process of bemoaning the supposed prevalence of so-called “furries,” people who identify as animals, dress up and behave like them, a trend he said was terrorizing workplaces and being wrongly accommodated by schools (by, among other things, adding litter boxes to school bathrooms).

The trouble is, there’s no evidence at all that this risible wedge of culture war indignation is the case. (The website’s broadcast was called “Unrestricted Truths.”)

It’s way easier to double down on something as absurd as this than it is to have the humility to walk it back. Thelander, to his credit, took full ownership of the misstep. “I don’t believe it now,” he told the paper, explaining it was something told to him again and again by many people.


It’s a seemingly simple acknowledgement that will resonate with many of us; that’s how social media myths, conspiracy theories and other hoaxes take hold and take off. We hear them said around town, on TV, repeated on the nation’s most popular podcasts (Joe Rogan of “The Joe Rogan Experience” told a story specifically about cat litter just this week) and we run up against them on social media. Thelander is far from alone.

Within his party, Thelander is even further from alone. According to an NBC News report released yesterday, at least 20 conservative candidates and elected officials have publicly made the litter box claim this year. In acknowledging the falsehood, however, the Bristol-based former Navy SEAL finds himself in the minority.

Living in a climate so hospitable to misinformation and fringe theorizing can feel pretty dismal. According to a 2021 Quinnipiac University poll, more than 70% of Americans are of the view that conspiracy theories are “out of control.” According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center this past August, almost half of American adults believe the government should take steps to restrict false information.

While viral myths are believed and repeated by people of all political persuasions, conservatives have propagated the majority of the most lurid and “insane” examples in America in recent years, urged on by President Trump and fueled by the rise of the likes of QAnon. 

A 2021 article in a journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science also found that “conservatives have lower sensitivity than liberals, performing worse at distinguishing truths and falsehoods. This is partially explained by the fact that the most widely shared falsehoods tend to promote conservative positions.”

In a golden age for falsehood, in a part of the political sphere prone to confirmation-by-echo-chamber, arriving at a conclusion like Thelander’s is the very best-case scenario.

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