I shouldn’t be surprised. In Internet time, a week is a year, and to this old heathen, it certainly feels like an apt metaphor for the last week. Since publishing my article, TAC has refused, by policy, to comment on anything we at Heathen Talk have written, but when questions are raised, they demand answers, and TAC has found themselves forced to respond to our criticism whether they liked to or not. Our questions prompted more calls from the community regarding TAC’s practices. They can be lumped into three main topics: the question of the ethics of claiming to raise funds for veterans, the question regarding the finances of TAC including an open request for disclosure, and lastly, but by no means least, the ethical and leadership problems associated with Seth Chagi in his role as President of The Asatru Community and as a leader in Public Heathenry.
The Veteran Question
This morning, an open letter by three leading military organizations: The Open Halls Project, Tier One Viking Radio, and the Troth’s Military Steward, was released via Facebook post which expressed deep concerns regarding the way that The Asatru Community characterizes their fundraising. In a surprising turn of events, TAC chose to respond to the letter via Facebook. In their response, they promised that “In terms of our finances, all those records will be on our website asap once available, for public Viewing.” As of writing, TAC has released some of their financials, viewable on their website. More on that below. Furthermore, TAC mentioned the only extant program they currently run is their military pen pal program, but they have other programs that they wish to engage in, most of which are already being done by individuals and groups who specialize in this sort of behavior. Mr. Chagi closed by noting that their Chairman, Bret Shoemaker, is also a veteran, and they are partnered with two organizations that are actively dedicated to supporting military heathens. Those partners are the Nordic Circle KCAZ and Legacy of Tyr. Leaders from both organizations spoke with us about their involvement with The Asatru Community.
I spoke with Carrie, the founder of Legacy of Tyr, and she said that she was approached by TAC to partner, and that TAC has done much to drive traffic to the Legacy of Tyr’s website and information. I asked her if TAC ever gave funds to her organization and she said that they hadn’t. She mentioned that in December of 2015, she approached TAC about putting together care packages for troops deployed overseas. Mr. Chagi responded saying that he would have to bring it up with the board and that there was never any follow up on that partnership afterwards and Legacy of Tyr did all of the care packages themselves. This is exactly the kind of opportunity that TAC claimed in their response to the open letter, saying they were willing to partner “with anyone, for the betterment of the lives of any heathen, and even non heathen, especially those who lay their lives down for us daily.” Why not pay shipping costs, or donate a care package? Or announce the program on their website, and maybe offer some fund-raising for a grant? There are many ways in which a non-profit can partner with others to increase the value of their dollars. Discussing it with the board and not following up is unfortunately not one of them.
Nordic Circle KCAZ is a Kindred based in Arizona, and they were quick and enthusiastic supporters of Mr. Chagi and the Asatru Community. They claim that Chagi has personally helped out in their initiatives, saying that he “sent us a good amount of donations and a significant amount of water to support our vets!” When I prompted him if they were personal funds or TAC funds, he said “He sent them to my house via Amazon and as a matter of fact where the money came from isn’t my issue” and claimed to have emails and receipts for these but refused to provide them to Heathen Talk, saying “I think unless you yourself help vets you have no business questioning someone else who does!!!”and that “I’m sick that instead of being worried about how 22 to 57 vets kill themselves a day you dig for issues rather than help.”
But that is sort of the point in asking these questions. Money, time, charity of any kind is a limited resource, and $20 dollars donated for veterans assistance that never finds its way to actual veteran support in many ways worse than no donations at all, because when someone hasn’t donated, there is still the potential that they may in the future. Someone who has donated in the past will believe that they have already contributed and be less inclined to contribute to other, better alternatives. This kind of cost that remains one of the most insidious ways that fraud in charitable and non-government organizations can have a disproportionate impact on the activities of other, honest organizations and the vulnerable populations they serve. As Chris Jacheo of Tier One Viking Radio said when asked for comment on TAC’s response:
In this day and age 100% transparency is absolutely necessary when an organization claims to be handling funds for a charitable purpose. It’s this level of accountability that will prevent organizations from going down the same road as the Wounded Warrior Project who have tarnished their image greatly through the mishandling of funds. I feel as fellow Heathens it’s our obligation to see each other to these standards.
The Financial Question
Late in the day on Monday, 5/16, TAC released their form 990-EZ. In it, they detail that they received $1,245.02 in funds last year. The only disbursement of the year was their incorporation fees and website costs, of 435.00 dollars, leaving them at net assets of $710.02. It would seem that the reluctance of TAC to release its financials is not that it has something to hide, but rather that it is trying to hide that it has nothing.
This is not a huge surprise, given the demographics that TAC serves, but Chagi has consistently played up the size, scope, and ability of his organization; the programs that they are actively engaged in and the work that they do. This kind of smoke and mirrors game backfired on them, and rightly so. If you’re going to present yourself as a large, successful, and growing organization, you’re going to be held to that standard.
The Leadership Question
Mr. Chagi is the president of the organization, and its most prominent face. As long as he is the president, he will remain an influence on both its policy and its culture. The last few days have proven to be something of a proving ground for Chagi, and I am afraid that what is proving out is that he is unfit for leadership. After the polite, if disjointed response to the open letter we discussed above, Mr. Chagi took to his personal Facebook account to complain about “double standards.” When asked, he called them “wannabe nonprofits, and actual nonprofits trying to hold us to a level they do not hold themselves.”
The failures in Chagi’s character are not restricted to his passive aggressiveness nor his inability to stand up and face his critics. Sometimes, his failures constitute outright abuse. Since we published our article last week, we have been contacted by several people who had interactions with Mr. Chagi. Each wanted to speak on condition of anonymity, but shared similar stories of Mr. Chagi’s attitude. Heathen Talk even obtained copies of emails where Seth calls the addressee “a disgusting human being” and that they should “go fuck yourself.” In a separate email, he calls the recipient “a hateful bitch.”
Chagi wants to be seen as a leader in Public Heathenry, but not be held to the standards of that kind of leadership. He blocks indiscriminately, he refuses to engage criticism. In his response to the open letter, he mentions us by name and that he will refuse to engage us. But if he responded to the requests for comments in the first place, Open Halls, Tier One, and the Troth would not have been prompted to write the open letter. If his organization had just released the Tax records as requested, then there would have been no question of malfeasance.
Today at about 4:30 Mountain Time, Chagi released a public letter where he says he will be retreating from social media, focusing instead on himself and his schoolwork. However, he remains the President of TAC, and will still be publishing posts through TAC and responding to emails. Like everything Chagi does, this is a half measure, designed to buy time for the whole controversy to go away. He continues to bury his head in the dirt, a seed that grows a windswept tree for him to hang himself from, a sacrifice to crises of his own creation.
The Hashtag Hall
As the dust settles, it is important to take a moment and look at what we can learn from this. What we see is that TAC is most assuredly an organization with something to hide. What proved to be the case was not that it was hiding anything untoward, but rather that it is an exceedingly small organization with very little in the way of funding or programs. It exists entirely on the internet. What programs has it accomplished? What actual good has been done by TAC? How can an organization that refuses transparency except under enormous public pressure, that has no accomplishments that it can report and only has promises of future deeds?
Everything about The Asatru Community is built on a foundation of fog. The content that it produces is almost entirely shared from other sources. It floods the news feeds with posts, often sharing its own post ten minutes after publishing. It gains name recognition and pseudo-legitimacy by gaming Facebook’s content algorithm to maximize its reach and page views, that it then uses to shill for donations for programs that only seems to be just around the horizon.
TAC claims to be boots on the ground, doing something for Heathens. But with no accomplishments, no programs, and no money, it seems that while the boots may be on the ground, they are empty boots. They are boots that don’t fit.