How a right-wing instigator uses sweat to reach Generation Z.
Mankato, Minnesota. – Charlie Kirk stood 80 miles from the place where George Floyd was murdered, faced an overwhelmingly white audience, and declared that he would say things “no one would dare say out loud.”
What followed was a torrent of denunciations and outbursts of allegations about Floyd, the black man whose death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer led to a global reckoning about racial injustice and broad calls for change. But the conservative white agitator had the opposite view: Floyd was “dirty,” he said, unworthy of attention.
The insult to Floyd – a 46-year-old father suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 banknote – was intended to be shocking. But no one familiar with Kirk should be surprised. For years, the conservative agitator and his group, Turning Point USA, have built a following out of fueling racial divisions and stoking anger. Kirk has thrived during President Donald Trump’s tenure—landing speaking positions at the Republican National Convention in 2016 and 2020 and occasionally advising Trump on campaign messages and tactics.
And now the 28-year-old is expanding his reach, trying to rally the next generation of aggrieved white conservatives. On a college town tour, he bombed schools and local governments for teaching them about racism, in a confrontational style that some would call dangerous. However, Kirk attracts crowds of millennials and Gen Zers, millions of online followers and donor money, often with little media attention.
Nikima Levi Armstrong, a lawyer and civil rights activist in Minneapolis, said Kirk is stirring fear among a group that has come of age at a time of social turmoil.
“It deals with the indignation that some people may be experiencing and combines it with racial hostility, which is a dangerous recipe in a country still in the midst of racial upheaval,” she said.
Like many prominent Republicans, including Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin and Trump, Kirk seizes opposition to critical race theory. Conservatives have transformed the once-obscure academic framework into an umbrella term for education about inclusion, diversity, and systemic racism in the United States.
Kirk’s Answer is a free, alternative K-12 curriculum described as key to “a reliable, honest, high-quality American first education”, primarily intended to educate parents at home.
It’s just one offering in Kirk’s bustling conservative content portal designed to meet young people in the places where they live online. There is also a host of podcasts hosted by Kirk and other conservative figures, and a “professor’s watchlist” to describe coaches who “discriminate against conservative students and support leftist propaganda.”
“Turning Point Live” is a three-hour streaming talk show targeting Generation Z featuring a 20-item host John Root. Among the new guests are Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Ohio Representative Jim Jordan, both Republicans.
And there are plenty of gifts: “Buy items. Save America,” the site suggests.
Turning Point USA’s audience is large and growing. The number of unique visitors per month has averaged 83,000 over the past three years, but it has grown to a monthly average of 111,000 in the past year, according to digital intelligence firm Likeweb. That’s more than triple the number of visits to conservative radio host Laura Ingraham’s website over the past year.
This movement is driven in part by at least a dozen social media accounts across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram which collectively have more than 10 million followers online.
I’ve followed the funds into the non-profit Kirk Network’s traffic.
Turning Point USA is a 501c3 nonprofit, which means that contributions are tax-deductible and donors are not disclosed. But in 2019, the last year for tax records to be public, Turning Point USA raised more than $28 million, according to Internal Revenue Service filings. That’s nearly double what it collected in 2014, in its first year as a tax-exempt charity.
Although Turning Point USA does not have to disclose donors, some are foundations set up by wealthy conservatives, who report their donations to the IRS on annual tax returns. The partial list reads like a list of major conservative donors, including foundations affiliated with the late great Foster Fries and the Ohlin and Bradley families, who also help fund leading conservative policy groups such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Cato Institute, and the Federal Assembly.
Kirk also leads a fundraising group specifically aimed at political advocacy. That group, Turning Point Action, has endorsed several candidates for Congress for 2022. The list includes Joe Kent of Washington, Catalina Love of Illinois, Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, and Max Miller of Ohio, all candidates who ran to oppose Republican House members who voted for Trump II. isolation.
Kirk showed a knack for anticipating the wrath of the moment.
Quickly attacking lockdown orders at the dawn of the pandemic, then falsely claiming Trump won the 2020 election, he attacked Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, blaming soaring violent crime on efforts to block police departments, and months before Youngkin’s takeover of Virginia’s parental wrath, Kirk turned to the critical race theory.
He works within the Trump movement. It’s a good measure of what the Republican right feels they can get away with, said Michael Hayden, a spokesperson for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit group that tracks far-right figures and organizations.
Turning Point USA is listed among the 11 groups participating in a “March to Save America” that preceded the deadly mutiny at the US Capitol on Jan. 6, days before the rally, Kirk Brag on Twitter About sending buses “full of patriots to the capital to fight for this president.” He later deleted the tweet.
Online contributions surged to the Turning Point website immediately after the riots, according to a similar site, which can track the pace of online payments but not the amounts.
Kirk is not among more than a dozen protest organizers summoned by the House Select Committee to investigate the Capitol siege. A spokesman for the commission would not comment on whether the commission has questioned or contacted Kirk.
Recently, Kirk, who has not responded to requests for interviews, has been kept away from the headlines. However, an event in Idaho drew attention last month when a man from a crowd shouted, “How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?”
Kirk responded by dismissing the comment, but blaming the left: “They’re trying to force you to do something violent, that would justify taking away your liberties.”
Growing up in the high-income Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, Kirk became a politically involved young man, volunteering in middle school and high school on political campaigns. His rapid rise began shortly after high school when he dropped out of Harper College, a community college in the Chicago area, to pursue political activism and co-founded Turning Point USA with Chicago-area tea party activist and mentor Bill Montgomery.
Kirk’s “Exposing Critical Racism Theory” tour consolidated final stops in Alabama, Idaho, Michigan, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and Vermont. Last month, an auditorium at the Convention Center in Mankato, Minnesota, filled with about 600 people — mostly teenagers and college students — on Tuesday evening.
Once the center of prairie farming south of Minneapolis, Mankato has swelled into a diverse little metro. Minnesota State University, food production plants, and the Mayo Clinic campus have attracted immigrants from Africa and Latin America, while the black population has grown steadily.)
For 90 minutes, Kirk spoke directly to the nearly all-white crowd and told them that radical leftists wanted them to be ashamed of.
“Just because you are a white person,” he said, “doesn’t mean you have to start by simply apologizing for the way God created you.”
He repeated the widely debunked allegations about Floyd’s criminal record and suggested that the cause of Floyd’s death was a drug overdose, not murder, the medical examiner found.
Representative Jim Hagedorn, a local Republican congressman, was among the attendees and later said in a Facebook post that he “enjoyed attending” and hearing Kirk “discuss the need to stand up for America and our founding principles.”
Riley Carlson, campus coordinator at Turning Point USA in Minnesota, said she didn’t know much about cash race theory before the event.
Michael, a suburb of Minneapolis, said, “We are excited to have Charlie here to explain it. There are so many different ways you can look at it. And I’m looking for where I stand.”
Kirk’s message is hard to sell to most young people. Nearly 60% of voters under the age of 30 said they think racism is a very serious problem in the United States, according to the AP VoteCast, a poll of more than 110,000 voters in the 2020 election. It’s the largest percentage of any age group surveyed. poll.
Meanwhile, Trump lost younger voters by 30 percentage points last year, according to VoteCast.
“It’s a wedge issue to launch a shrinking base,” said John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Kennedy Institute of Politics and an expert on young voters.
That shows Kirk’s finger is on the pulse of Conservative anger, said Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow at the Liberal People’s Party for the American Way.
“It seems that the fear of critical race theory rises to the top of the group messaging I’m watching,” he said. “There was a pivot towards that and Kirk was wise in the fundraising power he promised.”
Hannah Weinerhout, Marie Claire Jalonic and Amanda Seitz from Washington contributed. Michelle Smith contributed from Providence, Rhode Island.
This story has been corrected to remove the reference in the 16th paragraph to the Charles and David Koch Network affiliates. Turning Point USA does not receive any funding from them.
Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.