How an Elf and a Group of Gamers Exposed a ‘Predatory’ YouTuber-Husband Obsessed With Soliciting Nudes
‘ProJared’ Knabenbauer, a gamer with 838K YouTube followers, was accused by his elf-cosplaying wife of having an affair. Then even more disturbing allegations came rolling in.
On Wednesday night, YouTuber Jared “ProJared” Knabenbauer emerged from his fringe corner of the internet with a viral divorce announcement. The lengthy post would have likely stayed among the gamer’s million-plus social media following if it wasn’t for his newly minted ex-wife’s very public reaction.
Heidi O’Ferrall, a professional artist and elf cosplayer, quickly undermined Knabenbauer’s attempts to control their divorce narrative. O’Ferrall began by revealing that she had no idea what Jared was saying about their marriage on social media, because he had blocked her before announcing the split. “I’m honestly shocked that he posted this today because it’s so blatantly selfish,” O’Ferrall posted. “This isn’t a mutual statement in any way.”
Knabenbauer dipped into the first-person plural throughout his statement, saying, “We do this so that we may both seek happiness for ourselves,” and claiming the priority was “Heidi’s privacy, mental wellbeing and discretion.” But O’Ferrall laid waste to any notion of an amicable split, alleging that Jared had been cheating on her with fellow gamer Holly Conrad “for months” and that he “gaslit” her about the affair.
“I needed to get this off my chest because I’ve been living in a private hell for the last year,” she continued. “Wondering if I’m going crazy because the person I loved told me that the obvious wasn’t true, that I’m paranoid and wrong. I’m not holding my tongue for his benefit anymore.”
O’Ferrall went on to allege that her ex “has been soliciting nudes from his fans for years.” She claimed that it began as a Tumblr joke, and then spiraled into “its own Tumblr account just for nudes.” O’Ferrall shared that she had approved of the account strictly on the basis that it was “a body-positive space for consenting adults.” But, she continued, “It kept escalating secretly. He started a Snapchat, for getting nudes from fans, without telling me. I found out via a fan comment… I used to think that among consenting adults, it was fine. Now I see it as an abuse of power for him to intentionally manipulate anyone to show him their naked body on the basis that he’s a popular internet man.”
In response to O’Ferrall’s thread, a number of social media users have come forward with their own experiences of ProJared’s “private” Tumblr and Snapchat accounts. A Twitter user named Chai posted a now-private statement alleging that Knabenbauer “knew I was 16” when he requested nudes via Tumblr. “We spoke sexually,” Chai continued. “He sent me pictures of him in cosplay with his dick very visible. He told me details about his sexual life and fantasies. Eventually, he sent me a dick pick…We didn’t speak every day, but most. I sent him many actual, real nudes.” In a follow-up post, Chai remarked that Knabenbauer “knew I was a big fan of his, and that I was underage, and still continued to talk sexually to me.”
Another Twitter user named Charlie quickly followed suit, writing, “My friend, Chai, just came out and posted his story on Twitter so I figured I’d do the same.” In their statement, Charlie wrote that they were a “really, really big fan of ProJared” and started communicating with him around the age of 15 or 16, in 2016. As O’Ferrall mentioned in her thread, the pleas to “send nudes” initially read as a Tumblr bit. “It was just a joke at first,” Charlie wrote. “Then it quickly escalated.” Positing that Knabenbauer’s fanbase largely consisted of middle and high schoolers at the time, they continued, “An open invitation to send him nudes is oddly predatory and just kind of messed up for a content creator to put out there, especially when there is a risk for minors (again, a good portion of his following) sending you nudes.”
Archived screenshots from what appears to have been Jared’s “main” Tumblr show that he did encourage followers to “send nudes,” and referenced the “Tumblr nudes” that he had received.
Charlie claimed that they sent Knabenbauer nudes, and that he responded by thanking them: “Thrilled by the acknowledgement and validation from someone whom I admired so much, I didn’t stop.” Charlie stated that they do not remember Jared ever asking for their age. Knabenbauer subsequently invited them to join his “secret” blog, “SinJared.”
“On it, he posted nudes that his followers submitted to the blog and posted some of his own,” Charlie continued. “He encouraged me to submit some as well, but I wasn’t comfortable.”
After comparing their experiences, Charlie and Chai claim that they composed an email detailing their allegations to a number of Knabenbauer’s collaborators. In a statement to The Verge NormalBoots, the gaming collective that Knabenbauer was a part of, confirmed that, “On April 4, 2019, an unsolicited e-mail was sent to the NormalBoots business account containing allegations of inappropriate conduct pertaining to Jared Knabenbauer.”
“Prior to these allegations being made public, actions and measures were in process to terminate the affiliation of Mr. Knabenbauer from NormalBoots and to update its internal social media use policies,” the statement continued. “Mr. Knabenbauer and NormalBoots have mutually agreed to part ways.”
In his initial statement, Knabenbauer warned fans that, “During this time you may see a lot of rumors, speculation and gossip going around.” In a Twitter DM, Charlie told The Daily Beast that, “I’ve talked with Heidi [O’Ferrall] in DMs and she said that our email/Jared accusations partly inspired her to come out with her own story.” They added that the entire experience of coming forward has been “incredibly surreal,” explaining, “I’ve been terrified of coming out with this information because I still have a lot of guilt about basically ruining this guy’s career, but he dug himself his own grave. He didn’t verify the ages of people who sent him nudes. He’s a grown-ass man and this happened in his early thirties.”
Bren, a Twitter user who found Jared’s NSFW Tumblr in 2016, told The Daily Beast that the blog consisted of Knabenbauer answering “questions from fans, who he called ‘his sinners,’ about his sexual life.” They continued, “He also made a lot of ‘send nudes’ comments (on his public Tumblr too), which seemed like just a joke at first, but on SinJared he actually was asking for nudes, and encouraging fans to submit them. He didn’t post all of the nudes he had submitted to him, as far as I know, and only posted them with permission.”
Another former Tumblr follower, Asa, explained that they first became a ProJared fan through the game Asagao Academy: Normal Boots Club—“a dating simulator game that features fictionalized dateable versions of a group of popular YouTubers in a high school setting.” According to the game’s Kickstarter, Asagao Academy “is a free fan-made otome game (romance-oriented visual novel from a female perspective) based on the guys of Normal Boots.” The “ProJared/Jared” character is described as “the most attractive person in the school.”
“I was already a fan of many of the YouTubers in the game, which is why I played it,” Asa explained. Their “personal contact” with Jared began around “May/June” of 2016 and “lasted for about three months,” to the best of their recollection. They got in touch with Knabenbauer after joining a Skype group for fans of Asagao Academy, noting that the group mostly consisted of “kids younger than I was, as young as 11 I believe.”
“This is how I found out about Jared’s private Tumblr,” Asa told The Daily Beast. “One of the chat members shared a link to us. This blog was full of fan submissions, including drawings and explicit photographs, and suggestive pictures from Jared himself. He also would answer NSFW questions.”
“I was freshly 18, and I had absolutely no romantic or sexual experiences,” they continued. “The thought of a famous person giving me personal attention was thrilling, so I messaged him privately. He responded back almost immediately, showing interest. He asked if I was over 18, and I said yes, mentioning that my birthday was scarcely a few months prior. He said that he was honored I would want to ‘use’ my newfound legality with him.”
Knabenbauer allegedly told Asa that he would accept drawings in lieu of explicit photographs, and requested a depiction of himself engaging in a specific sex act. “I drew it for him and sent it,” they recalled. “We continued talking, me about how I wasn’t used to getting this kind of attention, and him thanking me for helping him (for lack of a better way of putting it) get off.”
Asa told The Daily Beast that, in their opinion, it was “barely a secret” that underage people were interacting with the SinJared Tumblr, adding, “I know a few of my friends had taken their ages off of their page so that Jared couldn’t verify that they were under 18.”
“It was known quietly yet widely throughout the Asagao fandom that people could live out their fantasies that were spurred on by his route in the game by messaging Jared himself.”
Bren confirmed that Jared threatened to block followers from his private Tumblr if their bios showed that they were underage. “Obviously this wouldn’t keep all minors out of it, but at least he was doing that,” they told The Daily Beast. “But I will say, back then in 2016 when I was around 17, some of the nudes from fans on that blog looked like they easily could have been from minors, so that was really unsettling.”
“There was something really predatory about the power dynamic between this popular YouTuber and his fanbase, which did consist of a lot of underage fans,” Bren noted. “In that way, it was dangerous of him in the first place to solicit nudes from his fanbase, and even though he did appear to try to keep those underage fans out of it, anyone involved could see that it was an absolute risk that minors would get involved.”
A screenshot taken by Bren appears to show a SinJared post from 2016, in which Knabenbauer wrote, “This is to be a safe, welcoming place. I can’t have random people showing up and cause problems, or be underage, or whatever. I need your help maintaining that. 1. You do not talk about sinjared. 2. YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT SINJARED.” In retrospect, Bren felt that this secrecy mandate “shows that he knew that there was something predatory about what he was doing.”
Bren also claimed that Knabenbauer remade his NSFW Tumblr in 2017 “under the same name, and this one had actually been 18+ restricted unlike the last one.” Screenshots that they alleged were from that 2017 iteration of his Tumblr, which were reviewed by The Daily Beast, show shirtless photographs of Knabenbauer and comments about masturbating to “nudes from sinners.”
Knabenbaur’s possible claims about fostering a “safe” space mirror O’Ferrall’s allegations about her ex—namely, that he abused his power under the guise of promoting body positivity. These are not the first accusations of internet celebrities soliciting explicit content from minors, or offering coveted affirmation as a means to a nefarious end. Asa told The Daily Beast that, “A lot of people wrote [to SinJared] about their body issues—I remember him once congratulating a girl who told him she’d been clean of self-harm because of him. Plus-size people were sending him nudes, which he published to encourage self-love, or something…Clearly, this was all for his self-gratification.”
“[Knabenbauer] could’ve asked for a fucking ID,” Charlie echoed. “This was not meant for body positivity. He jerked off to these nudes.”