Turning Point USA's blooming romance with the alt-right

On Monday, February 12, Kaitlin Bennett, president of the Kent State University chapter of Turning Point USA (TPUSA), a self-proclaimed “student movement for free markets and limited government,” posted a scathing resignation letter online titled “I’m Turning Point USA’s Top Activist in the Country, & I Quit this Shitty Organization.”

Addressed to a field director and a regional manager for TPUSA, Frankie O’Laughlin and Alana Mastrangelo, respectively, the letter detailed Bennett’s perceived lack of support from the national organization, but made some pointed claims related to the racist “alt-right.”

Bennett asserted that O’Laughlin “told us we were not allowed to bring Kyle Chapman (the Based Stickman) to our campus since Turning Point wants to distance itself from the alt-right.” Chapman is the founder of the Proud Boys-affiliated Fraternal Order of Alt Knights, which he called the “tactical defensive arm” of the “western chauvinist” Proud Boys.

Bennett went on to point out the hypocrisy of O’Laughlin rejecting Chapman as a guest, since O’Laughlin himself was “liking tweets from notorious Charlottesville attendee and white nationalist icon, James Allsup,” and posted a screengrab of an Allsup tweet O’Laughlin liked. Allsup is an alt-right YouTube personality and speaks at white nationalist rallies.

The same day Bennett’s resignation letter was posted online, the Kent State chapter of TPUSA disbanded itself. Bennett did not respond to a request for comment from Hatewatch.

Just 10 days earlier, on February 2, a speaking engagement at Colorado State University (CSU) in Fort Collins, Colorado, by TPUSA founder and director Charlie Kirk attracted a contingent of white nationalists from the Traditionalist Worker Party (TWP). In the runup to the event, anti-immigrant flyers attributed to TWP had been posted on the CSU campus, causing both CSU’s president and its local TPUSA chapter to respond.

“The TWP goes by various names online, but let me keep this simple: a Nazi is a Nazi is a Nazi. And the members of the Traditionalist Worker Party are unapologetic Nazis who advocate murdering all those who don’t align with their worldview,” CSU president Tony Frank wrote in a public statement.

Regarding Kirk’s speaking engagement, titled “Smashing Socialism,” Frank wrote, “the recent appearance of white nationalist rhetoric on campus has been conflated with this speaker and caused concerns about the safety and security of religious groups, people of color, and other targeted populations relative to protestors and counter-protestors that may show up on campus Friday evening.”

CSU’s TPUSA chapter responded with a statement saying, “TPUSA at CSU and UNC [University of Northern Colorado] condemns white nationalism and embraces students from all backgrounds.”

While TPUSA founder Kirk was giving his speech, a group of alleged TWP members showed up on campus wearing masks and carrying shields, chanting the Nazi rallying cry “blood and soil!” The neo-Nazis briefly clashed with anti-racist protesters, and Kirk later crowed about the confrontation on Twitter:

Got heated today after my speech today at Colorado State University
Had ANTIFA, disgusting white-nationalists, and hundreds of protestors outside event
Why free speech is awesome: these handful of radicals screamed at each other while hundreds of students filled our event!

During his speech, Kirk acknowledged the white nationalists outside, but distanced himself and TPUSA from the neo-Nazis. “That BS they’re trying to say out there, it’s not who we are, it’s not what we believe, it’s not what Turning Point believes,” he said.

“It’s very funny, they say, ‘Oh Charlie, you must be an ethno-nationalist because these four people with no lives show up outside your event. First of all, that’s a bunch of nonsense. Second of all, I don’t remember anyone saying that when all the communists show up to the Democrat events.”

Still, in his appearance Kirk decried the concept of white privilege, calling the idea racist because the idea is based on skin color. “They’re trying to discredit good ideas and good arguments, just because you’re white, and that’s ridiculous,” he said.

So what exactly is Turning Point USA, and why is the organization so attractive to neo-Nazis and the alt-right?

TPUSA claims chapters on over 1,000 college and high school campuses across the country. It markets itself saying it promotes freedom, free markets and limited government — a brand of conservatism squarely aimed at millennials. Donald Trump, Jr., and his sister-in-law Lara Trump have promoted TPUSA, and according to a New Yorker expose on the group, “[a]mong its planks are the defunding of progressive organizations on campus, the implementation of ‘free speech’ policies eliminating barriers to hate speech, and the blocking of all campus ‘boycott, divestment and sanctions’ movements.”

TPUSA has also been accused of violating spending cap and transparency rules at different college campuses by funneling “dark money” into student government elections, according to the New Yorker article. The piece also suggested TPUSA may have broken campaign finance laws by working to aid Republican presidential candidates in 2016.

Then there’s TPUSA’s “Professor Watchlist,” a McCarthy-ist website featuring professors at universities across the country who TPUSA says “discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”

Wendy Lynne Lee, a philosophy professor at Bloomsburg University (BU) in rural Pennsylvania for more than a quarter-century (who’s not yet on the Professor Watchlist), began tracking TPUSA’s activities in 2016. “Here was an organization that had a mission statement that said one thing: libertarian, free market, conservative… fine, but whose activities, affiliations, sources of funding, whose Twitter feed did not cohere, did not line up with its mission statement,” she says.

Lee began collecting a “bibliography” documenting connections between TPUSA, its funders, advisors and guest speakers and online expressions of antisemitism, anti-Muslim sentiment, racism, misogyny and anti-LGBT bias, as well as connections to prominent alt-right personalities.

When Lee discovered there was a TPUSA chapter on her campus at BU, she went to the group’s campus advisor with her concerns and her bibliography. “These kids have free speech rights,” she explains, “but my issue was with formal university recognition that gets them access to all kinds of university-funded things and the use of the university logo. My objection to them wasn’t that they had a right to be here on campus.”

Lee failed in her attempt to get TPUSA’s official campus recognition rescinded, and as a protest, put a hand-scrawled poster in her office window reading “BU-Turning Point USA = Alt-Right = White Supremacism.” When a local news report said some students were concerned the sign endorsed white supremacy, she changed it to read, “Reject white supremacism. Reject BU-Turning Point USA.”

The backlash was swift. Days later posters appeared on Lee’s campus reading, “WARNING COMMUNIST PROFESSORS TEACH ON THIS CAMPUS.” An online meme with a photo of an animated Lee yelling behind a podium at an anti-fracking protest read, “THIS EXTREMIST PROFESSOR CLAIMS THAT FREEDOM IS THE NEW ‘WHITE SUPREMACY’ - WAIT… THAT WOMAN IS ALLOWED TO TEACH?!” It was shared nearly 3,000 times on Facebook.

One connection Lee had highlighted in her bibliography was with alt-right misogynist Ivan Throne, a preposterous figure who spoke at TPUSA’s Mountain West Regional Conference in Denver in March 2017. Throne, who poses as a mysterious warrior persona he calls “Dark Triad Man,” and whose book has been endorsed by prominent white nationalist Greg Johnson on his Counter-Currents website, struck back on his own website in an article titled “The Incredible Howling Damp Virago of Bloomsburg University,” implying Lee was involved in the ecoterrorism movement.

It’s not difficult to find connections between TPUSA and explicit bigoted discrimination. In the New Yorker expose, reporter Jane Mayer was provided screenshots of a text message from TPUSA’s (now former) national field director, Crystal Clanton, that read, “i hate black people. Like fuck them all… I hate blacks. End of story.” Clanton did not dispute the text’s authenticity.

Clanton left TPUSA after the organization realized the text had been made public, but the article points out that while founder Kirk served as TPUSA’s “public face,” Clanton “acted as its hands-on boss,” and quotes Kirk saying Clanton was “the best hire we ever could have made,” and “Turning Point needs more Crystals; so does America.”

Another former Turning Point employee quoted in the New Yorker story says she was the organization’s only African-American field director, and Clanton fired her on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day.

Kirk himself, besides advocating for the elimination of so-called safe spaces for minority students on campus and claiming that the concept of white privilege is itself racist, recently tweeted “Fact: A police officer is 18.5 times more likely to be killed by a black male, than an unarmed black man is to be killed by a police officer” (a flawed statistic promulgated by neoconservative conspiracy theorist Dennis Prager). Kirk has also posted anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim tweets.

A member of TPUSA’s advisory council, multimillionaire Foster Friess, has funded anti-Muslim organizations and urged students to “be more intolerant” in a commencement speech.

Anti-Muslim sentiment seems all too common in TPUSA. The president of TPUSA’s chapter at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, Colby Weatherspoon, has tweeted the anti-Muslim hashtag #IslamControlNow and claims membership in the misogynistic “western chauvinist” Proud Boys in his Twitter bio.

During Islam Awareness Week at the University of Miami last March, a TPUSA member, Driena Sixto, co-hosted a “counter info session” called “The Truth of Being a Woman of Islam” which its organizer summed up as “being a woman of Islam often comes with many dangers.”

And TPUSA was blasted for antisemitism after a writer named Adam Weinstein criticized the group on Twitter by responding on its official TPUSA account, “The best ‘grift’ this morning is having a guy named Weinstein criticize young people for wanting fewer hands in their pockets. Too good.” TPUSA later deleted the tweet and apologized, saying it was a reference to Harvey Weinstein rather than an insult regarding Jewish stereotypes.

TPUSA has also featured former congressman Joe Walsh as a speaker at events. Walsh has been criticized as racist and anti-Muslim for his controversial statements and tweets, and was fired from a talk radio host gig in 2014 for using racial slurs — which didn’t seem to deter him, since he subsequently tweeted, “Found out if I said Redskins or Cracker or Redneck Bible Thumper, I could stay on. But if I said Nigger or Spick, they cut me off.”

While TPUSA and Charlie Kirk claim to “condemn” the racist alt-right that seem to support the organization, as witnessed by the Traditionalist Worker Party demonstration in Fort Collins in early February, evidence is amassing that the attraction between the entities is largely mutual.

Kessler falls flat in D.C., but the radical right marches on