This first appeared in the Documented newsletter on Substack
Charlie Kirk, the 27 year old head of Turning Point USA (aka “TPUSA”) and Turning Point Action has spent years fanning the flames of division, first on university campuses and more recently in high schools. He had a role with the Trump campaign advising on “youth outreach,” and was chair of “Students for Trump.” Despite the risks posed by COVID-19, that group held pro-Trump rallies in September 2020, featuring Kirk and Donald Trump Jr..
Following Trump’s victory in 2016, Kirk aligned both himself and TPUSA closely with the Trump family, to their mutual benefit. He called Trump “the bodyguard of Western civilization” during a speech at the Republican National Convention last year, and TPUSA reportedly bussed 350 supporters to Washington D.C. for the now infamous January 6th rally, which preceded the violent riot at the U.S. Capitol. Kirk’s 2020 book – “The MAGA Doctrine” – was heavily promoted by Trump to his then-giant following on social media.
But Trump is gone, at least from the White House, and from Twitter. Things move on, and TPUSA is – as they won’t stop talking about – engaging in a culture war aimed at defending “western civilization.” One often repeated line in TPUSA materials is to “play offense with a sense of urgency to win America’s culture war.”
Toward that end, later this year, the group will be launching a new program aimed at reaching children in K-12 education, a project they are calling the “Turning Point Academy.” According to a description of the project from TPUSA, the program, which aims to train thousands of teachers beginning in the fall, will “transform” the way our children “perceive freedom, government, and free enterprise” using a TPUSA designed “America-first”curriculum.
“America-first,” that sure sounds familiar
This is the first reporting about the Turning Point Academy, and I will also give a quick overview of some (but certainly not all) of the controversies surrounding TPUSA, and why they shouldn’t be developing curriculum for 5 year olds.
According to a TPUSA description of their new project:
“Turning Point Academy will develop and distribute K-12 curricula focused on American history, our founding principles, the Constitution, and economics. These curricula will help all educators, including homeschool parents, provide their children and students with a reliable, honest, and quality America-first education—all at NO COST.”
“Turning Point Academy will also train thousands of educators nationwide on how to use Turning Point Academy curricular in their classroom and how they can adopt new lessons to help transform the way our young people perceive freedom, government, and free enterprise.”
“Turning Point Academy is America’s best hope to inspire countless young people to love America again.”
TPUSA’s rapid expansion
TPUSA did well financially during the Trump years. According to the group’s most recent tax filing from May 2020, the group’s revenue jumped from $10.8m up to $23.8m in just one year. Kirk made clear in his 2020 book, The MAGA Doctrine, that it was his relationship with the Trump family that enabled this boon in fundraising. “That connection helped spur the amazing growth of Turning Point USA over the past three years,” wrote Kirk. Not too much is known about TPUSA’s donors, but Kirk did admit to Jane Mayer that some of those donors “are in the fossil-fuel space.”
In a recent TPUSA video, Kirk talked about the generosity of his donors, and their desire to fuel a culture war:
“Its a uniquely American attribute to care about the culture that you grew up in, and to care about the country you were raised in, and then do something about it with your hard-earned dollars and ask for nothing in return, except that you know you’re going to be helping deploy the troops in America’s greatest culture war.”
The group has poured that money into a rapid expansion. A Politico article (headline: “Trump’s Man on Campus”) in 2018 reported they had “just more than 400 officially registered chapters in high schools and colleges nationwide.” Three years later, TPUSA now boasts of having more than 800 official groups. They also claim to have 250,000 student members, and more than 450 staff. They launched Turning Point Action in 2019, an aggressive 501(c)(4) group that campaigned for Donald Trump’s reelection.
The controversial MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell is a TPUSA board member, as is Republican megadonor Foster Friess. According to Jane Mayer, Ginni Thomas, the conservative activist and wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, was on the group’s advisory council, although her name no longer appears online.
During the Trump administration, TPUSA held “Culture War” themed rallies at universities across the country, including events in 2020 that featured Donald Trump, Jr. and other stars of Trump world. Other large TPUSA and Turning Point Action events, some held at Trump properties like Mar-a-Lago, included President Trump, Vice President Pence, Sen. Ted Cruz, Tucker Carson, and other Trump loyalists.
Racism at TPUSA
The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer wrote a major investigative piece about TPUSA that was published in 2017: A Conservative Nonprofit That Seeks to Transform College Campuses Faces Allegations of Racial Bias and Illegal Campaign Activity. In that article, Mayer revealed troubling allegations of racism at the highest levels within TPUSA:
Perhaps most troubling for an organization that holds up conservatives as the real victims of discrimination in America, Turning Point USA is also alleged to have fostered an atmosphere that is hostile to minorities. Screenshots provided to me by a source show that Crystal Clanton, who served until last summer as the group’s national field director, sent a text message to another Turning Point employee saying, “i hate black people. Like fuck them all . . . I hate blacks. End of story.”
TPUSA runs a “Professor Watch List,” fed by information from its network of university students, aimed at identifying professors on campus who they accuse of spreading “leftist propaganda in the classroom.” Recently, the group added Patrisse Cullors to that watchlist, the well-known co-founder of Black Lives Matter, and a faculty director at Prescott College.
TPUSA has called Black Lives Matter a “cult” that sends protestors to “terrorize American citizens.”
TPUSA efforts to undermine democracy
In a twist of dark irony, it was a group run by Kirk that brought hundreds of “protestors” to D.C. on January 6th, with documented evidence that at least one helped to storm the U.S. Capitol building in what the FBI has called “domestic terrorism.”
According to Kirk – in a since deleted tweet – Trump Students and Turning Point Action sent “80+ buses full of patriots to DC to fight for this president” on January 6th.
One of their supporters from these buses has since been charged. According to court filings, Robert Sanford from Pennsylvania traveled to Washington on a Turning Point Action bus, and allegedly threw a fire extinguisher at police officers inside the Capitol building. [Turning Point Action claims they have “no record” of Sanford traveling on one of their buses.]
After January 6th, TPUSA formally condemned the violence that occurred. But to take this at face value ignores the fact that Kirk has been one of the loudest voices on the right spreading lies about Biden’s victory, including to his 1.7m Twitter followers.
According to reporting by The New York Times examining research by the Election Integrity Partnership: “… about half of all retweets related to dozens of widely spread false claims of election interference could be traced back to just 35 Twitter accounts.” Kirk’s has one of those Twitter accounts according to the Election Integrity Partnership. “I will say it very bluntly, this election was stolen from President Trump,” Kirk told Fox News in December.
Kirk hasn’t stopped there. In a bizarre tweet on March 1st, Kirk compared the violent U.S. Capitol riot with a peaceful protest at the Georgia Capitol against new Republican-sponsored restrictive voting legislation. “Where is the endless media coverage of this ‘assault on democracy?’” tweeted Kirk, along with a video of the protest that took place that day. There actually was media reporting of the protest, but the contrast with the U.S. Capitol riot was stark as entirely peaceful and non-violent protestors exercised their 1st Amendment rights. “The protesters were asked to disperse and they left peacefully on their own,” reported the AP.
Just this week, an FEC complaint was filed against Turning Point Action by the ethics watchdog, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. The complaint alleges that the group illegally concealed the names of donors to its project to help Trump win reelection in November.
For all these reasons and more (see the “Bang Energy” cash cannon incident), and especially being the parent of a young toddler, the idea of having TPUSA creating curricula and training teachers to pursue a ‘culture war’ agenda is terrifying to me. We will keep tracking this and report more as we see it.