N.C. State continues investigation of employee for alleged Proud Boys membership
Nearly three weeks have passed since Chadwick Jason Seagraves, a technology support services employee at North Carolina State University, was accused of being a member of the Proud Boys, a far-right hate group.
He has been a polarizing figure on campus ever since.
Students, faculty members and a local antiracist organization are waging a social media campaign to pressure university officials to fire him. They are posting questions and concerns daily on Twitter about Seagraves’ continued employment and potential access to the personal information of students and staff members.
“It’s been 15 days since @NCState University employee and fascist ‘Proud Boy’ Chadwick Jason Seagraves was publicly identified,” said a Dec. 2 tweet by Move Silent Sam, a North Carolina-based group that has advocated for the removal of racist statues and building names from campuses. “NCSU still hasn’t fired him.”
Seagraves is fighting back. He issued a statement forcefully denying that he is a member the Proud Boys and enlisted friends and colleagues to vouch for him.
“I have been subjected to an organized campaign of slander composed of outright lies, half truths, and out of context claims initiated by anonymous anarchists and ‘antifascists’ that is designed to punish me and suppress my right to political expression using intimidation and the Heckler’s veto with the intent to destroy my career and reputation,” Seagraves said in a statement on Nov. 25. “I categorically denounce white supremacism and, as a Constitutionalist and Free Speech Absolutist, I abhor the concept of fascism and authoritarianism of any sort.”
Seagraves’s defenders, three current and former colleagues, have called on university officials to wait until they complete an investigation of Seagraves before making any decisions about his employment.
Mark Harben, a technology support analyst in the N.C. State security and compliance department, said he has worked with Seagraves, who is a desktop support team manager in the university’s Office of Information Technology, for about a decade and was “shocked” to see the accusations circulating online about him. Harben said he and Seagraves often talk about their families and hang out in his office, but they haven’t had many discussions about politics.
“In 10 years I’ve never heard him say a disparaging word against anybody,” Harben said. “If you’re a diehard Proud Boy or whatever, an anarchist, then it’s going to bleed over into your work atmosphere, and I’ve never seen that side of him … Even if some of it’s true, it doesn’t have anything to do with his work.”
Mick Kulikowski, a spokesperson for N.C. State, said in an email that the university’s investigation into the allegations is continuing and Seagraves is still an employee as of Dec. 4.
In the interim, critics of Seagraves are already forecasting damage to the university’s reputation if, in their view, his case is mishandled.
How the university responds to the allegations against Seagraves will be “a test” of whether it will live up to racial equity commitments made in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and other Black people by police officers, Daniel Dougherty, a physics professor, tweeted. “If NC State has violent white supremacists on the payroll, we’re not creating an ‘environment of inclusive excellence for all.’”
An Anonymous Account
The controversy over Seagraves started in part with an exchange on Twitter between an N.C. State student and someone calling himself “Elias McMahone; A Heathen.”
The student, who said he publicly identifies as an “anarchist,” said he and McMahone began interacting online as they both posted about a November 2019 event at the N.C. State campus in Raleigh sponsored by Turning Point USA, a conservative student group with chapters on college campuses nationwide. The speakers included Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point USA, and Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law. The event was part of the so-called Culture Wars Tour of college campuses and sparked protests by No Hate at NC State, a coalition of students at the university. Tensions grew between students on campus who supported the event and those who opposed it, The News & Observer reported.
The student, who asked not to be identified, said McMahone accused him of supporting terrorists and sent a “threat” about knowing and disclosing the student’s location. The student said the McMahone account holder identified himself as president of the Proud Boys.
Nearly a year later, allegations emerged from a lawsuit filed against Seagraves claiming that he is the owner of the McMahone account. The lawsuit accuses Seagraves of doxing, or posting online 1,446 files with the personal information of alleged left-wing activists, including the co-chair of the Portland, Ore., chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America, who filed the lawsuit on Nov. 19, according to Willamette Week, a Portland-based publication.
Seagraves has also been accused of doxing the N.C. State student who interacted with him online over the Turning Point event. The student said his personal information was posted by Seagraves to an online list of political activists described as “anti-fascist and anarchists” in an attempt to encourage others to harass them online.
“I didn’t feel at ease — not good about it at all,” the student said. “The Proud Boys are a designated hate group. It’s like finding out the president of the [Ku Klux Klan] is a head of IT at your school.”
Seagraves declined to comment on the lawsuit and denied that he doxed the student.
Karen Daniels, a physics professor at N.C. State, tweeted of her concern about Seagraves’s potential access to personal student and staff information. She wants assurances that the university has taken action to keep the campus safe and asked that administrators put Seagraves on leave as the investigation continues.
“Too often, there has been a lack of transparency in these matters out of an abundance of caution favoring protecting the accused over protecting those who report,” Daniels said in an email, comparing the university’s response to how reports of sexual misconduct are sometimes handled. “This is yet another example.”
Kulikowski, the university spokesperson, noted in the statement about the case that Seagraves does not have access to the “protected personal information” of N.C. State students, faculty or staff members that he does not supervise. “The university has further restricted” Seagraves’s access to N.C. State information as part of the investigation, according to a statement posted on the official N.C. State Twitter account on Nov. 26 in response to concerns that Seagraves might be able to view personal information of students and staff.
In the emailed statement denying membership in the Proud Boys, Seagraves described himself as a “constitutionalist” and “free speech absolutist.” He characterized the growing calls for his head as an orchestrated campaign to silence someone with political views his critics oppose.
“What we have here is the report of a group of anonymous anarchists and Marxists who continue to use their tactics of intimidation, threats, deplatforming, and slander to punish me for political expression outside of work by trying to deprive me of employment by arguing that my politics, alleged or actual, affect how I do my job,” he said in a Dec. 2 email. “I have kept my political life very much separate from my work life.”
Questions Left Unanswered
Some students and faculty at N.C. State are urging the university to share information about the investigation and any disciplinary action taken so far against Seagraves.
A self-described Latina student who did not want to be identified said not knowing whether Seagraves is on campus while she is living there is “terrifying.” Although N.C. State’s limiting Seagraves’s access to information was “reassuring,” she still thinks university officials should be more transparent about other steps taken to keep students safe.
She said she is a friend of the student who engaged with Seagraves on Twitter and was later doxed and is concerned about students of color on campus because of Seagraves’s alleged ties to a hate group. N.C. state has a relatively small population of students of color; just 5.8 percent of full time undergraduate students enrolled at the university in fall 2019 were Black or African American and 6.4 percent were Hispanic, compared to nearly 67 percent who were white, according to the most recent available data.
“To think that there could be people on this campus that have such hatred toward minority groups and they could have access to information, that’s terrifying,” she said. “I feel like we’re getting left in the dark about a lot of things.”
Although leaders of the Proud Boys have denied that the organization is a white supremacist group or engages in violence, it has a history of violent confrontations. The Southern Poverty Law Center has designated it a hate group that associates with known white nationalist groups and frequently voices white supremacist ideology. Just last month, a leader of the Proud Boys publicly claimed he is attempting to transform the group into a fully white supremacist organization.
Kulikowski said the university cannot share specifics about the investigation because of personnel privacy laws in North Carolina. The law limits the public release of state employee records to basic information such as names, titles and salaries, according to the State Human Resources Manual. If discipline occurs, the institution must provide the date and type of action upon request, the manual states.
The anonymous student said he has not been contacted by university officials who are investigating Seagraves, but he has been encouraged by professors to file an anonymous complaint alleging that he was doxed by Seagraves, which could constitute harassment, but he is reluctant to do so. He said he is fearful for his family’s safety because his personal information has already been exposed.
“I’m not all that worried about myself. I’ve made my choice about wanting to fight back, but my family didn’t make this choice and I don’t want to see them get injured for it,” the student said. “I’m furious that N.C. State hired this guy and hasn’t fired this guy.”
According to the state’s current disciplinary action policy, state employees can be disciplined for “unacceptable personal conduct,” including conduct that occurs outside the work environment, “so long as there is a sufficient connection between the off duty conduct and the employee’s job.” The Human Resources Act does protect state employees’ ability to participate in political activity while not at work and allows them to allege discrimination based on political affiliation if they are terminated, the law says. Seagraves claimed in his emailed statement that the accusations against him are part of a campaign to “suppress my right to political expression.”
Over the last few weeks, photos have emerged on social media of Seagraves at a 2017 rally in Chapel Hill, N.C., during which he introduced some right-wing extremist speakers. But Seagraves denies the rally was affiliated with the Proud Boys and says it was strictly a “MAGA Flag Day Rally: A Celebration of Free Speech and Conservative Values.” MAGA is an acronym for “Make American Great Again,” President Donald Trump’s well-known campaign slogan. The event featured “people from a wide range of minorities, religious backgrounds, and conservative political views,” Seagraves said in his statement.
“With regard to the university’s investigation, I welcome a review of my performance and record as an employee,” Seagraves said in his statement. “To paint me as a racist and fascist is heinous slander.”