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Turning Point USA

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Turning Point USA
Turning Point USA logo.jpg
FormationJune 5, 2012; 7 years ago (2012-06-05)
TypeNonprofit student organization
80-0835023
PurposeActivism
Region served
United States
United Kingdom
LeaderCharlie Kirk
WebsiteTPUSA.com

Turning Point USA (TPUSA) is an American conservative[1][2][3] nonprofit organization.[4][5] TPUSA's affiliated organizations include Turning Point News, the Turning Point Endowment, Turning Point Action, and Students for Trump. Since 2016, Turning Point USA has maintained a Professor Watchlist, which lists college professors whom it alleges discriminate against conservative students and advance left-wing propaganda in the classroom.[6] The organization has also secretly attempted to influence student government elections in an effort to "combat liberalism on college and university campuses".[7][8] In December 2017, former employees of the organization accused it of engaging in racist practices, as well as potentially illegal involvement in the 2016 presidential election.[9] The Anti-Defamation League refers to TPUSA as an "alt-lite" organization. CBS News has described the organization as a "far-right organization" that is shunned or at least ignored by more established conservative groups in Washington, but embraced by many Trump supporters."[10]

Formation and activities

Charlie Kirk founded Turning Point USA in 2012, when he was 18 years old. At the 2012 Republican National Convention, Kirk met Foster Friess, a prominent Republican donor, and persuaded him to finance the organization.[11][12] Friess also serves on the organization's advisory council, alongside Ginni Thomas, wife of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.[13] Barry Russell, president and CEO of the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), is a key advisor.[14]

Turning Point holds several annual national conferences, including the Young Women's Leadership Summit (YWLS)[15] and the Young Latino Leadership Summit.[16] The National Rifle Association (NRA) was the headline sponsor of the YWLS in 2017 and 2018.[15] According to The New York Times, YWLS "styles itself as an alternative to a liberal culture of feminism that many Republicans characterize as oppressive" and had by 2018 "evolved into an ultra-Trumpian event complete with 'lock her up' chants and vulgar T-shirts disparaging Hillary Clinton."[15] Candace Owens, who days prior to the 2018 conference stirred controversy by saying "the entire premise of #metoo is that women are stupid, weak, and inconsequential", was greeted with a standing ovation at the conference.[15]

Each of Turning Point's paid workers is supposed to meet a quota to make at least 1,500 student contacts per semester.[17] Student volunteers have several different themes for promoting conservative ideas, including "The Healthcare Games", "Game of Loans", and "iCapitalism".[18]

Turning Point USA is pro-military and pro-police.[19] It supports the NRA and the use of fossil fuels,[20] and opposes groups such as Black Lives Matter.[21]

In February 2019, Turning Point established an Internet presence in the United Kingdom.[22][23] A loosely connected group became active in Canada in 2017.[24]

In May 2019, local chapters of TPUSA pressured Candace Owens to resign as communications director after she made culturally insensitive remarks on Twitter.[25]

Finances

In addition to seed money from billionaire Foster Friess, the family foundation of Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner donated $100,000 to Turning Point in 2014.[26] Turning Point's revenues were $78,890 in 2012, $443,859 in 2013, $2,052,060 in 2014, $4,319,220 in 2015, and $8,248,059 in 2016.[27][28]

The International Business Times reported the following donors to Turning Point USA: Ed Uihlein Foundation, the Rauner Family Foundation, Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus’ foundation, Henry and Lynde Bradley Foundation, the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, named after the in-laws of current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, Foster Friess, Mike Leven, a TPUSA adviser and former CEO of Las Vegas Sands Corporation, Illinois-based finance and Waste Management executive Peter Huizenga, Chicago jeweler and TPUSA adviser Mike Miller, Dunn's Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking, The Einhorn Family Foundation. TPUSA's event sponsors have included Prager University, the National Rifle Association, the Heritage Foundation, the Job Creators Network, and the Leadership Institute and Alliance Defending Freedom.[29]

Turning Point USA has donated $1.8 million to the Turning Point Endowment, an affiliated organization.[28]

Professor Watchlist

First appearing on November 21, 2016, Turning Point USA also operates a website called Professor Watchlist.[6] Kirk has said the site is "dedicated to documenting and exposing college professors who discriminate against conservative students, promote anti-American values, and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom."[30] Tips are accepted from the public, and more than 250 professors are currently listed.[31] The list contains many inaccuracies and includes professors listed for things they didn't exactly say or do and others listed for being rude to students or for making "clever remarks" about Trump.[32]

The website has been criticized for using surveillance type propaganda to manipulate ideas of truth, equality, and freedom.[4][33][34] Critics have compared Professor Watchlist to the actions of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, who tried to publicly identify American citizens as Communists and Communist sympathizers in the 1950s.[35][36] The New York Times wrote that it was "a threat to academic freedom,"[4] while Salon commented that it was "a sign of the stupidity of the post truth era."[37]

In May 2017, Northern Arizona University criminology professor Luis Fernandez said Turning Point surveillance of him had led to multiple threats.[38] In The Harvard Crimson, Harvard University Professor Danielle Allen also said she had been threatened after being targeted by Charlie Kirk and Turning Point.[39]

Denial of recognition on campus

At Drake University, Turning Point was denied recognition as an official student organization based on student senate concerns that the organization has "a hateful record," "aggressive marketing" and "an unethical privacy concern."[40]

At Hagerstown Community College, a student's attempt to start a Turning Point group was initially blocked when the school said the organization duplicated an existing group. The student's lawsuit led to the school revising its policy on student organizations, clarifying that school funded groups will be denied if they duplicate existing groups while unfunded groups face no such restriction.[41]

In February 2017, Santa Clara University's student government voted to deny recognition for Turning Point as a campus organization.[42] As of March 2017, this decision was overturned by the Vice Provost for Student Life, and Turning Point has been recognized as a registered student organization.[43]

Wartburg College's student senate voted to deny Turning Point USA recognition in late November. The chapter was forced to make changes to its constitution after initially being denied approval.[44][45]

The Executive Board of the student union of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute also voted on January 18, 2018 to deny the Turning Point USA chapter status as an officially recognized student organization.[46]

Involvement in student government

Turning Point USA has been involved in influencing student government elections at a number of colleges and universities.[47][32] Universities that have been targeted by this effort have included Ohio State University, the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and the University of Maryland. These claims led to conservative candidates at the University of Maryland withdrawing from student elections after failing to report assistance from Turning Point.[48][49]

A private brochure, handed out only to Turning Point donors, highlighted the organization's alleged strategy to take over student governments at universities across the country, and included a list of every Turning Point-supported student who was elected to student government positions in the year 2017.[9] Turning Point said that it had helped more than 50 conservatives win elections to become student-body presidents.[32] However, when Politico looked into Turning Point's claims, it found the "success rate to be considerably overstated. In fact, some of the students that Turning Point USA claimed to have backed flatly condemned the organization and said they'd never spoken to anyone who works for it."[32]

Involvement in 2016 presidential election

Several former employees and student volunteers for Turning Point claimed they had witnessed collusion between high-ranking Turning Point employees – including Kirk himself and top advisor Ginni Thomas – and the presidential campaigns of both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. The interactions included Kirk coordinating via email with two officials at a pro-Cruz super PAC to send student volunteers to work for the PAC in South Carolina, as well as two students being requested by Thomas herself, via voicemail, to distribute over 200 Cruz placards in Wisconsin.[9] A former employee for Turning Point, who had been based in Florida, alleged that Turning Point had given the personal information of over 700 student supporters to an employee with Rubio's presidential campaign.[9]

In describing his role in the 2016 campaign, Charlie Kirk stated:

I traveled the country for about 70 days straight carrying Donald Trump, Jr.’s bags and getting his Diet Cokes, and helping book flights, and taking pictures and coordinating media, essentially being the youth director of the campaign and also being Don, Jr.’s body man. I was able to take a little bit of time off Turning Point USA to focus on this amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.[50]

In October 2016, Kirk participated in a Fox News event along with Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Lara Trump that had a pro-Donald Trump tone. A Turning Point staff member wrote on Facebook that students who attended the event would have their expenses covered. The event led tax experts to say the organization's conduct may have violated its tax-exempt status, a charge disputed by Turning Point.[47]

2020 Presidential election

In May 2019, Kirk created a new 501(c)(4) organization, a political action committee intended to target Democrats, called Turning Point Action,[51] which purchased the assets of Students for Trump.[52] Students for Trump had been founded in 2015 at Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina by John Lambert and Ryan Fournier. Lambert left the organization some time after Trump's election, and in August 2019 he pled guilty to creating a fake law firm and posing as an experienced lawyer. The scam netted him over $46,000, which he will forfeit. Lambert also faces prison time. After Lambert's arrest in April, Students for Trump distanced themselves from him.[53]

Controversies

In 2016, Turning Point at Grand Valley State University filed a lawsuit against the trustees of the school. The complainants asked the court to prohibit enforcement of GVSU's Speech Zone policy and declare it a violation of the students' 1st and 14th Amendment freedoms. They have since reached a settlement.[54]

In December 2016, Turning Point falsely quoted Nancy Pelosi in a Facebook post as saying: "Employers cutting hours is a good thing. It then gives that person time to pursue their dreams and passions."[55]

In May 2017, DePaul University refused to allow Turning Point to post "Gay Lives Matter" posters on campus. Matt Lamb, a spokesperson for Turning Point, said that the action by DePaul was an infringement of free speech rights.[56]

In September 2017, a University of Nebraska lecturer was reassigned after she received threats stemming from a video posted online that showed her confronting a student recruiting for TPUSA.[57]

In October 2017, several Turning Point student members at Kent State University conducted a protest against campus "safe space" culture, which involved members dressing up in diapers as babies.[58][59] Following widespread ridicule on social media, the student-run publication KentWired.com reported that the Turning Point chapter at Kent State had disbanded.[60]

In February 2018, the University of South Florida chapter of TPUSA was dissolved when it was discovered that their president, Aida Vazquez-Soto, was working with a pro-Palestinian group. Vazquez-Soto said 'Something is clearly wrong with an organization that felt that somehow by silencing me they could deal with the problem at hand.'[61]

In June 2018, conservative radio talk show host Joe Walsh resigned from the TPUSA board because Charlie Kirk was too closely tied to Donald Trump. Walsh said that "It’s so important to not be beholden to politicians, but to be beholden to the issues ... When Charlie went to work for Trump, that crossed that line. You can’t advance Trump and advance these issues."[62]

In October 2018, the Miami New Times reported that TPUSA members at Florida International University shared jokes "about watching underage cartoon pornography and deporting Latina women, and, in the most repugnant case, share racist 'Pepe the Frog' memes showing Syrian men raping a white Swedish woman at gunpoint."[63]

In November 2018, Fox News correspondent Rick Leventhal cut off Turning Point USA's Anna Paulina after she compared former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the disease herpes.[64]

The Hill reported in February 2019 that Benny Johnson – who was fired from BuzzFeed in 2014 for multiple instances of plagiarism, and later let go by Independent Journal Review for multiple problems, including plagiarism – was joining TPUSA as their "Chief Creative Officer".[65]

Instances of racism and anti-Semitism

In December 2017, The New Yorker published an article by Jane Mayer showcasing interviews with former minority members of the organization. Former staff members said they witnessed widespread discrimination against minorities in the group, and stated "the organization was a difficult workplace and rife with tension, some of it racial."[9][66] One former employee, an African-American woman, said she was the only person of color working for the organization at the time she was hired in 2014; she then said that she was fired on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The article also revealed text messages sent by Crystal Clanton – who was a leading figure in the organization and served as the group's national field director for five years – to another Turning Point employee saying "i hate black people. Like fuck them all . . . I hate blacks. End of story." Kirk responded to the revelations by saying that "Turning Point assessed the situation and took decisive action within 72 hours of being made aware of the issue."[9] The article also noted that Kirk had explicitly praised Clanton in his book Time for a Turning Point, saying that she had been "the best hire we ever could have made," and that "Turning Point needs more Crystals; so does America."[9]

In an article titled "Turning Point USA Keeps Accidentally Hiring Racists," HuffPost reported that the woman hired to replace Crystal Clanton had a history of using racial slurs, particularly against African-Americans, on Twitter before deleting her account. In response to the reports, Kirk referred to the individual in question as "a former employee" in his official statement (without clarifying when she had been fired), and Turning Point issued an internal memo announcing that all current and new staff would face social media background checks.[67]

Charlie Kirk has said Turning Point USA has no relationship with alt-right groups.[68] In 2017, Turning Point chapters organized campus visits by former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos to the University of Colorado Boulder and Miami University (Ohio).[69][70][71]

In 2018, The Southern Poverty Law Center's Hatewatch documented TPUSA's links to white supremacists.[72][73]

On May 9, 2019, Riley Grisar was removed from his position as the president of TPUSA's UNLV chapter after a video surfaced of him with a friend using the okay hand signal in tandem with the chants of "white power" and "fuck the niggers".[74] Grisar's friend, who did most of the speaking in the video, is publicly identified as Lily Saxton, a student at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota.[75] Saxton has no other known affiliations with TPUSA. The UNLV wing of Turning Point had previous press coverage from circumstances involving an April 2019 display of theirs on UNLV campus, which included a cardboard mock-up of a brick wall reading "Build the Wall". The display received significant protest from fellow students, which included vandalism and violence.[76]

In May 2019, it was reported that TPUSA's director for high school outreach, Kyle Kashuv, had previously used racially inflammatory language.[77][78] Screenshots of a Google Document for a class study guide showed Kashuv writing "NIGGER" multiple times, discussing "JEWISH SLAVES", and declaring that he would "fucking make a CSOG [sic] map of Douglas and practice" (in a supposed reference to the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive shooter game and Stoneman Douglas High School). Text messages reportedly showed Kashuv rating a female student "7/10" and stating that she "goes for niggerjocks".[79][80][81][82] Kashuv resigned from TPUSA hours after his former classmates threatened to make the screenshots public. Almost a week after the screenshots were published, Kashuv acknowledged that his comments were "callous and inflammatory".[77][78]

In July 2019, Kathy Zhu, a Chinese American conservative woman politically active on the University of Michigan campus, was stripped of her title as Miss Michigan USA due to comments about African-Americans and Muslims on social media that Miss World America found "offensive, insensitive and inappropriate."[83] Her posts included comments such as "the majority of black deaths are caused by other blacks", as well as criticizing a "Try a Hijab booth" at the University of Central Florida, where she previously attended.[84] She defended her comments and opinions afterward, stating that her stances were derived from factual evidence such as FBI crime statistics, and that her statements were decontextualized.[85] Zhu had previously attended Turning Point USA events,[86] but since referred to Turning Point USA as "garbage". Zhu criticized them for severing ties with brand ambassador Ashley St. Clair after she attended a dinner with alt-right figures; Zhu was also present at this event.[87]

Anti-Defamation League and Southern Poverty Law Center

TPUSA has been called an "alt-lite" organization by the Anti-Defamation League[88] (ADL) and has been criticized by both the ADL and the Southern Poverty Law Center for affiliating with activists from the alt- and the far-right.[89]

Conflicts with other conservative organizations

In May 2018, an internal memo written by Young America's Foundation (YAF) was leaked, in which YAF leadership "warned" its members to not associate with Turning Point. The memo accused the organization of various improprieties such as exaggerating the number of Turning Point chapters and activities around the country, taking credit for other organizations' events, increasing attendance at its own events by "boosting numbers with racists & Nazi sympathizers," and sponsoring "humiliating" campus activism events, in reference to the Kent State diaper incident.[90] In addition, the YAF memo included another memo on the subject circulated internally by Young Americans for Liberty, which accused Turning Point of illegally obtaining YAL's email list and soliciting its students without their permission, which Turning Point only stopped doing after being issued a cease-and-desist order.[91]

After the memo was leaked in June 2018, a representative for Turning Point criticized Young America's Foundation in a statement to The Chronicle of Higher Education, accusing the group of "abandoning the 'Reagan Rule'" that "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican." Although Charlie Kirk did not directly respond to the memo, he posted on Twitter that he wished "some conservatives fought the left as hard as they fight people who support President Trump". Turning Point's Communications Director Candace Owens directly responded to the memo, saying she was "truly speechless" over the memo supposedly attacking Kirk for his lack of college experience. A former employee stated on Twitter that "TPUSA activists do some incredible work. It's a shame the face for their work has become constant, EXTREME inflation of numbers to mislead donors. They have an opportunity to turn this around, and they should."[92]

In the Hillsdale College Collegian, opinions editor Kaylee McGhee wrote an article titled "Charlie Kirk and TPUSA aren't conservative, as real conservatives already knew". In the article, McGhee referred to TPUSA as a "reactionary cancer" rather than a group supporting real conservatism that is "supposed to preserve the timeless principles of liberty and equality for all".[93]

In late October 2018, The Daily Beast reported that Lucian Wintrich and other conservatives blamed Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens for losing Kanye West as an ally of President Trump.[94] Since then, West has re-affirmed his support for President Trump.[95]

During October and November 2019, Kirk launched the 'Culture War' college tour of speaking events with appearances from many conservatives such as Donald Trump Jr., Lara Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle. These events were frequently targeted by homophobic and antisemitic members of the alt- and far-right who consider TPUSA to be too mainstream and not sufficiently conservative. Concerted efforts were made by this group to ask leading questions during the Q&A sections on controversial topics such as Israel and LGBTQ issues in order to challenge the extent of the speakers' views. [96]

Internal dissension

After TPUSA's annual "Student Action Summit" in late December 2018, dissidents within the organization, headed by conservative activist Kevin Martin, formed "Heal Our Voice", a group critical of Kirk's leadership of Turning Point USA. One member of the group told The Daily Beast that "Charlie Kirk can be a little bit of a snowflake — or a lot a bit of a snowflake." Other complaints concerned sexual harassment and assault at TPUSA events.[97]

Alleged tax code violations

In 2017, Jane Mayer of the New Yorker described two separate actions by Turning Point staff in the 2016 election that appear to have violated campaign finance regulations.[98]

In 2019, Right Wing Watch has reported that TPUSA has used staff and resources for political action against Congresswoman Ilhan Omar.[99]

Founder Charlie Kirk

The group's founder, Charlie Kirk

The group's founder and current leader, Charlie Kirk, grew up in the Chicago suburb of Prospect Heights, Illinois.[100] Kirk became politically active during high school. In his junior year of school in 2010, Kirk volunteered for the successful U.S. Senate campaign of Illinois Republican Mark Kirk (to whom he is not related).[101]

In 2012 when he was a high school senior, Kirk wrote an essay for Breitbart News alleging liberal bias in high school textbooks leading to an appearance on the Fox Business Network. At a subsequent speaking engagement at Benedictine University's "Youth Empowerment Day," Kirk met Bill Montgomery, a retiree more than 50 years his senior, who was then a Tea Party–backed legislative candidate. Montgomery encouraged Kirk to get engaged in political activism full-time. He subsequently founded Turning Point USA. At the 2012 Republican National Convention, Kirk met Foster Friess, a prominent Republican donor, and persuaded him to finance the organization.[12]

According to Kirk, he dreamed of attending the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, but his application was rejected.[32] According to The New Yorker, Kirk said "the slot he considered his went to 'a far less-qualified candidate of a different gender and a different persuasion" whose test scores he claimed he knew. Kirk later said he was being sarcastic when he made the comment.[102]

Kirk took general education classes at Harper College, a local community college. He founded Turning Point USA while studying at Harper.[101] He failed to graduate.

Kirk addressed the 2016 Republican National Convention. In an interview with Wired magazine during the convention, Kirk said that while he "was not the world's biggest Donald Trump fan," he would vote for him, and that Trump's candidacy made Turning Point's mission more difficult.[103] The Dallas Morning News described Kirk as leading the "millennial assault" for Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.[104]

Kirk wrote the 2018 book Campus Battlefield: How Conservatives Can WIN the Battle on Campus and Why It Matters. In a review for The Weekly Standard, Adam Rubenstein described the book as a "hot mess", "nothing more a marketing pitch for TPUSA" and said the "thin" book was "stuffed with reprintings of his tweets and quotes from others."[105]

In 2018, Kirk praised Kanye West for getting involved in politics and advocating for President Trump. Later that year when Taylor Swift endorsed a Democrat in the Tennessee Senate race, Kirk condemned her endorsement and told her to "stay away from politics."[106] Kirk suggested, without evidence, that Swift had not written her endorsement.[107] Kirk said it was "ridiculous" for Swift to accuse Republican Marsha Blackburn of being hostile to LGBT rights and women's rights; Blackburn has a well-documented history of anti-LGBT positions, which Swift cited in her endorsement.[107]

In December 2018, Kirk falsely claimed that protesters in France's "yellow vests" movement chanted "We want Trump." Kirk's false claims were later repeated by President Trump. The videos in support of the claim were from a far-right protest in London, not from the yellow vest movement in France.[108] He also falsely claimed that Cuba has 15 years lower life expectancy than the United States, while in fact it has a higher life expectancy, and that 85% of all jobs in the private sector in USA come from small businesses, while that number is less than 50%.[109]

In May 2019, Charlie Kirk was awarded a honorary doctorate from Liberty University, a private evangelical Christian university co-founded by Jerry Falwell.[110] In July 2019, Kirk became Chairman of Students for Trump and launched a campaign to recruit one million students for the 2020 Trump reelection campaign.[111] He also moved from his home in Illinois to Florida, saying that the state of Illinois did not love him. [112]

In August 2019, Charlie Kirk accused Google of working to stop Donald Trump from being re-elected in 2020.[113]

Turning Point UK

Turning Point UK (TPUK) is a British offshoot of Turning Point USA,[114][115][116] set up to challenge left-wing political ideology which the organisation perceives to be dominant in UK schools, colleges and universities.[117][118][119][120][121]

Turning Point UK's chairman was George Farmer[115][116] (fiancé of Candace Owens)[122] until April 2019, and its CEO is Oliver (Ollie) Anisfeld (the son of Lance Forman, Brexit Party MEP for London since 2019).[123][124][125] The group employs several staff.[119]

The organisation claims it has chapters at the universities of Sussex, Oxford, St Andrews, York, Warwick, Nottingham, King's College London, University College London, the London School of Economics and the University of the Arts London.[119] Like Turning Point USA, it does not disclose the identities of its donors.[119]

The group was launched in December 2018[119] by Kirk and Owens[122][126] at the Royal Automobile Club in London.[119] Among those attending the event were Andy Wigmore, Paul Joseph Watson, and James Delingpole.[119][116] On the day of its social media launch in February 2019, MPs including Jacob Rees-Mogg and Priti Patel tweeted supportive messages for the organisation,[115][116] while it was marked for criticism by left-wing British newspapers and their supporters[116][122] and the launch of its Twitter account was accompanied by multiple parody accounts, along with a parody of the organization's website created by a ‘left-leaning student’ calling himself ‘Skeptical Seventh’.[126][127][128] There was also a protest from the charity Turning Point over potential confusion caused by similarities between the two names.[129]

Labour MP David Lammy has described Turning Point UK as evidence that “sinister forces are taking hold of our country” and that the Conservative Party “openly promotes hard-right, xenophobic bile”.[130]

Dominique Samuels, one of the group's "Young Influencers", told the BBC during a radio interview that the UK branch would not set up the same controversial Professor Watchlist for which its US counterpart is known.[131]

See also

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