LETTER: A long list of reasons why Turning Point USA shouldn’t be at K-State

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This letter to the editor was written by Colin Goodman, sophomore in computer science and political coordinator for the Kansas State Young Democrats. If you would like to write a letter to the Collegian, send us an email at letters@kstatecollegian.com or visit kstatecollegian.com/contact.

Turning Point USA is a conservative non-profit organization which touts itself as a grassroots response to leftism on college campuses, and the Student Governing Association at Kansas State University recently allocated $3,000 for a TPUSA event on campus.

The founder, Charlie Kirk, started TPUSA after a prominent Republican donor persuaded him to do so, having seen Kirk’s compelling character and speaking abilities.

TPUSA embraces ideals like free market economics and small government, and these ideals are stated to function as the foundation of what they push on college campuses.

However, TPUSA’s means to an end raise many questions. There is absolutely no problem with their aim of political expression, but the organization brings far more than free speech and free market ideals to campuses. There are countless examples of unlawful and unethical practices employed to achieve these goals, and that’s not even touching the bigoted scandals that plague the group.

Unethical Financial Behavior

First and foremost, TPUSA has ulterior motives to their presence on college campuses. Their supporters may argue that they’re simply trying to exercise freedom of speech and promote intellectual diversity in the wake of campus leftism, but the end game is more troublesome.

TPUSA is notorious for violating university finance regulations by funneling staggering amounts of cash into student government elections. This sort of lobbying acts as a method to elect TPUSA-friendly students into these governing associations.

Once elected, TPUSA expects these students to follow a set of political agendas, including (but not limited to) promoting their big-money donor interests and defunding progressive or leftist organizations.

TPUSA is not about encouraging intellectual diversity; it’s a hostile takeover to eliminate left-leaning thought on college campuses.

As their website clearly puts it, their aim is “winning the culture war.” Their current goal is a majority control in 80 percent of Division I student governments. Any conservative that has complained about feeling on the defensive at college should hesitate at this initiative.

This isn’t empty rhetoric, either. TPUSA has serious muscle here.

The organization has an impressive network of wealthy donors, providing millions of dollars to support this mission. They actually claim K-State on a “campus victory” list of student governments the organization has successfully influenced in 2016-2017 alongside many others — the University of California Los Angeles, the University of Southern California, Purdue University, Michigan State University and more.

They have approached various SGA candidates at K-State on many occasions. The conflict of interest is obvious: our student senate allocated $3,000 of our money for TPUSA to pay for these conservative YouTube channel speakers.

And if TPUSA really did lock down a majority control in our student senate like they claim they have, one cannot help but wonder how that vote was influenced by this money. Can we trust our student senate to respect the interests of our student body if TPUSA is holding it hostage?

TPUSA’s main purpose is to promote the interests of its donors. Kirk frequently speaks at closed-door events for major companies and exclusive fundraisers to raise money for his organization. He refuses to name specific donors.

However, Kirk has confirmed companies in the oil industry as key supporters. This forces one to consider the feverish opposition that TPUSA presents to climate change and environmentalism.

Kirk has claimed that students are “indoctrinated to believe the myth that fossil fuels are dirty and renewable energy is a plausible alternative,” a message that he says goes over well at energy industry fund-raising events.

To further highlight the relationship between the oil industry and TPUSA, Barry Russell, the CEO and president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, or IPAA, is on the TPUSA advisory council. These sorts of things further cement a concern over whether we can allow this organization to operate on our campus.

Next, TPUSA is a 501(c)3 charity. This means that anyone that wishes to donate money to TPUSA can write off these donations as tax deductions, and they’re also completely anonymous. In return, the IRS prohibits these types of charities from providing any sort of assistance to political campaigns.

Perhaps it’s to hide how heavily their agenda hinges on which wealthy donors open their checks for Kirk, or maybe it’s simply to exploit a loophole in the charity code for tax deductions. Either way, TPUSA has a history of not respecting the laws that prevent them from helping political campaigns.

A boss of one former TPUSA employee pressured her to assist in coordination with Senator Ted Cruz’s campaign. A member of the advisory council (who supported Cruz at the time) instructed this same employee to distribute campaign literature for an upcoming primary.

A different former employee had curated lists of student supporters for infrastructural purposes, and this list was eventually given to the Senator Marco Rubio campaign.

Another instance from a chain of emails showed Kirk asking a TPUSA employee in South Carolina to round up TPUSA students to support Cruz as asked for by a Cruz political action committee. Kirk further coordinated events to send students to various locations for canvassing and hiring.

Trevor Potter, a Republican federal election commissioner, has reiterated that TPUSA is barred from contributing value to any political campaign, and stated that it sounds as if they have crossed the line. Judging from what TPUSA employees have said, this allegation sounds crystal clear. This makes the organization illegal at worst and ethically dubious at best.

So in conclusion of this section, TPUSA is an unethical organization with an agenda supported by large corporations. They aim to enact this agenda and eliminate liberalism on college campuses by controlling student governments via ignoring election financial regulations. And it only looks worse for this group from here.

Rampant Bigotry

Evidence has piled up demonstrating TPUSA being loaded with intolerance at all levels. I’m not talking about “microaggressions.” There are many very valid and disturbing cases of blatantly racist employees and volunteers, as well as connections to terrible hate groups.

For example, Kirk has spoken at the annual conference for ACT! for America, an anti-Muslim advocacy group. There also exists a notable overlap in the leadership of the two groups.

ACT! for America is a group dedicated to combating a claimed threat of Islam to democracy. The group’s founder, Brigitte Gabriel, claims Islamic militants have infiltrated our government and universities with the aim of waging jihad and enacting Sharia law in the United States.

Gabriel also adamantly asserts that these militants now secretly reside in the CIA, FBI and our military. She has also claimed that a practicing Muslim cannot be a loyal citizen of the U.S., and her organization alleges that there is no difference between a “mainstream” Muslim and a radical one.

TPUSA members also have connections to conservative personality Gavin McInnes and his group, the Proud Boys. TPUSA activists have appeared on McInnes’ podcast. There have also been cases of college student members of TPUSA having been in the Proud Boys.

The Southern Poverty Law Center classifies the Proud Boys as a hate group. The group only admits men and explicitly advocates for “Western chauvinism,” with some of its group members being arrested for political violence.

The group’s flirtation with white nationalism isn’t exclusive to McInnes. “Alt-lite” activist Kyle Chapman announced at one point that he would be working with the Kent State University chapter of Turning Point.

Chapman rose to fame in March 2017 when he was recorded assaulting protesters in Berkeley, California. He was also charged with felony assault in 2018.

Chapman was eventually barred from working with TPUSA by member Frankie O’Laughlin due to a history of pro-white nationalist rhetoric, but Kaitlin Bennett, the TPUSA chapter president, noted the hypocrisy of this as O’Laughlin had been “liking tweets from notorious Charlottesville attendee and white nationalist icon James Allsup.”

There also exists an interesting history with anti-Semitic comments within Turning Point. Most famously, Candace Owens, the director of communications for the group, mused that Adolf Hitler simply wanted to “make Germany great” and defended nationalism by claiming the real issue with Nazi Germany was its apparently “globalist” ambitions to expand into other countries.

Juan Andrade, a policy advisor that attended a TPUSA conference in 2017, was captured on a Snapchat video claiming, “the only thing the Nazis didn’t get right is they didn’t keep f***ing going.”

The group also has a nauseating history with comments regarding African-Americans. Crystal Clanton, the group’s national field director at the time, sent text messages to another employee stating “I hate black people. Like f*** them all. … I hate blacks. End of story.”

Shialee Grooman, a field operations manager, has an extensive history of posting extremely colorful racist tweets before she deleted her Twitter account. A Huffington Post article about her has screenshots that speak louder than any words I could write here.

A former employee, Gabrielle Fequiere, noted feeling uncomfortable with the organization as TPUSA’s only African-American field director at the time. She described how young black recruits would be disinvited from the annual student summit, and how she would regularly hear offensive things about black people from other TPUSA employees. One comment she mentioned hearing included deriding black women for “having all these babies out of wedlock.”

The point behind all these examples is that, regardless of Kirk claiming that these endless comments and scandals don’t represent TPUSA’s values, the organization has a chronic issue with this behavior. As the saying goes: if you smell sh*t everywhere you walk, perhaps you’re the one that stepped in it.

So What?

TPUSA cannot be trusted as the innocent conservative student organization it claims to be. Students interested in the ideals promoted by TPUSA would be better off finding other political organizations to put their effort into, particularly since other conservative student organizations like Young America’s Foundation and Young Americans for Liberty have spoken very poorly of TPUSA in the past and advised members to avoid it.

As the political coordinator for the Young Democrats at K-State, I can speak for both myself and the Young Democrats club when I say that freedom of speech is an excellent and precious thing, and conservative students ought to have the ability to express their views.

But TPUSA is a dangerous entity that seeks to blow up good-faith political discourse with the aim of “winning” a supposed culture war. It continues to drive a wedge between Americans along political lines in an era where we need to tear down ideological barriers. It does so while limping from one bigoted scandal to the next.

Joining such a group in the name of conservatism is akin to making a deal with the devil. K-State has no place accepting such a group on campus, and at the very least, they should be withheld from receiving financial support from our student government.

I would strongly support revoking their status as a student organization. True freedom of speech depends upon it.

Colin Goodman is a sophomore in computer science and political coordinator for the Young Democrats at Kansas State. The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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