“I’m not going to tolerate disrespect.”
“U betrayed me.”
“Bye clown. Dumping you out cause ur garbage.”
These are just a few examples of the emotional abuse that has come to light from a well-known collector in the Web3 art space.
As a collector and community member in this space myself, I’ve been lucky to get to know incredible artists from around the world. For many, selling their art as NFTs has been a path to financial freedom and the opportunity to make a living off their talents and passions. This is one of the things I love the most about NFTs.
As I’ve built trust with many artists, I started hearing some concerning stories about a big collector and community leader who goes by the name of Kato (I do know his IRL identity but I won’t dox him here).
Of course, as with most complex situations, multiple things can be true at the same time. Kato has done a lot of good for women artists, spending an extraordinary amount of ETH on their art. He’s also always been kind to me (up until he realized that I was privy to this information about him recently), and I know he’s a fun and charismatic friend to many. I imagine a lot of people will respond to this by saying that they have always been treated well by Kato, and I want those people to know that I believe them and don’t judge them.
At the same time, he has exhibited classic emotionally abusive behavior towards a lot of women, and for the most part those women have been scared to speak up. I want to help them to shed light on this behavior so that more women aren’t harmed and so that he can hopefully change his actions. There is a lot of good in the Web3 art space, and we all have a responsibility to name and mitigate toxicity in order to keep it that way.
Emotional abuse can be identified by several behavioral characteristics including manipulation, control, humiliation, shame, and threats. The following quotes and screenshots, which came directly from 17 different women artists that I spoke with and/or messaged with, indicate all of these behaviors. These stories have also been corroborated by several more people that witnessed a lot of this behavior, in private chats and via commiserations from friends.
All of the stories I heard from women started out with something like this one.
“When I first met Kato he seemed really nice, kind and supportive, so I started to get close to him. He invited me to a discord where he was ‘recruiting all the girls.’ Everything seemed pretty normal at the beginning, but I always thought it was weird that he was only reaching out to women.”
Kato created a private community called KatoKrew, which consists of over 200 young women artists from around the world, many of them experiencing socioeconomic barriers. They have Telegram and Discord chats, and share and bid on each other’s art using the hashtag #KatoKrew (in fact, it’s a rule that they aren’t allowed to tweet their work without that hashtag).
The women I interviewed say the KatoKrew communication channels are where Kato creates a sense of control, paranoia and competition amongst his “girls.”
Kato has different chats that he puts different combinations of members into, to create silos within the overall community. “He loves to divide artists and make them compete,” one artist told me.
Another one shared that “he is the master of playing people against each other if he wants to sow distrust. It’s so hard to explain how incredibly good he is at manipulation.”
He uses this dynamic to make the women more reliant on him. “The doubt between people in his community is incredibly important to him, so that the only person you feel you can trust is him,” one artist explained. “He really hated whenever a genuine friendship between two women formed because it meant that people could fact check what he was saying.“
He gives all of the women code names in Discord, which adds to the confusion. One woman recounted hearing new members begging, “I want Kato to give me my name.”
“Things in the discord started to get really weird,” one artist recounted. “Girls were competing for this man's attention, complimenting him, fighting over who was more loved by him, talking about sexual things openly. It was really disturbing and embarrassing to watch.”
Another shared that “he practically forced everyone to spend more time on the discord than on Twitter. He told us that the real connections would be made only on the discord, and so he was gradually locking us all in a single circle.”
“First he tries to tie you down with his love, and then he starts pulling at the strings of affection he has created,” one of the women I interviewed explained. “When you're already attached to him and you feel obligated because he cares about you. You feel obligated to do whatever he says. But as soon as there comes a point where you don't want to do something, he starts to undo you.”
All of the artists that spoke up had stories of Kato trying to control them – usually over things that seemingly had no explanation other than a desire for control.
“He is constantly trying to control people and decide who we can communicate with,” one woman shared.
“He wanted to make all decisions for me,” another remembered. “I couldn't be in other communities, I couldn't make custom art for friends, and of course I couldn't have any other big collectors as a friends.”
Kato explained his need for control in several screenshotted conversations by referencing his reputation, as though every action one of the KatoKrew members took reflected on him.
If an artist acts in a way that goes against Kato’s control, he puts them in timeout for a varying length of time. This is very common in his Discord - at the time of this writing the word “timeout” came up 176 times in a Discord search.
This controlling behavior goes beyond the group’s private chat channels as well. Several women had stories of Kato taking over their existing Twitter spaces, getting others to “rug” (kick-off) speakers that he didn’t want to have the airtime, and knowingly scheduling his Spaces over those that he didn’t approve of.
“He started to get really manipulative and only let girls speak,” a woman who hosted some spaces with him remembered. “Whenever I wanted to invite a male artist he refused. The only men he invited were other collectors that he was friends with.”
He also tries to control what communities women are part of and who they sell their art to. One woman shared that he told her “I really expected much more loyalty from you,” when she sold custom pieces to members of a different community. And another said that he got upset with her for joining Disco Studios, a community that supports and showcases artists.
Many women recounted a sense of paranoia about going against any of his “rules” because he was always watching them. “He’s always online so you never have a moment to think. He’s everywhere,” one artist shared.
On many occasions, Kato would reach out to people to ask why they liked a given tweet that he disagreed with, making them feel their every move was being watched.
He also sends out women from KatoKrew to keep an eye on each other. One woman shared an incident where “Someone from KatoKrew was in our private Russian chat. She was stalking our chat, translated someone's words into English, distorted them and gave them a negative meaning, and immediately sent it to Kato.”
Kato was known to frequently put down and berate women, making them question themselves. “Our whole dialogue consists of me humiliating myself in front of him, begging for forgiveness for things I didn't do,” one artist shared.
“He treated me like shit, telling me that he invented me, that I owed my life to him, that I wasn't good enough and stuff like that,” a woman recounted.
Another woman described a dynamic of humiliation in Discord and Telegram. “In a private chat room they humiliate other artists.”
Several women recounted being bullied not just by Kato, but by other members of KatoKrew as well. “As soon as he doesn't like an artist he asks the whole Discord to attack that artist,” one shared.
When the women in KatoKrew did things that Kato didn’t want them to, his first response was to guilt and shame them – oftentimes very publicly.
He would often reference how much he did for his “girls,” how many sacrifices he made and money he spent, to make them feel like it was their fault.
Many conversations that were shared with me involved him telling women how “disappointed” he was in them.
In one incident that several people referenced, a woman that regularly hosted spaces with him decided to host an impromptu space on her own, to celebrate it being her birthday and having a sold-out collection. He shamed her for this very publicly and intensely in discord. One woman recounted the incident as “horrific” and another said “it was so brutal and so mean – a total character tear-down.”
Kato’s next step when he feels he has lost control of someone is to threaten to sabotage their art careers, and oftentimes try to follow through on those threats.
“He told me I might never have another sale,” one artist shared, remembering a time that she accidentally upset him in a discord conversation.
“He threatened me, saying ‘I’m going to put people against you, I won’t support you,’” another told me. “He very often works to take down female artists that he feels he can’t control.”
Several women said that he tried to get their other collectors to stop buying from them once he was angry with them.
“He writes to my friends to unsubscribe from me. He writes to my collectors that they shouldn't buy from me,” one shared.
“If you’re not going to be his servant and you show your independence, he does everything to fade you – reaching out to other collectors and telling them not to buy from you anymore,” another confirmed.
One of the women I talked with shared how he blew up in a Twitter Spaces and then threatened to keep doing so. “There was one day when he came to a Russian space and started yelling at everybody,” she recounted. “He wrote to me that he would go to every space and bully one of the girls.”
Another woman who hosted a regular Twitter Spaces with Kato before they had a falling out said that he “tried to drown down my spaces by hosting his space the same day and the same time as ours. His purpose was to take our listeners away and make us less popular.”
Other forms of sabotage have involved talking badly in public about the women that he wasn’t able to control.
“I found that Kato was talking shit about the art contest I was holding, telling artists, ‘don't participate in it and don’t ruin your collections with it,’” shared one woman that had had a falling out with him.
In recent tweets, Kato berated a well-known artist for the mechanics of her edition, even though he had been supportive of countless similar editition launches. He didn’t name her, but it was specific enough that most people knew who he was talking about, and the incident threw her into a state of anxiety.
Almost everyone I talked to also referenced a “blacklist” that Kato had been maintaining, of artists not to buy from. However I’ve been unable to validate the existence of that list in my research so far.
I spoke with 17 artists to research and write this piece (and took 13 pages of notes!). Some of them are or had previously been in KatoKrew, and some had turned down offers to join. Some of them I already knew, and some came forward after I shared this tweet. A few of the artists offered to be named, but in the interest of keeping everyone that requested anonymity as anonymous as possible, I’ve obfuscated all the names.
I wasn’t able to share some of the screenshots provided to me, as the people sharing them didn’t feel safe making them public. But everything I reference in this article has been verified through screenshots and/or corroborations from other people that observed the incidents.
I reached out to Kato, both via private DM and in the OG Collective Discord, letting him know I had been hearing problematic stories about him and asking if he’d like to discuss. He did not respond, and then unfollowed me on Twitter.
In my conversations with these artists, I also heard stories of other sketchy collectors. However none of those have been validated and corroborated the way the Kato stories have been, so I don’t feel comfortable sharing those at this time. I do encourage people to speak up and document toxic or predatory incidents, so that anyone causing harm can be held accountable.
I should note that both Kato and I are members of the OG Collective. He’s been in there longer, and I’ve been more active as of late. That community was not involved in writing this piece, although I imagine there will need to be some discussion now about how to move forward since much of what I have described here goes against our community guidelines.
I highly recommend that no one stop buying from KatoKrew artists in light of this information. Some of them want to leave, and all of them are victims in this situation (whether or not they feel that yet). As such, they shouldn’t be punished for the actions of Kato.
If you are a woman who has gotten out of KatoKrew after experiencing harm, or if you are trying to do so, there is a group of artists that have come together to support each other through that experience. I’m not part of it of course, but am happy to put you in touch with them.
I always try to avoid drama, and I won’t stand for people in positions of power abusing vulnerable or marginalized people. When I definitively see the latter happening, I will not hesitate to step into what some may deem to be drama. Because to stay silent is to side with the abuser.