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From Colorado State University where Turning Point USA’s founder and executive director, Charlie Kirk, told the audience that "White privilege is a myth and a lie,"toFlorida Atlantic University, where the organization is defending a professor, Marshall DeRosa, with ties to the white nationalist hate group League of the South, Turning Point USAis making its presence felt on the nation’s college campuses.
The stated mission of TPUSA is to "identify, educate, train and organize students to promote the principles of fiscal responsibility, free markets and limited government." Or as Splinter’s Katherine Krueger pointed out, the organization that is aiming "to take back America’s colleges from the menace of liberalism -- is best known for the very small but deeply embarrassing spectacles its student members make on their campuses."
Last year, The Chronicle of Higher Education's Michael Vasquez exposed Turning Point USA as being a well-funded conservative organization aiming to take over student governments at college campuses across the country. Like many right-wing leaders before him – most notably Ralph Reed, when he was executive director of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition – Kirk preferred to operate in the shadows. Although in Time for a Turning Point, a book Kirk co-authored with Turning Point USA Board Member, Brent Hamachek, Kirk, made no secret of wanting to make Turning Point "the MoveOn.org of the right."
Vasquez pointed out in a story titled "Inside a Stealth Plan for Political Influence," that Kirk "noted that at large universities, student-government budgets can be as much as tens of millions of dollars. And student leaders increasingly have the bully pulpit to champion certain causes – whether progressive issues like divesting college endowments from fossil fuels, or conservative priorities like the elimination of free-speech restrictions."
Founded in 2012, TPUSA, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, "claims to be the fastest-growing conservative student organization in the country, with just more than 400 officially registered chapters in high schools and colleges nationwide, and a buzzy annual summit that draws all the top celebrities of the young right," according to Politico’s Joseph Guinto.
Guinto reported that conservative funders love the 24-year-old Kirk, who is seen as "a rock star among millennial conservatives," a "conservative boy wonder" and "the future of conservative politics." Funders "tend mostly to be men middle-aged or older," Guinto wrote. "Many run family businesses. Some are billionaires. Others are sons of billionaires. Most, of course, are Republicans, and almost all inhabit a conservative media universe that pumps them with anxiety about liberal kids."
Current Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, whose family foundation donated $100,000 in 2014 before he was elected to the statehouse. Kirk still gets funding from foundations like Rauner’s. He has also inked sponsorships from the conservative Heritage Foundation and the libertarian-leaning Reason Foundation as well as from the Heartland Institute and the National Rifle Association, whose logos are attached to Turning Point events. (The NRA is the signature sponsor of Turning Point USA’s annual young women’s leadership summit; Kirk, who owns multiple guns, spoke up for the organization after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.) Support is picking up: Today, Kirk says, the group has 20,000 different donors who gave a total of $9.8 million last year, double the amount raised in 2016. (The group’s 2017 tax filing isn’t yet available; its 2016 filing showed donations of $4.3 million.)
However, as Guinto noted, most TPUSA funders are individuals.
As a non-profit, the Lemon, Illinois-based TPUSA is required to be nonpartisan. Yet, Guinto pointed out that "a New Yorker investigation found former employees who said Turning Point USA had done work for two different candidates in the 2016 presidential race. Turning Point USA has also stocked its annual conference with a plethora of pro-Trump speakers, including Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump’s wife, Lara Trump."
Earlier this month, Michael Vasquez took another look at TPUSA. In "5 Takeaways From Turning Point’s Plan to ‘Commandeer’ Campus Elections".
Vasquez pointed out that the organization’s new 28-page brochure, "The Foundational Structure For Winning Back Our Universities," is clearly aimed at touting the organization’s successes and thereby bringing more donors on board.
According to Vasquez, "the five key takeaways from the document" are:
* Boasting that it "helped 54 conservative candidates become student-government president," a claim that is in great dispute.
* Promoting a "three-phase plan," which includes "target[ing] every Division I school in the country and over 100 critical universities in ‘swing states’ before 2020."
* Declaring its big spending on student-government elections will enable them to "block all boycott, divestment and sanctions" efforts on college campuses, and defund progressive groups that are regularly funded by student fees.
* Claiming it has already experienced several victories.
* Providing details on how it is helping conservative candidates on campus.
In addition to claiming electoral victories, TPUSA has created a website that it calls the "Professor Watchlist." From the website: "This watchlist is an aggregated list of pre-existing news stories that were published by a variety of news organizations. While we accept tips for new additions on our website, we only publish profiles on incidents that have already been reported by a credible source.
"TPUSA will continue to fight for free speech and the right for professors to say whatever they wish ; however students, parents, and alumni deserve to know the specific incidents and names of professors that advance a radical agenda in lecture halls."
But, as Splinter’s Ashley Dejean pointed out in late November of last year, the website has more than a little tinge of Horowitzism and McCarthyism attached to it. Dejean: "Here's a list of the transgressions of professors who made the list, courtesy of The Cut":
There are currently 197 academics on the TPUSA list; featured professors’ perceived offenses vary across the board and include having socialist leanings, saying that climate-change deniers are incorrect, addressing the concept of white privilege, and calling for stricter gun-control laws. More specifically, one professor landed on the list for reportedly saying Ted Cruz’s ‘New York Values’ comment was anti-Semitic, while another allegedly ‘instructed students to write ‘Jesus’ on a piece of paper, then stomp on it.’
TPUSA boldly claims that its Campus Victory project resulted in numerous conservatives elected to lead colleges and universities. However, one of the more intriguing aspects of Politico’s investigation of the organization was finding numerous student body leaders that not only denied receiving TPUSA support, but openly rejected the goals of the organization.
Charlie Kirk’s organization is raking in the dough. Kirk himself may be seen as a future leader of the GOP. Yet, as Politico’s investigation pointed out, Kirk’s dissembling about the organization successes on campus and its numerous campus groups is extremely misleading.
"In mid-March, Turning Point USA itself posted a video on Instagram of a navy-suited Kirk discussing President Trump’s first year in office and excitedly arguing that Trump ‘is on track to be America’s greatest president!’" How far that judgment and his relationship with the Trump family will take Kirk remains to be seen.