What is Turning Point USA?

January 19, 2017

DePaul University student Christopher James explains what student activists need to know about Turning Point USA if the right-wing group comes to their campus.

IT WAS a full room of students and community members at Chicago's DePaul University on January 11 for a meeting to discuss how to organize resistance to the right wing in the era of Donald Trump.

Most of the 50 people or so attending the meeting organized by the International Socialist Organization were there to discuss protests on Inauguration Day and how we can start building opposition to the right.

But not everyone. During the discussion, one attendee, sitting with a handful of others in the back of the room, said he was "very much a capitalist" and a "very proud Trump voter." He added that he was part of a student group called Turning Point USA, and that they came to "dialogue" and hear different points of view.

The four students in the back-row-right caucus left shortly thereafter, but not before several speakers called the group out for what they represent--which is bigotry and the witch hunting of the left on college campuses.

RIGHT-WINGERS on campus are certainly nothing new, and DePaul in particular is no stranger to right-wing goons. Last year, a protest of some 250 students ran reactionary troll-in-chief Milo Yiannopoulos off campus in the middle of his speech.

Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference
Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference

But what is Turning Point USA, a group whose website proclaims it to be the "biggest and most far-reaching youth organization in America"? According to the website:

Turning Point USA educates students about the importance of fiscal responsibility, free markets and limited government. Through non-partisan debate, dialogue and discussion, Turning Point USA believes that every young person can be enlightened to true free market values.

Turning Point USA was founded in 2012 by Wheeling, Illinois, high school graduate Charlie Kirk at the ripe age of 18. The same year, he began writing for Breitbart News, the website of the so-called "alt-right" and online home of Milo Yiannopoulos.

Kirk has appeared on Fox News, CNBC and Fox Business news more than 90 times, according to his website. He's been described as a rising star in the conservative movement and gained national prominence through his campus organizing and frequent media appearances.

His meteoric rise culminated in a speech at the 2016 Republican National Convention, which he began with the motto of Turning Point USA: "Big government sucks."

Nearly every publication Turning Point USA publishes brings its argument back to this right-wing libertarian formulation. On its website, the group feature pamphlets and articles with such titles as "5 Reasons Big Government Is the Real War on Women," "10 Ways Fossil Fuels Improve Our Daily Life" and--my personal favorite--"It's time for a worldwide capitalist revolution."

According to the pamphlet "10 Ways Big Government Harms You," big government punishes "diversity" by punishing "diversity of opinion"--especially against conservative opinions. "True diversity is not found in skin tone or sexual preference," the pamphlet says. "True diversity is found inside each and every citizen's mind."

Apparently, "Students who tend to support big government ideology shout down and protest limited government speakers on their campuses. Whether it is Condoleezza Rice, Ann Coulter or Donald Rumsfeld, these students do not want to engage the speakers in a debate of ideas; they want them silenced."

Ah yes, those proponents of small government, Rice and Rumsfeld and their "small government" massive expansion of government surveillance and "small government" invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

According to Turning Point, students who object to Coulter object to her on the grounds that they support "big government"--not because of her constant stream of racist, sexist and imperialist bile.

"BIG GOVERNMENT" is responsible for everything Turning Point USA disdains, from imposing safety regulations that hamper small business to affirmative action:

Affirmative action programs are another classic example of big government creating groups of victims, namely women and minorities and convincing them that without government's force they would not be able to succeed. Once the premise was accepted, they then used affirmative action to gain a foothold and establish control within the entire American university system. The benefiting groups have been big government supporters ever since.

In this way, Turning Point is just a new version of old bigoted ideas that claim "undeserving" minorities are taking away jobs and spots at universities from those who supposedly really deserve them.

Turning Point USA also presents itself as a populist voice representing the put-upon small business owner against big industry:

Before big government passes any kind of new tax or new fine, the first thing they do is consult with the wealthiest leaders of industry to make certain that they will be able to easily adjust to the new rules. Nobody in big government consults the poor or the hard-working private business owner about how the rules will impact them.

If only capitalism were pure and free from government meddling, they argue, everyone could be a successful small business owner and we would have never-ending prosperity for everyone who deserves it.

And what does that "government meddling" include? Any kind of government assistance to workers in the form of welfare, health care, minimum-wage legislation, affirmative action or other protections against racism or sexism.

TURNING POINT USA talks a lot about how "Big Government Sucks," but as a campus group, its activism is largely focused around its other favorite slogan, "Socialism Sucks." Turning Point USA's most well-known campus project is its Professor Watchlist, a website that lists more than 150 professors who "advance a radical agenda in lecture halls."

Students can suggest professors to add to the list for such offenses as decrying a party where students dressed as gang members, being a socialist and posting strongly worded comments on social media. In other words, professors can be put on the list for merely discussing racism or having a Twitter account.

Anthea Butler, a professor included on the Watchlist, succinctly wrote:

For tenured professors like myself, the Professor Watchlist is an annoyance that takes away from research, teaching and time with students. For professors on the tenure track, or lecturers who are trying to keep a contract job, being named on the Professor Watchlist could mean diminished opportunities for their careers if colleges and universities do not understand the purpose and nature of these groups.

To justify their witch hunt, these right-wingers present themselves as being in the forefront of a fightback against "college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom."

Turning Point USA's campus activism is primarily focused on feeding left and liberal professors to conservative media outlets like Campus Reform, and putting them on the Watchlist.

At many universities, the organization invites Milo Yiannopoulos to campus--like at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) where Yiannopoulos insulted a transgender student who had protested a school policy that required "nonconforming genitalia" to be covered in the locker room.

"The way you know he's failed is I can still bang him," Yiannopoulos said about the trans woman. The student later dropped out of UWM.

Turning Point USA spends considerable time and money publishing blacklists and paying workers to maintain 1,500 student contacts per semester. Its wealthy sponsors ensure there's a never-ending pool of money to send 100 activists to the Conservative Political Action Conference or to print their delightful "Socialism Sucks" T-shirts.

According to Bloomberg, Turning Point USA claims to have raised $1 million in the first half of 2015 from wealthy donors such as Foster Friess, who spent $2.1 million on Rick Santorum's presidential campaign. Because Turning Point USA is a 501(c)3 nonprofit advocacy group, its donors are anonymous.

On campus, you might see these activists with their "Socialism Sucks" and "Big Government Sucks" T-shirts at tables alongside large signs imploring students to share what they love about capitalism.

You can pick them out in a class because they'll be the ones complaining loudly against persecution of conservatives. And you'll find them in a meeting of socialists, claiming they want to "dialogue" about their bigoted ideas.

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