If you asked Wilmington real estate developer Napier Fuller to describe himself, he’d tell you he’s a modern-day Martin Luther King Jr.—an activist fighting a corrupt system trying to censor him.
Not everyone would see the likeness.
While King was a civil rights leader beloved by millions, Fuller sent a series of emails to faculty and students in UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Social Work that led to charges of cyberstalking. These emails had subject lines such as “Transgenderism is the Greatest Fraud of Our Time” and “UNC SSW tutorial on GAY social work > the shockingly true things LGBT activists try to hide: ChemSex and Slavery.”
“We pray that God’s wrath may swiftly come upon those that seek to promote sexual paganism,” one read.
UNC Police issued a cease and desist order; Fuller ignored it, saying that he had the right to contact faculty members on their public email accounts. In February 2017, he was arrested. That arrest set off a series of court cases that have spanned more than a year, including the harassment charges and Fuller’s own federal suit over courtroom accommodations for people with disabilities.
Now Fuller’s taken up another cause: the removal of gay pride symbols from Orange County Courthouse.
Fuller’s trial on the misdemeanor harassment charges is scheduled to begin August 6 in Orange County Superior Court, where he plans to argue free speech as his defense. If convicted, he faces sixty days in jail. However, before his trial begins, he’s demanding that the courthouse remove any gay pride logos or flags from the
since he argues that the symbols will influence his jury. He also believes more generally that their presence violates federal law.
“I just don’t think it’s right that they display the gay rights flag in plain view in the courthouse,” he says. “It’s hard to argue that symbol doesn’t have negative connotations. It doesn’t strengthen the gay rights movement to violate federal law.”
One problem with this argument: There does not appear to be much in the way of gay pride displays in the courthouse at all. In fact, on a recent visit, a reporter saw none at all. No symbols, no logos, no anything.
Asked about this, Fuller says he has a photo of a gay pride sticker in one of the courthouse hallways, but he told the
Even so, he’s pressing on with his demands.
In an email sent on June 4 to Orange County Attorney John Roberts and the Board of County Commissioners, Fuller argued that the purported symbols violate Supreme Court rulings on the establishment of religion. “Government units may not favor one set of religious beliefs over another,” Fuller wrote. “This includes secular humanist movements like the ‘acceptance’ of same-sex eroticism which is counter to the Roman Catholic faith.”
If the symbols weren’t removed, Fuller wrote that he would sue the state and seek a permanent injunction that would prevent these types of displays on government property. (Roberts declined to comment.)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Fuller’s legal arguments aren’t exactly watertight. H. Jefferson Powell, a Duke law professor, calls Fuller’s reasoning ludicrous. “The government takes positions all the time. It may speak as it wishes,” he says. “That’s obviously ridiculous.”
Despite the tone of his emails, Fuller says he doesn’t have a problem with LGBTQ people. His goal, he says, was to address the agenda he sees at UNC.
“I’m not against gay people in general,” he says. “It’s the people who are pushing this agenda onto young people who are away from home for the first time.”
Fuller says he was raised in a liberal household and graduated from MIT with a master’s degree in urban planning (the university confirms this). After that, he started a technology company in California, got married, and converted to Catholicism. He also became a supporter* of Opus Dei, an ultra-conservative organization tied to the Catholic Church.
Because of his involvement, Fuller says he was invited to Washington, D.C., in 2016 for a series of meetings with “high-ranking members” of the church. While in these meetings, Fuller claims, he was given instructions to fight for HB 2 in North Carolina and to encourage Republicans to “stay the course,” using whatever methods he thought best. As a result, he says, he began emailing the state’s public officials, then recycled those emails to LGBTQ advocates at UNC.
Father Paul Scalia, episcopal vicar for clergy in Arlington, Virginia, is one of the people with whom Fuller says he met. But Scalia says he’s never heard of Fuller. “Father Scalia is not familiar with this individual and does not recall ever meeting with him,” his church said in a statement, “and as such, he never ‘gave orders’ or suggested that this man do anything, let alone initiate a mean-spirited or politically motivated campaign.”
Fuller, who is representing himself in court, says he’s been “thrown to the wolves” in dealing with the university and its lawyers.
“The problem is that UNC has this massive group of lawyers; it’s become like organized crime,” he says. “They’re too big for their breeches and they’re used to throwing their weight around in that county.”
Representatives from UNC declined to comment.
Clarification: After this story published, Fuller emailed to clarify that he was not a member of Opus Dei, but rather a “cooperator,” meaning a supporter. He also sent a photo of an office next to the courthouse’s Battle Courtroom in which there is a small gay pride decal on a window. He says the picture was taken today.