Cult leader behavior from The Asatru Community's Seth Chagi
At some point in the future, the membership of the Asatru Community is going to be forced to look at the behavior of its leadership and they will wonder aloud, "Who could have seen that coming?" Others, no doubt, will worm their way forward, saying that they "always knew something was up," but no record can ever be found of them expressing their reservation. To be fair, TAC does have a tendency to remove all criticism of them from their groups and pages, but they also tend to then ban the offender so, as the saying goes, make of that what you will.
Why are they going to do this? Because, once again, TAC's Leadership (by which I mean its President, Seth Chagi) has, once again, invited scrutiny; this time by imposing an overly broad Non-Disclosure Agreement on its Volunteers, known in the Community as 'Ambassadors.' I believe it is only a matter of time before real harm is done.
Ostensibly, the purpose of this NDA is to keep privileged information from falling into the hands of third parties, but one must ask what a 501(c)3 organization designed to facilitate and advocate for a religion is doing trafficking in privileged and private information in the first place. See the NDA for yourself:
The fallout from this decision has been interesting. It seems, from what I have been able to piece together and from the statements of a former Ambassador1 for The Asatru Community, the NDA was presented as a dictate and, after initial feedback, as non-negotiable. The fallout seems to have grown into a full on purge, as the refusnik ambassadors were removed not only from their positions as Ambassadors, but also had their membership revoked, as well as the memberships of others that were associated with them. TAC once again shows that it is not interested in clear and transparent governance, but only that the dictates of the Politburo are followed without question or discussion.
Its not that TAC is acting contrary to their bylaws. They're not. TAC is designed from the start to be an organization that hoards power. A triumvirate of officers, self-entitled the Tribunal, hold most of the power. They are the President, the Vice President and Board Chairman. Below them are the Board of Directors, 7 people (Including the Tribunal) who hold the rest. There is a third body, called the Council, that has "no influence on the day to day, or long term goals of TAC."2 Members do not have a say in how the organization is governed, nor it would seem, even how the fees raised from members are disbursed:
My first issue arose when we applied for funding for our camping trip. The amount we asked for was 525, enough to cover the group campsite for 3 nights. We were told we were the first region to request funding. When we were informed that we would only receive 175, enough to cover 1 night, I was confused. I was told perviously that there should be no problem getting our full requested funds. It was later posted that TAC will only cover 35% of the total cost requested. The reason given was they wanted to reserve funds in case regions wanted to host events in the future. We were told that we could request help from the region members for paying event costs, but posting on social media was not allowed because it gives the wrong impression to the public about TACs handling of funds.3
"You can raise money, but you can't advertise on the networking infrastructure we have built for the purposes of raising money, because it may bring up questions about how we're raising money and what we are doing with it afterwards." —The Asatru Community, essentially.
This is incredibly disturbing, and unfortunately, completely and utterly unsurprising. Almost exactly 6 months ago, I wrote a pair of articles for the Heathen Talk Network in which I first looked into the questions I had around the financial practices of The Asatru Community4. In my follow-up piece5, I concluded that the purpose of the secrecy was basically that The Asatru Community was trying to cover up how little money they had, not how badly they were using it. I have little doubt that this continues to be the case, that the reason our Ousted Ambassador above was only offered a third of what he was initially promised was because TAC just doesn't have the funds.
But the fact that it continues to obfuscate rather than honestly deal with its members, and purge instead of engage criticism, and has both definitely and defiantly refused to learn from the events of six months ago leave not only a foul taste in my mouth, but also a deep and growing sense of unease with the Community, and in particular, Seth Chagi, its leader.
I am consistent in my criticism of TAC, and I stand by that criticism on political and theological grounds, but this latest round has made those concerns cross over into the humanitarian. Chagi's steadfast and unrelenting refusal to even face the mildest criticism of his leadership; his defiance when engaging with the criticism of the media. His steadfast commitment to obfuscation and secrecy, and his monomaniacal need to remain at the center of things is pushing TAC down a dangerous road of cult behavior and groupthink.
Everyone who has had the temerity to criticize him has been removed from the organization, and so has anyone with whom these opponents are associated. All the while, he does purges with one hand while the other is reaching out, asking for money. I have said before that I think the heart of the problem is that Chagi likes TAC to appear to be successful, but it's fundraising is most likely nearly non-existent. Like all perpetrators of Ponzi schemes, Chagi is desperate for people to pay into a system and never actually seek to pay out. It is our good fortune that thus far, Chagi has proven to be an abysmal failure at it. Unfortunately, I can't help that continued failures will only spur greater paranoia, and any success will only lead to ultimately to very real harm.
The Asatru Community finds itself in the jaws of terrible leadership: continued failures will incur his wrath, while any success will inflict up themselves his terrible confidence. It is a terrible dilemma, and I cannot help but feel pity for those caught up in it. I don't presume to offer any solutions short of the complete dissolution of the organization and disassociation with its leadership. I am just a guy looking in from the outside, I am uninvested in the Organization, so perhaps it is too easy to declare the entire thing a loss and urge that it be abandoned and disbanded. But at the same time, I cannot see how TAC can exist with Chagi, and I cannot see how Chagi can be allowed to lead anything more than perhaps the evening shift at an retailer that sells office supplies. Even then, I would recommend strict supervision.
To those unaffiliated with The Asatru Community, I want to ask if this is the kind of behavior acceptable? If you have donated to TAC, are you still comfortable with this donation? If you planned to, or were considering a donation in the future, does this behavior have an impact on your decision? How do you feel about this organization speaking for you in your name?
For those affiliated with the Asatru Community, I have a slightly different question. What about TAC makes this kind of behavior worth putting up with? Is there some sort of service that makes this acceptable, or is there some good that TAC is actually doing, or even saying they'll do, that makes excuses this kind of cultish behavior? If you'd care to share, I would be extremely interested, if that doesn't violate some sort of Oath of Secrecy or Non-Disclosure Agreement, that is.