Turning Point USA
|Type||Nonprofit student organization|
|United States & Canada|
Turning Point USA is an American conservative, nonprofit organization whose stated mission is "to educate students about true free market values." It was founded in 2012 by conservative activist Charlie Kirk. Its website says it has more than 350 chapters.
Since 2016, Turning Point USA has maintained a Professor Watchlist that lists college professors it alleges discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom. The organization has also secretly attempted to influence student government elections in an effort to combat liberalism on college and university campuses.
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. Friess also serves on the organization's advisory council, alongside Ginni Thomas, wife of US Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Turning Point holds several annual national conferences, including the Young Women's Leadership Summit (YWLS) and the Young Latino Leadership Summit. The National Rifle Association was the headline sponsor of the YWLS in 2017 and 2018. 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." 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.
Each of Turning Point's paid workers is supposed to meet a quota to make at least 1,500 student contacts per semester. Student volunteers have several different themes for promoting conservative ideas, including "The Healthcare Games," "Game of Loans," and "iCapitalism."
First appearing on November 21, 2016, Turning Point USA also operates a website called Professor Watchlist. 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." Tips are accepted from the public, and more than 250 professors are currently listed. 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.
The website has been criticized[by whom?] for using surveillance type propaganda to manipulate ideas of truth, equality, and freedom. 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. The New York Times wrote that it was "a threat to academic freedom," while Salon wrote that it was "a sign of the stupidity of the post truth era."
In May 2017, Northern Arizona University criminology professor Luis Fernandez said Turning Point surveillance of him had led to multiple threats. In The Harvard Crimson, Harvard University Professor Danielle Allen also said she had been threatened after being targeted by Charlie Kirk and Turning Point.
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."
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.
In February 2017, Santa Clara University's student government voted to deny recognition for Turning Point as a campus organization. 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.
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.
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.
Involvement in student government
Turning Point USA has been involved in influencing student government elections at a number of colleges and universities. Universities that have been targeted by this effort have included Ohio State University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the University of Maryland.
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.
Turning Point said that it had helped more than 50 conservatives win elections to become student-body presidents. 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."
Involvement in 2016 presidential election
In addition, 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.
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.
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.
According Jane Mayer of the New Yorker, these activities may violate Turning Point's 501(c)(3) nonprofit legal status which does not allow them to "endorse candidates or support political campaigns".[not in citation given]
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.
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.".
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.
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. Following widespread ridicule on social media, the student-run publication KentWired.com reported that the Turning Point chapter at Kent State had disbanded.
At Turning Point's annual Student Action Summit in December 2017, one of the featured speakers was Fox News contributor Tomi Lahren. During Lahren's question-and-answer session, several students shouted at Lahren asking about her changing her stance on abortion, which had led to her being fired from TheBlaze. Lahren yelled back at the audience "You need to simmer down! You don't even want to start with me!" Later that day students accused Turning Point USA of trying to prevent students from posing questions to Lahren about abortion, as well as those about Colin Kaepernick. Kirk apologized shortly thereafter.
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." 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." 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."
Sometime after Clanton's firing, HuffPost reported that the woman hired to replace her 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.
Charlie Kirk has said Turning Point USA has no relationship with alt-right groups. In 2017, Turning Point chapters organized campus visits by former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos to the University of Colorado Boulder and Miami University (Ohio).
In May 2018, a leaked internal memo written by the conservative Young America's Foundation (YAF) accused Turning Point USA of "lack of integrity, honesty, experience, and judgment" and said that "the long-term damage TPUSA could inflict on conservative students and the Conservative Movement can no longer be ignored". The memo also accused Turning Point USA of increasing attendance at its events by "boosting numbers with racists & Nazi sympathizers." In response Turning Point USA criticized YAF for breaking the informal "Reagan Rule" that "Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican."
Charlie Kirk, founder
The group's founder, Charlie Kirk, grew up in Prospect Heights, Illinois. 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 his family bears no relation). In 2012, as a high school senior, Kirk launched the political student organization "SOS Liberty," which he described as an "international distress call for help" related to "Washington's massive debts and deficits."
In 2012 when he was a high school senior, Kirk wrote an essay for Breitbart News about alleged liberal bias in high school textbooks that led 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.
According to Kirk, he dreamed of attending the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, but his application was rejected. 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.." Kirk took general education classes at Harper College, a local community college, and founded Turning Point USA.
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. The Dallas Morning News described Kirk as leading the "millennial assault" for Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign.
Kirk co-wrote Time For a Turning Point: Setting a Course Toward Free Markets and Limited Government for Future Generations, published by Simon & Schuster in 2016. On December 22, 2017, President Trump tweeted to thank Kirk for praising the Trump administration's accomplishments. In 2018, the conservative website Newsmax ranked Kirk as the seventh-most influential Republican under 30 years of age.
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