This is a true story, but it has all the makings of a Hollywood thriller: a gay porn star, a small-town house infamous for its connection to the Church of Satan, an arson-slash-suspected hate crime, and a whodunit with no obvious suspects. However, beyond the scandalous headlines, this is a story about two queer people who lost everything, including their sense of safety.
Matthew Camp is a well-known OnlyFans performer, pro-sex work activist, and co-host of the popular queer reality show Slag Wars. In the early morning of January 14, his house in Poughkeepsie, New York, was the target of a horrific arson attack in which an unknown perpetrator was captured on multiple cameras dousing the house in accelerant and setting it ablaze. An initial explosion on his front porch shook Camp awake, giving him and his roommate-slash-assistant, Six Carter, only seconds to escape before the entire home was engulfed in flames.
Speaking to NewNowNext from an undisclosed location as the City of Poughkeepsie Police Department investigates the apparent hate crime, Camp remembers having no time to think. “I couldn’t see an inch in front of my face from all the smoke,” he says. “There was fire everywhere. Whoever did this knew we were inside.”
Thankfully, Camp and Carter did escape…just in time to watch their home turn to ash over the course of three hours: “I just stood there watching the house burn to the ground, like, ‘What is happening?’”
The house, like Camp himself, has a reputation that on the surface doesn’t mesh with the sleepy, conservative town of Poughkeepsie. The property was formerly owned by Joe Netherworld, an openly gay occultist who gained notoriety for transforming the once-dilapidated Victorian structure into the town’s “Halloween House,” complete with a Satanic ballroom, framed letters from serial killers, and museum cases stacked with oddities and art in almost every room. He was also a beloved community leader and one of Camp’s early mentors.
After Netherworld passed away in early 2020, Camp bought the property. “It wasn’t just a house,” he remembers. “It was a part of Joe and a part of Poughkeepsie. It was a part of my personal history.”
Within days of the fire, Camp and Carter’s friends and family set up two separate GoFundMe pages, one for each victim. However, even that kind gesture hasn’t evaded controversy. Some online commenters have questioned why Camp would need financial support during this time. When asked about those comments, he just shrugs: “I don’t know. People will always have something to say. I’m so humbled by all of the support. We haven’t even finished figuring out how much everything will cost — but it’s a huge undertaking. It’s hard to wrap my head around still.”
Although losing his house is an additional monetary burden during a pandemic that has already devastated the adult-film industry, Camp stresses that the arson was so much more than a financial hit. “[Carter and I] haven’t slept more than a few hours since it happened,” he confesses. “Money can’t fix that. It’s scary, all the unknowns. I hope it gets easier, but right now I just bounce between [feeling] anxious and numb. The shock hasn’t worn off, I guess.”
There is no telling how long Camp or the public will have to wait for answers. The situation is still shrouded in unknowns as local police continue to investigate. “I don’t have any enemies that I know of,” Camp says gently. “But I’m a gay sex worker who bought a house that used to be owned by a Satanist. I don’t know who did it, but it’s not hard to guess why they would.”
Camp’s story has resonated with people around the world, and it’s easy to understand why. At some point in our lives, most LGBTQ folks have grappled with the idea that everything we love can be forcibly taken from us because of who we are. Even in the most “gay-friendly” cities, our queerness results in constant risk assessments and a lingering sense that there is danger lurking in the shadows.
According to a 2020 study from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the number of anti-LGBTQ hate groups in the U.S. rose dramatically from 2018 to 2019. Anti-LGBTQ hate crimes documented by the FBI have consistently increased, too. In recent memory, there was the homophobic murder of Ronald Peters in Georgia; the brutal gay bashing of Christian Council in Edmond, Oklahoma; and the fatal shooting of Courtney Eshay Key in Chicago, who is sadly just one of many Black trans women who were murdered in 2020.
Despite the traumatic situation, Camp is trying to resist letting his attacker win. “I’m trying to find the bright spots,” he says. “The overwhelming response from people and all of the kindness has really helped. It’s times like these that you remember why being queer is so powerful. It’s the community, right?”