- Turning Point USA TPUSA is a right-wing student organization.
- Founded in 2012 by Charlie Kirk, TPUSA has raised millions from conservative donors and has played a significant role in GOP politics and elections.
- Since the group’s founding. Kirk has moved further to the right and has promoted numerous conspiracy theories about election fraud and Covid-19 and has demonized the transgender community.
- Kirk also promotes Christian nationalism: the idea that Christians should dominate the government and other areas of life in the US.
- TPUSA continues to attract racists to the group. Numerous TPUSA representatives have made bigoted remarks about minority groups and the LGBTQ+ community.
- White nationalists have attended TPUSA events, even though the group says it rejects white supremacist ideology.
- Kirk has created a vast platform for extremists and far-right conspiracy theorists, who speak and attend his annual AmericaFest and other events sponsored by TPUSA.
Turning Point USA (TPUSA) is a Phoenix-based right-wing student organization co-founded in 2012 by Charlie Kirk, who serves as executive director, and William Montgomery, who passed away in July 2020. The nonprofit organization’s stated mission is to “identify educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government.” TPUSA has raised millions of dollars from conservative donors and has become an influential player in Republican politics.
TPUSA claims to have a presence at more than 3,500 high schools and college campuses nationwide. It runs the controversial “Professor Watchlist,” which seeks to “expose” professors who allegedly “discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” It also launched a “School Board Watchlist” in 2021, ostensibly to expose teachings TPUSA believes are “dangerous,” and seeks to root out “anti-American, radical, hateful, immoral, and racist teachings… such as Critical Race Theory, the 1619 Project, sexual/gender ideology and more.”
Since founding TPUSA, Kirk has moved further to the right and promotes conspiracy theories about election fraud and Covid-19. He also promotes a form of Christian nationalism: the idea that Christians should dominate government and other areas of life in America. Kirk’s views have led him to attack the transgender community several times. In addition, the group continues to attract racists. Numerous individuals associated with the group have made bigoted statements about the Black community, the LGBTQ community and other groups. While TPUSA leaders say they reject white supremacist ideology, known white nationalists have attended their events.
TPUSA Has Generated Additional Organizations
Kirk has created several interconnected groups to further his right-wing agenda. In June 2022, TPUSA launched Turning Point Academy, in collaboration with the Dream City Christian School, also based in Phoenix. Turning Point Academy is a subdivision of TPUSA that “is dedicated to RECLAIMING the education of our children, REVIVING virtuous education focused on truth, goodness, and beauty, and RESTORING God as the foundation of education [sic].” According to the TPUSA website, Turning Point Academy is not one school but “an educational movement” that wants to advance “all types of faith-based conservative-values education,” seed Christian, conservative schools around the country; train teachers and administrators and provide resources and curriculum to support this goal.
TPUSA also launched several other ventures, including Turning Point Endowment and Turning Point Action. Turning Point Endowment is a nonprofit organization created to “support and benefit Turning Point USA charitable purposes and long-term vitality.” Turning Point Action is a 501 c (4) organization that engages in political activity and works toward “embolden[ing] the conservative base through grassroots activism and provide voters with the necessary resources to elect true conservative leaders.” Turning Point Action also acquired Students for Trump in 2019. Kirk became the president of that group, which focused on the 2020 presidential election.
Promoting Christian Nationalism/Activism
As his politics have moved further to the right, Kirk has promoted conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election and Covid-19 vaccines and promoted Christian nationalism. According to an article by Political Research Associates, starting sometime in 2019, Kirk spent “two years of discipleship under a California megachurch pastor” Rob McCoy and “now says the church should accept its rightful role as counselor to and moral authority of the government.” He created TPUSA Faith, a division of TPUSA, in 2021, which is dedicated to empowering Christians to put their faith into action. Kirk also has a radio show on the Christian Salem Radio Network
At the Conservative Political Action Conference in February 2020, Kirk promoted the “seven mountains,” an idea associated with the dominionism movement, which argues that Christians should be involved in seven spheres of influence: government, media, education, business, arts and entertainment, church and family. According to Right-Wing Watch, Kirk, referring to President Trump, said, “Finally we have a president that understands the seven mountains of cultural influence.” Kirk has continued to promote Christianity at political events and speaking engagements.
TPUSA’s Political Activism
Kirk is very active in the MAGA movement. He organized students for the 2020 Stop the Steal demonstrations and led a Stop the Steal rally in Arizona. On January 6, 2021, Kirk worked with other organizations to bring hundreds of Trump supporters to the rally in Washington, D.C. before the storming of the Capitol.
Tylor Bowyer, the chief operation officer of TPUSA, was actively involved in the 2016 Trump campaign and still plays an influential role in GOP politics in Arizona. After the 2020 election, Bower was part of a scheme by Arizona Trump supporters to overturn then-President-elect Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
Kirk and other TPUSA leaders also played a significant role in the 2022 midterm elections, particularly in Arizona. A November 2022 report from the Washington Post found that TPUSA promoted MAGA candidates there, challenging the old guard of the Arizona GOP. TPUSA also played a large role in Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake’s campaign. The newspaper reported that “Turning Point staffers have filled key positions on her campaign, including a top adviser and a former press secretary.” The Turning Point PAC was involved in other races as well, namely the U.S. Senate race in Pennsylvania.
After the GOP’s disappointing midterm performance, Kirk warned that GOP donors would leave the party unless it listened to grassroots activist groups like TPUSA and like-minded organizations. His efforts to replace the GOP old guard with new activists, dubbed “The Mount Vernon Project,” has pulled him into the battle for the chair of the Republican National Committee, pitting current chairwoman Rona McDaniel against TPUSA-endorsed lawyer Harmeet Dhillon.
Kirk has also spoken about what he sees as the evils of the leftist agenda and the Democrats. After FBI agents seized documents illegally stored at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence, Kirk encouraged retribution suggesting that “state attorneys general that are Republican have to authorize raids against Soros groups, BLM, Planned Parenthood, the alphabet mafia, groomers, chemical castration of children, now.” After a white supremacist attacked Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Kirk asked that a “hero” bail out the attacker.
Kirk and TPUSA also focus on “culture war” issues like Critical Race Theory. In 2021, Kirk went on a “Exposing Critical Racism” tour at eight universities around the country, which painted Kirk as a hero battling a society that “has devolved into a segregationist regressive state, particularly on our college campuses.”
In June 2022, TPUSA joined forces with America First Legal, founded by former Trump administration official Stephen Miller. An article in the conservative publication The Post-Millennial reported that Miller and Kirk were planning to work together to fight against diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs on college campuses. Many organizations offer DEI courses to employees as a way of battling racism and bigotry.
During visits to college campuses, Kirk verbally attacks and demonizes the transgender community. In April 2022, at the University of Colorado-Boulder, Kirk made a statement about boys and girls using the same bathroom, adding “One of the reasons is that we tried to reconfigure society to accommodate and pander to a hypervocal minority that itself will never actually be happy regardless of how many changes we make for the alphabet mafia [a reference to the LGBTQ community], it’s never going to be enough…”
TPUSA is also beginning to get involved in far-right filmmaking. In September 2022, the group released “The Enemy Within: FBI Whistleblower,” which features right-wing conspiracy theorist John Guandolo, who has demonized the FBI and promoted anti-Muslim tropes. In the film, Guandolo encourages people to take the law into their own hands and promotes ideas similar to those expressed by the anti-government Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, whose followers believe “the county sheriff is the ultimate authority in the county, able to halt enforcement of any federal or state law or measure they deem unconstitutional.”
TPUSA and Right-wing Extremists
TPUSA has ties to a range of right-wing extremists and has generated support from anti-Muslim bigots, alt-lite activists and some corners of the white supremacist alt-right.
Kirk has created a vast platform for extremists and far-right conspiracy theorists, who speak and attend his annual AmericaFest and other events sponsored by TPUSA. AmericaFest has showcased extreme rhetoric from speakers and attendees and has attracted white supremacists. In 2021, the Arizona Mirror reported that AmericaFest attracted far-right figures like Grayson Arnold, who has posted pro-Nazi and antisemitic memes and was photographed at the event with the then-GOP Arizona Chair Kelli Ward. The event also featured Kyle Rittenhouse, who was acquitted of killing two people protesting the killing of a Black man at a protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and became a cause celebre in far right and conservative circles
At the 2022 AmericaFest, held again in Arizona, far-right provocateur Steve Bannon riled up the crowd by asking the audience if they were at war, referring to them as an “awakened army” and asking if they were ready to destroy the deep state.
Kari Lake, who refused to concede the 2022 gubernatorial race she lost in Arizona and brought a lawsuit against officials in Maricopa County, also used extreme language at the event. She told the audience that election officials were crooks who should be locked up and then added, ““They corrupted our elections on November 8 ... they have built a house of cards ...We are going to burn that [house] to the ground.”
TPUSA events have attracted white supremacists, particularly those who present themselves as conservatives but promote white nationalist ideas. Ryan Sanchez, a former member of the white supremacist Rise Above Movement, attended the group’s AmericaFest event in December 2022. Occasionally, white supremacists show up at TPUSA events to linger outside in hopes of confronting left-wing activists. Charlie Kirk has spoken out against such incidents, which can attract significant negative publicity. When white supremacists appeared outside an event at Colorado State University in early 2018, Kirk told attendees, “It’s not who we are, it’s not what we believe, it’s not what Turning Point believes.” In July 2022, a TPUSA spokesperson condemned a group of neo-Nazis who displayed swastikas outside of TPUSA’s Student Action Summit in Tampa.
However, despite statements and attempts by TPUSA to manage some of its scandals, the organization has been mired in several controversies.
TPUSA and Racist/Bigoted Incidents
TPUSA’s leadership and activists have made multiple racist or bigoted comments and have been linked to a variety of extremists.
Note: in the list that follows, several individuals are described as associated with the “alt lite.” The “alt lite” is a spin-off movement from the white supremacist alt right. Its adherents typically eschew the explicit white supremacy of the alt right but otherwise share its extremism and its prejudices, including against Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ people (especially transgender people), and women.
- December 2022: Meg Miller, the head of the TPUSA chapter at the University of Missouri, posted a virulently racist comment, thinly veiled as a joke, about the killings of three Black football players at the University of Virginia. She wrote: “If They Would Have Killed 4 More N*ggers We Would Have Had the Whole Week Off [sic].”
- October 2022: Towson University student newspaper The Towerlight published an article about screenshots allegedly showing the school’s TPUSA chapter using homophobic comments on Instagram and admitting to using racial slurs on campus. The paper, however, could not confirm the veracity of the screenshots, which appeared after TPUSA hosted Gordana Schifanelli, Maryland’s Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, and Michael Peroutka, the Republican nominee for attorney general, for a discussion about the U.S. Constitution. Peroutka is a former member of the League of the South, a pro-Confederate, white supremacist group.
- July 2022: Dan Lyman, the foreign correspondent for the conspiratorial InfoWars, who has promoted white nationalist ideology and has appeared on white supremacist shows including “Red Ice,” was given a press pass to TPUSA’s Student Action Summit, where he interviewed a number of far-right figures, including Jack Posobiec and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).
- February 2022: The Daily Gamecock, an independent student newspaper at the University of South Carolina, reported on screenshots of racist and homophobic messages in group chats that included members of the USC chapter of Turning Point USA,. Dylan Baldassarre, the president of the school’s TPUSA chapter, condemned the comments.
- July 2021: The Informant newsletter reported that 85-year-old TPUSA advisor Rip McIntosh regularly circulates a racist newsletter to his followers. In an email, McIntosh let his followers know that the newsletter contained an essay, which turned out to be virulently racist, including comments that Black people had “become socially incompatible with other races” and “American Black culture has evolved into an un-fixable and crime-ridden mess.” The essay also said that white people weren’t racist but were “exhausted” by Black people and that the “experiment” of bringing Black people to the U.S. as slaves had failed. The email included Turning Point's logo and a fundraising appeal for the group. McIntosh, who is also a friend of Charlie Kirk, claimed that TPUSA had no idea about the essay, which was published under the writer’s pseudonym E.P. Unum (a likely allusion to E Pluribus Unum).
- May 2021: A TPUSA chapter at Glenbrook South High School in Glenview, Illinois displayed a poster for the group with the words “China Kinda Sus.” Asian-American students, politicians and others spoke out against the racist overtones of the poster.
- July 2020: The Forward reported that TPUSA “ambassador” Gavin Wax appeared on a podcast run by the racist, anti-immigrant site VDare. Wax, who was interviewed by John Derbyshire, a writer fired from the National Review in 2012 for making racist statements, also tweeted in June 2020, “Enoch Powell was right.” Powell was a racist, anti-immigrant British politician, famous for a speech that talked about halting immigration to Great Britain.
- May 2019: The Daily Beast reported that Kyle Kasuv, who became known for speaking out against gun control after he and his classmates experienced a mass shooting at Parkland High School in Florida, circulated racist messages when he was the high school outreach director for TPUSA. Before his comments were made public, Kasuv announced that he was leaving his position with TPUSA because he was heading to college.
- May 2019: Left-wing website "It's Going Down" posted a cellphone video of Riley Gisar, the president of the TPUSA chapter at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, shouting "white power." The video also shows the woman standing next to Gisar and the person shooting the video making racist comments and shouting, “white power." Gisar and the woman also make the okay hand gesture, which has been used as a trolling technique by people falsely claiming the gesture represents the letters “wp,” for “white power.” However, more recently, several people have used the gesture as a sincere expression of white supremacy. It is unclear when the video was recorded; TPUSA responded by announcing that Gisar had been permanently removed from the organization.
- March 2019: The Des Moines Register reported that TPUSA invited white supremacist Nick Fuentes to speak at Iowa State University. Fuentes claimed that the College Republicans also invited him to speak but they denied that and denounced Fuentes. The president of the TPUSA chapter resigned from the group, saying that she did not support Fuentes’ views and was disappointed that TPUSA asked him to speak at the campus.
- February 2019: Video surfaced of TPUSA’s former communications director, Candace Owens, appearing to defend both Adolf Hitler and nationalism. “If Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well—okay, fine. The problem is that he…had dreams outside of Germany [and] wanted to globalize,” she said. Her comments, made at a December 2018 Turning Point UK kickoff event in London, sparked widespread criticism. Owens later clarified her statement, saying it was an attempt to separate the term “nationalist” from its associations with Hitler, adding, "He wasn't a nationalist…He was a homicidal, psychotic maniac." After this controversy, Owens resigned as communications director of TPUSA but still speaks at the group’s events.
- December 2018: In an interview with Business Insider, Candace Owens claimed that police brutality was not a major issue for Black Americans, that Black Americans are “worse off economically” today than under Jim Crow (a claim she had previously made on Twitter), and that the Ku Klux Klan was “one of those mirages” and less dangerous than Antifa.
- October 2018: The Miami New Times revealed leaked messages from a TPUSA WhatsApp group connected to Florida International University that included a racist Pepe the Frog meme about Syrian refugees raping white women, as well as a joke about dressing up as ICE agents to “grapple Latinas and deport them.” The messages also included this advice on how to avoid scrutiny: “Just avoid saying the n word and don’t reference Richard Spencer too much and don’t Jew hate…all the time.”
- September 2018: TPUSA leader Charlie Kirk spoke at the annual conference of the anti-Muslim group ACT for America. ACT for America has numerous connections to TPUSA; Jonathon Stack, an ACT for America grassroots coordinator, even described himself on his LinkedIn profile as being “responsible for working with Turning Point USA student groups and student activists.” Thomas Hern, ACT for America’s national grassroots director, previously worked with Turning Point USA as a field director and deputy national field director.
- July 2018: The Daily Beast reported that TPUSA had “courted” Bryan Sharpe, aka “Hotep Jesus,” a conspiracy theorist and antisemite, inviting him to meetings and retreats. Among his many antisemitic references, Sharpe tweeted in 2017 that the term “Holocaust denier” was created “to hide the truth.” That same year, Sharpe, who is a Black American, posted a YouTube video in which he said that the alt right “isn’t afraid to call out the Jews and their implications [sic] in the destruction of the Black community in America.” In October 2018, apparently in response to The Daily Beast coverage of Sharpe’s antisemitism, Sharpe tweeted that he had been “banned” from TPUSA’s Young Black Leadership Summit.
- April 2018: Marshall DeRosa, a former member of the neo-Confederate and racist group League of the South, was revealed to be the faculty advisor for Florida Atlantic University’s TPUSA chapter. DeRosa told the Miami New Times that he had left the League of the South after it became too “radical.” While the League of the South did evolve into a hardcore white supremacist group over the past 10 years, even in its earliest years the group was implicitly racist, arguing that “Anglo-Celtic” (a code word for “white”) culture should dominate in the South. A TPUSA representative at the university subsequently told the New Times that its members stood by DeRosa.
- December 2017: In a New Yorker article, former TPUSA employee Gabrielle Fequiere, who is Black, called the group “racist,” claiming that speakers at one of the group’s annual student summits talked about “Black women having all these babies out of wedlock.” TPUSA denied the claim. The article also revealed that in 2017 Crystal Clanton, TPUSA’s national field director, sent this text message to another TPUSA employee: “i [sic] hate black people. Like fuck them all…I hate blacks. End of story.” [sic] Clanton left TPUSA shortly thereafter.
- December 2017: While attending a TPUSA conference in West Palm Beach, Florida, Juan Pablo Andrade, a policy advisor for the pro-Trump group America First Policies, was captured on a Snapchat video claiming that “the only thing the Nazis didn’t get right is they didn’t keep fucking going!” After Mediaite wrote about the video, Andrade released a statement saying that the video was incomplete and failed to tell the whole story. Another video uncovered by Mediaite reportedly showed Cesar Subervi attended the conference; Subervi allegedly also attended the Unite the Right white supremacist event in Charlottesville in August 2017. Citing anonymous sources, Mediaite said that in an effort to avoid controversy, Subervi had originally been placed on a “blacklist” for the TPUSA event, but that the list was later abandoned.
- November 2017: TPUSA activists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign appeared on Gavin McInnes’ “Get Off My Lawn” podcast. McInnes is the founder of the Proud Boys, a violent right-wing extremist group.
- August 2017: After the Unite the Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and three months before she was hired by TPUSA, Candace Owens posted a video to YouTube titled “I Don’t Care About Charlottesville, the KKK, or White Supremacy,” the last of which she referred to as an “almost endangered species.” She was later interviewed by right-wing conspiracy theorists Paul Joseph Watson and Alex Jones (the first of several occasions), which she defended by saying, “I simply really like Paul Joseph Watson.” Watson has returned the favor, promoting Owens’ events.
- August 2017: Alt lite activist Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman announced he would be working to help the Kent State University chapter of TPUSA put on a week of events. Chapman rose to fame in March 2017 when he was videotaped assaulting protesters in Berkeley; in 2018 he was charged with felony assault with a deadly weapon for an alleged assault in Texas. The head of the Kent State TPUSA chapter, Kaitlin Bennett, who had invited Chapman, later angrily claimed that TPUSA member Frankie O’Laughlin had stopped the chapter from working with Chapman even though, Bennett claimed, “Frankie was liking tweets from notorious Charlottesville attendee and white nationalist icon, James Allsup.”
- April 2017: The Huffington Post reported that TPUSA field operations manager Shialee Grooman had a history of posting racist and homophobic tweets, and that she admitted in 2012 that she loved “making racist jokes” and “if you’re a race other than white I promise to make racist jokes towards you.” The article also revealed that former TPUSA Midwest regional manager Timon Prax was forced to leave the organization because of tweeting bigoted “jokes” about Muslims, Jews, and Mormons. A source claimed to The Huffington Post that Prax had made even more explicitly racist comments in text messages.
- January 2017: At the invitation of the local TPUSA chapter, alt lite activist Milo Yiannopoulos brought his “Dangerous F*ggot” speaking tour to the University of Colorado-Boulder. This was just one of Yiannopoulos’s TPUSA-sponsored campus appearances nationwide.]
- January 2015: TPUSA activist Lauren Cooley, speaking at a Tea Party event in South Carolina, called civil rights leader Jesse Jackson a “race baiter,” according to a report from the Institute for Research & Education on Human Rights. This echoed a comment she’d made as a student at Fuhrman University, during which time she also brought Larry Pratt to campus; Pratt, then-head of the radical gun rights group Gun Owners of America, was forced in 1996 to resign his position as co-chair of Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign because of his ties to militia and white supremacist groups.