Allegations of Racial Bias and Illegal Campaign Activity at a Conservative Nonprofit That Seeks to Transform College Campuses - 2017-12-21
On Tuesday, in a convention center in West Palm Beach, Florida, amid chants of "USA!" and "The wall is going to be built!," Donald Trump, Jr., kicked off a three-day annual summit for Turning Point USA, a conservative nonprofit. Based outside of Chicago, Turning Point's aim is to foment a political revolution on America's college campuses, in part by funnelling money into student government elections across the country to elect right-leaning candidates. But it is secretive about its funding and its donors, raising the prospect that "dark money" may now be shaping not just state and federal races but ones on campus.
Turning Point touts its close relationship with the President's family. The group's Web site promoted Don, Jr.,'s appearance for weeks, featuring a photo of him raising a clenched fist. Its promotional materials include a quote from the younger Trump praising Turning Point: "What you guys have done" is "just amazing." Lara Trump, the wife of Don, Jr.,'s brother Eric, is also involved with the group. In West Palm Beach on Wednesday, she hosted a luncheon promoting Turning Point's coming Young Women's Leadership Summit. The group's twenty-four-year-old executive director and founder, Charlie Kirk, told me that he counts Don, Jr., as "a personal friend."
Turning Point casts itself as a grassroots response to what it perceives as liberal intolerance on college campuses. Kirk has called college campuses "islands of totalitarianism"; he and his supporters contend that conservatives are the true victims of discrimination in America, and he has vowed to fight back on behalf of what he has called his "Team Right." Kirk is a frequent guest on Fox News, and last summer he was invited to give a speech at the Republican National Convention. That was where he met Donald Trump, Jr., and "hit it off" with him, Kirk said. After the convention, Kirk divided his time between Turning Point activities and working for the Trump campaign as a specialist in youth outreach. "I helped coördinate some rather successful events with him," Kirk told me, referring to Don, Jr., "and I also carried his bags." When friends threw Kirk a surprise birthday party earlier this year, Don, Jr., attended, as did Sebastian Gorka, the former Trump White House adviser.