The Milady Maker NFT line was meant to be something small. Only 10,000 “Miladys” were minted and there are around 3,000 currently owned on OpenSea, all of which depict cutesy anime girls sporting different outfits. By April, when Miladys hit their price ceiling of $6,000, the NFTs could be spotted all over Twitter, where people proudly showcased them as their profile photos.
According to Milady Maker’s official description, the NFTs were “generative pfpNFT’s in a neochibi aesthetic inspired by street style tribes.” In non-crypto-speak, that means they were intended to be NFT profile pictures modeled after “Chibi”-style anime art, which typically depicts characters as smaller and cuter than they normally look.
The whole thing was a dizzying swirl of post-4chan internet references filtered through Very Online layers of both irony and earnestness, making it impossible to tell exactly how much of the Miladys project was a joke or not. Each NFT came with a “drip score” rating their rarity and stylishness. There were also “Milady Mixtapes”—with titles like Milady Mixes #1 – Harajuku Dreamin’—that were only available to NFT holders.
In a sense, every line of NFTs is both an art project and a community and the Milady Maker community was no different, except, from the very beginning, it felt like something was off about the people who were buying the Milady Maker NFTs. Holders tended to operate as a swarm on Twitter, dog piling other users, posting outrageous and offensive content. There were also rumors circulating about the project lead and central creator of Milady Maker, the pseudonymous user named “Charlotte Fang.”
Then, finally, in May, the whole thing came crashing down. In a 20-tweet thread, a pseudonymous Twitter user named 0xngmi collected screenshots of racist and extremist content being shared in the Miladys Discord. Further, the Twitter user accused Fang of being connected to an obscure 4chan-based suicide cult, outting her as prolific internet troll. Even more shocking was when, just days later, Fang admitted to most of it and announced she was stepping down as the CEO of Miladys.
The news sent the NFT’s value tumbling, losing 60 percent of their value in a weekend. “Miladys NFT Prices Tumble After Creator Doxxes Self as Person Behind Controversial ‘Miya’,” Coindesk reported. “NFT Project Milady’s Charlotte Fang Accused Of Racism And Homophobia,” declared Bitcoinist.
Since then, other high-level investors in the project have cut ties with it. The Twitter community has gone quiet.
Beyond the Discord drama, But the whole episode is also a fascinating and somewhat maddening look at how confusing things can get in a world where no one wants to use their real identity, has hundreds of thousands of dollars of largely untraceable internet money, and seems unable to coherently explain why being a racist internet troll in 2022 is interesting, let alone a form of artistic expression.
There’s also the fact that Web3 proponents see themselves as a community that’s building a new and better internet, but their projects are just as susceptible to problems that have persisted online since the very beginning. Weaponizing anonymity to recruit other users towards fringe identity movements is nothing new. For as long as there have been message boards, there has been the weird, and oftentimes, violent magical thinking that can permeate in dark online spaces.
But the story behind the Milady Maker implosion—and the art collective responsible for it—is even weirder than it initially seemed, the bizarre tip of an even more confounding iceberg. To understand what happened requires a journey into the kaleidoscopic heart of New York City’s nascent Gen Z art scene, where shitposting, leftism, crypto, fascist occultism, and cyber-libertarianism all congeal together into an amorphous—and nihilistic—cultural blob.
As one researcher who studied the Milady community said, “I started to feel a bit weirded out.”
“A lot of us are art school graduates or dropouts”
Last year, as pandemic lock downs in New York City lifted, a new generation of writers, artists, and publishers in lower Manhattan started gaining notoriety on platforms like Instagram for somewhat avant-garde zines. Nicknamed Dimes Square, after Dimes NYC, A tiny Chinatown restaurant that these micro-influencers hung out at, this young cohort of tastemakers felt to outsiders like they had suddenly appeared in the city overnight.
This decidedly politically incorrect “alt-left” art scene, which thumbs its nose against more mainstream Gen Z media, has captured the attention of prominent techno-libertarians such as Peter Thiel and Curtis Yarvin, an infamous blogger who has spent several decades advocating for automation to topple American democracy and replace it with a white nationalist monarchy where poor people live as chattel slaves for tech CEOs, both of whom seem to be funding it. The result is a vague and decentralized cultural movement—often at war with itself—cobbled together across semi-anonymous DM groups, Telegram channels, esoteric podcasts, crypto-flush Discord servers, and impenetrable Substacks. What links these disparate online and offline worlds together is a belief that the American right wing is grotesque but very funny to impersonate, and that progressivism and political correctness is ruining art through censorship. They believe that the kind of incendiary and offensive shitposting that used to be reserved for digital backwaters like 4chan can actually be elevated into a full-on artist movement. (They also believe they originated the concept of the “vibe shift,” before they say it was co-opted by journalists at The Cut.)
It’s within this miasma of leftist theory, digital anarchism, fascist occultism, and pathologically dense irony that Remilia Corporation, a digital art collective of about 70 people that is primarily run via a Twitter group DM, was born.
“A lot of us are, like, art school graduates or dropouts,” the collective’s founder, Charlotte Fang, said during a phone interview earlier this month. “I’m a dropout.”
Remilia is technically a DAO, or decentralized autonomous organization, in the sense that they create crypto-backed projects and organize primarily within remote group chats. (The group’s name comes from the character Remilia Scarlet from the Japanese video game Touhou Project.)
Remilia also created Milady Maker, the idea being to sell the NFTs as themed profile pictures that people can use as Twitter avatars. It’s a fairly retro concept, harking back to the days of custom message board avatars and banners for online guilds and cliques, only now it was powered by blockchain technology and had some real money behind it. Much of what Remilia does has that same retro internet feel, complete with a website that looks like it was made in 2004 and which offers almost no details about the group.
Many of Remilia’s members operate out of various screen names and handles, oftentimes never revealing their actual real-life identities’ not even to each other. Fang said that the point of the collective was to create outsider digital art, with a serious focus on deeply transgressive online performance. She compared Remilia’s content to William S. Burroughs’ once-banned novel Naked Lunch. Fang claims Remilia’s interest in the NFTs has as much, if not more, to do with crypto evangelists’ disregard for political correctness.
“In the crypto space, people going into any group chat, you’ll find people that are racist, homophobic, transphobic. And they don’t bat an eye because they’re just, you know, they’re gamers, they’re 4channers,” Fang said. “These are the people that entered crypto early and now they’re the guys—the whales—that have all the money.”
Fang said she was consulted on the widely-derided Spice DAO, which was a crypto project centered around the purchase of a story bible containing a screenplay and illustrations for an unproduced 1976 film adaptation of Dune by director Alejandro Jodorowsky. Spice DAO purchased the story bible for $3 million but, since that purchase didn’t actually include the adaptation or intellectual property rights, the group has spent months desperately trying to figure out what exactly to do with it.
Though most Remilia collaborators are pseudonymous, one former Remilia member, who went by “Soph,” went on a podcast last August and, during the interview, Vanderbilt joked about making a lot of money off Milady Maker, but wouldn’t disclose how much. She also used her real name during the interview: Sophia Vanderbilt.
Fang said that Remilia parted ways with Vanderbilt last November. Regarding any financial relationship the group had with Vanderbilt, Fang confirmed that she was given free Miladys NFTs, but was unclear if she sold them. (Vanderbilt did not respond to requests for comment.)
Vanderbilt’s podcast interview was part of a series on Urbit, a decentralized server platform, that was initially developed by Yarvin. He has since taken a backseat publicly with regards to representing Urbit, but the project is also funded in part by Thiel.
Urbit has begun hosting events in New York City that have quickly become a physical epicenter for the “Weird Theory” crowd, as Vanderbilt put it. And Remilia’s ties to that world of scandal-ridden technologists, artists, and bloggers have made things complicated for the group as they’ve risen in prominence within the world of Web3.
Vanderbilt, in that same interview, brought up what she called a “cancellation” incident involving Miladys, which was perhaps the first sign that something was off about the whole project. A Milady-spinoff NFT called “Milady, that B.I.T.C.H.,” was launched shortly after the main collection and featured the cartoon avatars wearing shirts that referenced the Treblinka concentration camp. Some investors took to Twitter at the time to express outrage over the Holocaust-themed NFT, but other Milady community members turned it into a meme.
Vanderbilt claims the Treblinka avatar was created by accident by the algorithm they were using, which was pulling text from an obscure, but influential pseudonymous Substack called Angelicism01. The Substsck writer publishes an extremely dense and nihilistic combination of Manhattan art scene gossip, edgy Web3 memes, and outright fascist accelerationist philosophy.
Fang confirmed Vanderbilt’s account of the incident and said that Remilia had an “intimate” relationship with Angelicism01. “I consider him the only real art critic operating in the space, covering the younger generation of artists,” she said. To give you an idea of what that means in practice, one of Angelicism01’s top posts, written after The Cut‘s article about the “vibe shift,” was titled, “Somebody Please Columbine The Entire The Cut Editorial Staff“.
Like the rest of projects coming out of the transgressive art scene from which Remilia emerged, it’s impossible to understand what is meant to be understood as an inside joke and what is genuine. Fang, though, has been pretty consistent in her beliefs. One day in late April, right before the Milady Maker controversy kicked off in earnest, Fang wrote two posts on blockchain-based publishing Mirror, outlining something close to a central philosophy for Remilia.
In one post, titled, “Network Spirituality, Collected Commentaries,” Fang wrote that “network spirituality,” is a concept promoted by Remilia Corporation that involves “performative identity,” “transcendental posting,” and is meant to be a contrarian ideology, using memes and shitposts as a way to create a collective consciousness online. In the second post, titled, “Cancel Miya to me or I’ll fucking kill you,” Fang claimed that she had been one of the people posting as a troll account called Miya on Twitter from 2019 to 2020, which she said was meant to be an art project, “diving head-first into the dark and absurd cultural wells of the internet.”
But as Remilia’s profile began rising earlier this year, thanks in large part to notoriety of the Spice DAO and Milady Maker, outside observers began to question exactly how satirical all of this was supposed to be.
In April, Charles Eppley, visiting assistant professor of Media Studies at the University of California, Riverside, tweeted out screenshots from the Milady Discord that revealed a rats nest of radicalization. In the screenshots, a number of users shared racist and homophobic 4chan memes as others asked the moderators to take action.
In one screenshot, a user refers to Jewish women as a “shekel mommy” and in another, a user writes, “Jews are just like NPCs [non-playable video characters] I’ve seen them on the street or in airports. Never spoken to one.”
“Their unofficial mantra was actually sincere”
This kind of breakdown between NFT investors involved in a Discord isn’t all that uncommon. Users enter the chat, buy crypto tokens as a way of pooling their money together, and begin organizing a roadmap for where the project is going. Because of the enthusiasm—and the jaw-dropping amounts of money circulating—in the crypto world right now, very often you never really know who it is you’re dealing with. Which has also made them the perfect breeding ground for scams, or what crypto investors call a “rug pull”.
Eppley first noticed Milady NFTs around January of this year and was fascinated by the community’s self-awareness. “I began to notice these weirdly drawn, sort of ugly, but very kawaii faces appear in my Twitter feed,” Eppley said. “By March and April, they were unavoidable.”
Eppley said that poking around in the “Milady Village” Discord server turned up some pretty disturbing behavior. “I understood that their unofficial mantra was actually sincere, even if ‘ironically’ so: ‘I Have Extremely Fringe Political Beliefs And Am An Active Dissident Voice In An Underground Online Community‘,” they said. “But, ironically, anti-woke shitposting is extremely not underground. It’s one of the most popular and mainstreamed components of digital culture.”
Eppley said they suspect that Miladys wasn’t a project about making money. “The project’s main motivation seems to have been to cultivate and mobilize a decentralized community to usher in an avant-garde ‘cryptoculture’ conspicuously informed by digital theory, surveillance culture, esoteric philosophy, and post-identity roleplay,” they said.
Essentially, Miladys felt like a cult.
A month after Eppley shared the screenshots that they had been collecting, another Twitter user, independently released a damning “megathread,” that compiled a dizzying list of allegations leveled at Fang and the entire Remilia Corporation collective, as well.
On May 22, 2022, 0xngmi, the creator of decentralized finance analytics service DefiLlama, published a 20-tweet thread, and subsequent GitHub post, outlining Charlotte Fang’s long history as a radicalized online extremist, who had posted racist and pro-anorexia content under the username “Miya”.
Even worse, 0xngmi alleged that Fang, along with other members of Remilia, were members of the TSUKI Project, an online suicide cult that first emerged on Reddit in 2017. TSUKI Project followers believe that we live in a simulation called “Systemspace,” and that the simulation will soon be shut down. The only way to move on to the next iteration of Systemspace, according to the TSUKI Project, is through suicide. It’s speculated that that at least one teenager committed suicide due to the TSUKI Project, though it was never confirmed.
Fang said that she was never a genuine believer of the TSUKI Project and only posted in group DMs and tweeted about it because she thought it was funny. Though she did say that she is also inspired by the anime Serial Experiments Lain, which was also a major influence for the TSUKI Project. But it doesn’t seem like an accident that transgressive Gen Z creators in the Urbit-focused digital art scene are gravitating towards things that feel very influenced by decades of unhinged 4chan content.
The Treblinka controversy and the leaked racist Discord chats weren’t the only issues. 0xngmi compiled a lengthy amount of anti-Semitic blog posts from Fang, along with screenshots from a group chat called “Hot Pot,” where users regularly used the N-word and other slurs, and joked about other parts of the crypto world being canceled.
When I asked whether Fang thought being ironically or performatively “unwoke” is the same as being a bigot, she pushed back, arguing that what Remilia Corporation do different to what happens on 4chan or far-right platforms like Gab. “A lot of [4chan’s] trolling was juvenile. And it had a vague political motivation. This idea of like, ‘well, don’t take things seriously on the internet,’” Fang said.
0xngmi told me that they only became aware of the allegations against Fang last month. “I just really hate that behavior and how the NFTs were giving [Fang] a platform to keep doing it,” they said.
“In reality I’ve never harmed a fly”
The backlash against 0xngmi for compiling the megathread was massive. Miladys investors accused 0xngmi of “tanking their bags” and other members of the community started going back through 0xngmi’s own internet history, hoping to find objective material that they could then cancel 0xngmi back with. Which, in many ways, it’s a perfect microcosm of how internet communities function in Web3, where every interaction is connected to some kind of financial value. There is no real concept of accountability or social justice, only cyberwarfare.
But the controversy was enough to push Fang into coming forward and admitting that Miya wasn’t just a Remilia Corporation art project, but that she was the primary author of Miya.
“I apologize about trying to hide the past account—Miya has nothing to do with Milady Maker and should stay that way so I’ll be stepping down from the team from here,” Fang tweeted. “Unequivocally, my real views hold no room for hate, and I detest abusers and groomers—trolling about it was juvenile, but in reality I’ve never harmed a fly.”
She then said she was leaving the project. Fang’s tweets sent the price of Miladys cascading even further. And as Kotaku recently pointed out, the tokens for Spice DAO, the other project associated with Remilia Corporation, are also trading near-zero. And per the most recent update in Spice DAO’s Discord, the controversy around Miladys and Fang may have killed the project entirely.
Spice DAO’s advisor, Soban Saqib—who does not appear to be interested in the avant-garde anti-woke occultism of Fang, the Remilia Corporation, and network spirituality—released a statement, saying, “Just want to be very clear that I completely condemn [Charlotte]. Remilia’s involvement in The Spice DAO was limited and we’re working through a plan on how to allow token holders to view the book and issue a refund to make holders whole. The DAO will no longer pursue creating IP.”
Saqib’s statement went on to say that he was disgusted by the whole thing.
A lot of what 0xngmi compiled from Fang’s various accounts could be classified as “schizoposting,” in which internet users publicly roleplay as someone suffering from a psychotic episode to trigger emotional reactions from other users. In practice, this means posting a lot of stuff that you, assumedly, don’t actually believe. Often that means being edgy for the sake of being edgy.
Adam Bumas, a writer and researcher for Meme Insider, told me many of the same impulses you would see behind early 4chan memes are also present in the crypto community right now, namely, anonymous users banding together for some kind of shared goal.
“Most of the things that start on 4chan and leave there, and end up affecting the internet, or indeed the real world, they start because someone has the idea — ‘let’s all band together and do this thing, or say this thing or target this person’,” he said. “Any space where there is a culture of working against any accountability will attract people who don’t want to be held to account.”
Bumas said NFTs accomplish the same thing. “Once you have the NFT, you are literally invested in the line. You can join the Discord and talk with everyone else. And you get the whole sense of like, ‘We’re all going to make it. Who am I?’ And I think that is the common thread, that the feeling of wanting to be an active participant in a community that’s going places and doing things takes precedence over any other practical or moral considerations.”
Which, you could argue, is also happening with the Remilia Corporation group chat. But the fallout around Miladys didn’t end with a simple Twitter apology.
Following Fang’s thread, she appeared on the podcast Contain, where she delivered a two-hour interview in which she claimed that Miya was a design project, likening it to a performative art piece or a character, and said it was absurd to be canceled for it. Fang explained that Miya, along with another alt account she used called Sonya, were ways to explore radicalized and accelerationist speech online.
Which only really holds water if you don’t acknowledge that the bulk of what Miya and Sonya were posting were anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, graphic pro-anorexia content, and goading teenagers in direct messages into committing suicide. Fang did tell me that many of the other users that she was allegedly harassing were in on the joke.
“It’s almost as if the demon I had created has come back to continually haunt me,” Fang said on the Contain podcast. “Charlotte is dead, Charlotte is Miya, Miya is dead.”
Sure, those identities might be dead, but there’s no telling who will appear next and what they might do.
In our conversation, Fang told me that the context around accounts like Miya is impossible to communicate years after the fact. “It’s just a total bad faith cancel,” she said. “It’s the issue of context collapse. With the difficulty of archiving, we can’t even go back and try to share group chats on Twitter. Twitter doesn’t have a way to cleanly export it.”
But Remilia Corporation isn’t going away, according to Fang. Also, it’s worth repeating that “Charlotte Fang” is a pseudonym, meaning there’s nothing stopping the human person who was behind this whole thing from resurfacing somewhere else. And while Remilia members may now be pariahs within certain more mainstream circles of the crypto world, it’s also just as likely that they’ve earned points with another one.
“I do plan to come up with a new name, but it’s also not even to hide or anything,” Fang said. “I just kind of feel comfortable operating with a different voice.”