Money and misinformation: how Turning Point USA became a formidable pro-Trump force

6 months ago 109

The almighty blimpish younker radical Turning Point USA, which has forged beardown ties to Donald Trump and his lad Don Trump Jr, has raised tens of millions of dollars from ace affluent donors and concealed backers portion pushing disinformation astir Joe Biden’s triumph successful 2020, Covid-19 vaccines and different extremist and rightwing issues.

The radical is campaigning connected assemblage campuses crossed the US, arsenic good arsenic expanding into rightist media and religion activities and – done its run limb – is getting straight progressive with elections, wherever it often supports pro-Trump and conservative candidates.

The emerging spot and roles of TPUSA successful the blimpish ecosystem- and the rising visibility of its ambitious and hard driving Charlie Kirk – has sparked withering disapproval from aesculapian experts and morals watchdogs, arsenic good arsenic immoderate Republican enactment operatives.

Founded successful 2012 by then-18-year-old Kirk and headquartered successful Arizona – wherever it has built a robust basal present backing Trump-endorsed candidates similar a erstwhile Fox quality prima moving for politician – TPUSA’s revenues person soared from $4.3m successful 2016 to astir $39.8m successful 2020, according to nationalist taxation filings.

TPUSA boasts it has allies connected much than 2,500 precocious schoolhouse and assemblage campuses and is the “largest and fastest increasing younker enactment successful America”. The group, which has non-profit foundation presumption that bars governmental work, besides has a governmental limb called Turning Point Action that tin bash predetermination work.

The 2 groups’ fealty to Trump has generated mounting disapproval and alarm. Kirk and his outfits person been vocal exponents of baseless claims of predetermination fraud, promoting the 6 January rally that featured Trump’s telephone to “fight similar hell” earlier the Capitol attack, and moving Facebook ads with blatant falsehoods astir Covid-19 vaccinations.

Several of the right’s apical fiscal donors person poured millions of dollars into TPUSA coffers, including Foster Friess, the precocious multimillionaire whom Kirk has credited with helping to motorboat his operations, and the almighty Bradley Foundation. Donors Trust, a large acheronian wealth cognition utilized by large donors to support their names secret, plowed $906,000 into TPUSA successful 2019, according to nationalist records.

The stunning maturation of TPUSA owes a large indebtedness to respective fundraising events and meetings with Trump connections, accidental immoderate Republican consultants. TPUSA held a lavish fundraising gala astatine Mar-a-Lago successful December 2019 that drew Donald Trump Jr and Republican governmental bigwigs, and Kirk’s cachet was palpable astatine the 2020 Republican convention, wherever helium gushed that Trump was “the bodyguard of occidental civilization”.

“Kirk and TPUSA beryllium their occurrence mostly to Don Jr and Kimberly Guilfoyle,” his woman and starring Republican fundraiser, said a seasoned enactment operative. “I would often spot Kirk and Don Jr hanging retired astatine the Trump edifice restaurant” successful DC, helium added, wherever large donors and lobbyists were ubiquitous during Trump’s presidency.

TPUSA and Kirk person capitalized connected their Maga ties to grow mode beyond their field roots wherever they initially carved retired a niche connected the close by attacking left-leaning faculty, who they placed connected a “watchlist”, and utilized field events to propulsion rightwing agendas.

But Kirk and TPUSA person recovered different avenues to grow. Salem Radio Network, a Christian close operation, present features the Charlie Kirk amusement daily, and TPUSA this twelvemonth launched Turning Point Faith to beforehand a civilization warfare docket and summation much supporters successful blimpish spiritual circles.

Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens spoke astatine  the University of Colorado Boulder field  successful  2018.
Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens spoke astatine the University of Colorado Boulder field successful 2018. Photograph: MediaNews Group/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images/MediaNews Group via Getty Images

Kirk is present a subordinate of the influential and secretive Council for National Policy, wherever blimpish governmental and spiritual leaders tin mingle with and deed up large donors astatine quarterly meetings.

The group’s adjacent ties to Trump generated much disapproval successful the run-up to the 2020 predetermination and afterwards, erstwhile Kirk promoted mendacious claims that Trump’s nonaccomplishment was owed to fraud.

Turning Point Action worked with astir a twelve different groups to enactment Trump’s 6 January “March to Save America” by bringing busloads of Trump allies to DC for the rally that preceded the Capitol attack.

Before the rally, Kirk boasted successful a tweet that Turning Point Action – and an allied group, Trump Students, that Kirk besides chaired – would bring “80 + busloads of patriots to DC to combat for the president”. Kirk predicted the lawsuit “would apt beryllium 1 of the largest and astir consequential successful American history”. Kirk’s tweet was rapidly removed aft the battle connected the Capitol.

Further, Kirk served earlier 6 January arsenic an Arizona constituent idiosyncratic for the Stop the Steal, the radical led by Ali Alexander which has been subpoenaed for documents and grounds by the House Select Committee investigating the Capitol insurrection and Trump’s efforts to overturn the predetermination results.

On 6 November, Kirk helped pb a Stop the Steal rally successful Phoenix that was 1 of galore specified events hosted by Trump allies that time protesting Biden’s triumph and spreading falsehoods astir fraud, arsenic the Center for Media and Democracy archetypal reported.

On different disinformation front, Kirk’s groups person been engaged this twelvemonth promoting falsehoods connected campuses and successful societal media astir vaccine mandates, efforts that the groups person utilized to rise funds and which person sparked disapproval from wellness experts.

Kirk wrote mendacious substance messages charging that Biden has sent “goons DOOR-TO-DOOR to marque you instrumentality a covid-19 vaccine”, arsenic the Washington Post archetypal reported.

Further, a Kirk non-profit ran alarmist and erroneous Facebook ads, which were seen millions of times, stating that the authorities has “NO RIGHT to unit you to inject yourself with an experimental vaccine,” and informing that successful effect to proposal astir shots “LOCK YOUR DOORS, KIDS!!”

Doctors warn, however, that Kirk’s fearmongering astir vaccines could jeopardize efforts to promote much young radical to get vaccinated, a connection that immoderate Republican leaders – including Trump – have, to varying degrees, besides endorsed.

In July connected the Tucker Carlson amusement connected Fox News, Kirk dismissed specified Republican efforts to spur much vaccinations arsenic “virtue signaling”.

A Kirk spokesperson has portrayed the group’s actions arsenic “pro-freedom” and “not anti-vax”.

But aesculapian experts accidental that’s a unsafe dodge.

“Despite Kirk’s patently misleading assertions that helium is simply an honorable broker of idiosyncratic freedom, helium is besides an unabashed promulgator of egregiously mendacious accusation astir the dangers of vaccinations. He astir apt knows better, but actively chooses to misinform,” said Irwin Redlener, who leads Columbia University’s pandemic esource and betterment initiative, successful an interrogation with the Guardian

In Arizona, Kirk’s groups person precocious been engaged flexing their muscles to assistance Trump-backed candidates for politician and caput of state, some of whom person been promoters of Trump’s oft disproven claims that helium mislaid the authorities owed to fraud, according to Arizona GOP sources and reports.

Admirers look   connected  arsenic  Donald Trump takes the signifier    astatine  a “rally to support   our elections” successful  July 2021 hosted by Turning Point successful  Phoenix, Arizona.
Admirers look connected arsenic Donald Trump takes the signifier astatine a ‘rally to support our elections’ successful July 2021 hosted by Turning Point successful Phoenix, Arizona. Photograph: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

A July rally successful Phoenix sponsored by TPUSA drew Trump and a fistful of gubernatorial candidates, including a section erstwhile Fox News celebrity, Kari Lake, whom Trump endorsed successful September and TPUSA and its governmental limb are backing.

“I deliberation the Trump squad is utilizing Turning Point Action to fulfill a captious grassroots portion of their strategy successful Arizona and astir apt nationally,” said Wes Gullett, a longtime Republican governmental advisor successful Arizona successful an interrogation with the Guardian.

Similarly, Chuck Coughlin, a seasoned Republican operative successful Arizona, said successful an interrogation that Kirk’s groups person taken connected roles that historically the enactment played. TPUSA’s power successful the authorities is underscored by its main operating officer, Tyler Bowyer, who was elected successful 2020 to beryllium the Republican authorities committeeman, helium noted.

“Turning Point is supplanting the accepted relation that the Republican enactment utilized to capable [by] recruiting caller members to articulation Turning Point, and past directing them to go Republican precinct committee members successful districts astir the state,” Coughlin said.

“It’s similar a country retired of the aboriginal Alien movies, wherever the parent alien takes implicit the full ship,” Coughlin added, predicting that “it’s conscionable a substance of clip earlier the GOP successful Arizona volition beryllium a pseudonym for Turning Point.”

Nationally, Turning Point Action successful 2020 made autarkic expenditures totaling $1.4m betwixt 20 August and 31 December successful failed efforts to assistance Trump decision Biden and to assistance decision 2 Georgia Democrats who won Senate seats.

According to a ailment filed successful March with the Federal Election Commission by the watchdog radical Crew, Turning Point Action failed to place donors, arsenic the instrumentality requires, for its expenditures, which included online ads and different governmental operations.

After Crew’s complaint, the radical amended 2 of their FEC reports and aboriginal responded to FEC letters raising akin concerns. The radical truthful acold has disclosed donors for conscionable nether $34,000 of their $1.4m successful 2020 autarkic expenditures. It’s unclear if the FEC has taken immoderate further action, a Crew property caput said.

Some GOP fundraising consultants person different worries astir TPUSA’s operations and taxation presumption fixed Kirk’s cheerleading for Trump.

“Some GOP donors interest that Kirk’s ostensible goals person been corrupted by spending truthful overmuch clip successful and astir Trump world,” the advisor said. “Further, radical are acrophobic astir the interaction of Kirk’s salient enactment for Trump connected his group’s taxation status.”

Despite the rising complaints Kirk’s operations are facing, TPUSA keeps expanding. In December it is readying to big a four-day “Americafest” successful Phoenix that volition diagnostic blimpish stars specified arsenic Tucker Carlson, Senator Ted Cruz and Representative Jim Jordan. But the biggest gully could good beryllium Donald Trump Jr, who is slated to attend.