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Know Anyone Who Thinks Racial Profiling Is Exaggerated? Watch This, And Tell Me When Your Jaw Drops.

This video clearly demonstrates how racist America is as a country and how far we have to go to become a country that is civilized and actually values equal justice. We must not rest until this goal is achieved. I do not want my great grandchildren to live in a country like we have today. I wish for them to live in a country where differences of race and culture are not ignored but valued as a part of what makes America great.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Allegations of Racial Bias and Illegal Campaign Activity at a Conservative Nonprofit That Seeks to Transform College Campuses | The New Yorker

A Conservative Nonprofit That Seeks to Transform College Campuses Faces Allegations of Racial Bias and Illegal Campaign Activity

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Documents and former employees reveal troubling issues at a charity that touts its close relationship with the Trump family.Photograph by Melissa Golden / Redux

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.

As Turning Point’s profile has risen, so has scrutiny of its funding and tactics. Internal documents that I obtained, as well as interviews with former employees, suggest that the group may have skirted campaign-finance laws that bar charitable organizations from participating in political activity. Former employees say that they were directed to work with prominent conservatives, including the wife of the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in aid of Republican Presidential candidates in 2016. Perhaps most troubling for an organization that holds up conservatives as the real victims of discrimination in America, Turning Point USA is also alleged to have fostered an atmosphere that is hostile to minorities. Screenshots provided to me by a source show that Crystal Clanton, who served until last summer as the group’s national field director, sent a text message to another Turning Point employee saying, “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE. Like fuck them all . . . I hate blacks. End of story.”

Clanton, who resigned after serving as the group’s second-highest official for five years, at first declined to comment. “I’m no longer with Turning Point and wish not to be a part of the story,” Clanton told me over e-mail. Later, in a second e-mail, she said, “I have no recollection of these messages and they do not reflect what I believe or who I am and the same was true when I was a teenager.”

John Ryan O’Rourke, the former Turning Point employee who received the text messages from Clanton, requested that the messages “not be used in any article or background information concerning Turning Point” and declined to comment on them. Kirk said in an e-mail that “Turning Point assessed the situation and took decisive action within 72 hours of being made aware of the issue.” Soon after, Clanton left the organization.

While Kirk served as the public face of Turning Point, Clanton, its former field director, acted as its hands-on boss, according to former employees. In a 2016 book that Kirk co-authored with Brent Hamachek, “Time for a Turning Point: Setting a Course Toward Free Markets and Limited Government for Future Generations,” he described Clanton as “the best hire we ever could have made.” He called her “integral to the success of Turning Point while effectively serving as its chief operating officer.” He added, “Turning Point needs more Crystals; so does America.”

Former Turning Point employees say that the organization was a difficult workplace and rife with tension, some of it racial. Gabrielle Fequiere, a former Turning Point employee, told me that she was the only African-American hired as a field director when she worked with the group, three years ago. “In looking back, I think it was racist,” she said. “At the time, I was blaming myself, and I thought I did something wrong.” Fequiere, who now works as a model, recalled that the young black recruits that she brought into the organization suddenly found themselves disinvited from the group’s annual student summit, and that when she herself attended, she watched speakers there who “spoke badly about black women having all these babies out of wedlock. It was really offensive.” (Kirk, through a spokesman, denied that any such incidents occurred, and said, “These accusations are absolutely baseless and even absurd.”)

Fequiere said that Clanton fired her on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, on the grounds that she was not performing her job well. “I was the only black American employee they had, and they fired me on M.L.K. Day—it was so rude!” Fequiere told me. She added, “I felt very uncomfortable working there because I was black,” but she said she had seen white employees mistreated, as well. “My Democratic friends had told me that some Republicans didn’t care about the poor and minorities, and I thought it wasn’t true, but then I found the people they were talking about!”

Speakers at Turning Point events on various college campuses have been accused of going out of their way to thumb their noses at ethnic and cultural sensitivities. The conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, for instance, whose appearance Turning Point co-hosted with the College Republicans at the University of Colorado, in Boulder, said that despite being gay, he hated “faggots,” lesbians, and feminists, who, he said, “fucking hate men.”

In an effort to mock campus opposition to hate speech, members of the Turning Point chapter at Kent State University staged a protest last fall in which they appeared on campus wearing adult diapers and sucking on pacifiers while proclaiming “Safe Spaces are for Children.” The protest stirred widespread ridicule, and Kirk’s spokesman said that he disapproved of the display and later issued guidelines against other chapters repeating it.

Kirk grew up in Wheeling, Illinois, and was an Eagle Scout; in a 2015 speech to the Conservative Forum of Silicon Valley, he said that his “No. 1 dream in life” was to attend West Point, but the slot he considered his went to “a far less-qualified candidate of a different gender and a different persuasion” whose test scores he claimed he knew. (Kirk said he was being sarcastic when he made the comment.) An older acquaintance encouraged him to forgo college and launch a conservative analogue to the progressive advocacy group Kirk acknowledged in an interview that it is something of an irony that he heads an organization devoted to waging political warfare on campuses when he never actually attended college himself. “I joke that I wasn’t smart enough to go to a four-year school,” Kirk told me, although he noted that he continued his studies at a community college.

MoveOn, however, has one part set up as a super PAC, and another as a 501(c)4 “social-welfare group,” both of which are legally allowed to engage in political elections. It also has a policy of disclosing the names of anyone contributing five thousand dollars or more. In contrast, Turning Point is a 501(c)3 charity. This means that, unlike MoveOn donors, Turning Point donors can take tax deductions for their contributions and remain anonymous. In exchange for these benefits, however, the Internal Revenue Service strictly prohibits charities such as Turning Point from engaging either directly or indirectly in political elections.

Several former Turning Point employees told me in interviews that they felt they were asked to participate in activities that crossed lines drawn by campaign-finance laws for groups like theirs. Payden Hall, who worked for Turning Point during the 2016 Presidential campaign, told me that Clanton, who was her boss, e-mailed her at her Turning Point address to make arrangements for her to coördinate with Ginni Thomas, the wife of the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, to help Ted Cruz’s Presidential campaign. “That’s where the ambiguity began,” Hall recalled. Soon after, she said, Ginni Thomas, who was supporting Cruz’s candidacy and is on Turning Point’s advisory council, left a voice message for Hall and her sister, who also worked for Turning Point, saying that she was sending two hundred Cruz placards to them to distribute in the coming Wisconsin Presidential primary.

Audio: Listen to Ginni Thomas’s voice mail.

“Crystal gave Ginni Thomas my private mailing address without my permission,” Hall recalled. “They gave out employees’ personal information to the wife of a Supreme Court Justice.” The next thing she knew, she said, hundreds of Cruz placards arrived at her home. “We threw them out,” Hall said. She was a Cruz supporter, but, she says, “We wanted to volunteer on our own terms, not to give in to pressure from a boss. I felt that if it wasn’t crossing a legal line, it was crossing a professional one.”

Trevor Potter, a former Republican commissioner on the Federal Elections Commission who is the founder and president of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan campaign-finance-law watchdog group, said that Turning Point is barred from aiding political campaigns. “Under the law, a 501(c)3 can’t engage in political action or give anything of value to a campaign, including students, or the names of students,” he said. “If what Turning Point USA was doing was helping Republicans on campus and feeding them to campaigns, that’s a political operation, and it sounds as if it crosses the line.”

Reached by phone, Ginni Thomas declined to comment. Clanton’s lawyer, Robert Grabermann, said that if she e-mailed Hall “at her TPUSA email address, it was an honest oversight and sincere mistake on Ms. Clanton’s part. Ms. Clanton categorically denies using TPUSA resources to aid any political campaign activities. She fully understands the 501 (c)(3) guidelines, and has on many occasions consulted with legal counsel to ensure that all personal campaign involvement was compliant with 501 (c)(3) rules.”

Susan Walker, who worked for Turning Point USA in Florida, in 2016, told me that the group did aid Republican political campaigns. Walker said that a list she created while working for Turning Point, with the names of hundreds of student supporters, was given without her knowledge to someone working for Marco Rubio’s Presidential campaign. “That list had, like, seven hundred kids, and I worked my ass off to get it,” she said. “I had added notes on every student I talked to, and they were all on it still.” The Rubio operative, she added, “shouldn’t have had that list. We were a charity, and he was on a political campaign.”

E-mails and interviews from other former Turning Point employees in South Carolina and Ohio showed crossover between Presidential-campaign work and work for the charity, as well. In South Carolina, a chain of e-mails shows, Kirk asked a Turning Point USA employee to round up students to support Cruz at the behest of two officials with a pro-Cruz super PAC. In a January 25, 2016, e-mail, Drew Ryun, a Turning Point advisory-council member who was helping run one of the pro-Cruz super PACs, asked Kirk to get another Turning Point employee to “send” the super PAC “as many kids as possible.” Ryun, a former deputy director of the Republican National Committee, explained that he needed “as many kids as you can generate for a WSJ piece on efforts in” South Carolina. After Kirk agreed to help, the e-mail thread shows, Kirk coördinated with Dan Tripp, Ryun’s associate at the pro-Cruz super PAC, who headed its operations in South Carolina and is the founder and president of Ground Game Strategies.

“Yes!” Kirk answered Tripp when asked for help from Turning Point. “What part of SC?”

“Greenville, Spartenburg or Anderson Counties,” Tripp replied.

“Time of day and how long?” Kirk asked.

“I’m thinking 2 hours late Sunday afternoon. Canvassing, training and pizza,” Tripp responded.

“You got it, will recon shortly,” Kirk e-mailed back. Kirk explained that a Turning Point employee in South Carolina named Anna Scott Marsh would be the point person, and added that “Anna will be helping. Let’s rock this!”

Soon after, e-mails show, Marsh, the Turning Point employee, promised to round up the requested recruits. “Sending something out tonight, and will send you a list hopefully tomorrow . . .  I’m sure we can find some solid students here.” Marsh declined to comment about her e-mails.

Asked about these practices, Kirk referred me to a statement from his lawyer, Sally Wagenmaker: “Turning Point USA works diligently to comply entirely with all relevant laws and regulations governing not-for-profit organizations. Turning Point USA focuses on fiscal conservatism, free market economics, and related student education and advocacy, all completely within applicable Section 501(c)(3) legal constraints.”

Ryun confirmed that the exchanges occurred, but said that Kirk e-mailed him “via his personal e-mail and on his personal time!” Tripp, too, confirmed the e-mails, but said, “We welcomed many volunteers to our efforts and were grateful for their support. It would be quite troubling if campaign finance rules were interpreted to prevent conservative volunteers from exercising their right to be involved in the political process.”

In a phone interview, Kirk declined to identify the donors who have supplied his group’s eight-million-dollar-plus annual budget, noting that many prefer to remain anonymous. But Kirk has spoken and fund-raised at various closed-door energy-industry gatherings, including those of the 2017 board meeting of the National Mining Association and the 2016 annual meeting of the Independent Petroleum Association of America. In our interview, Kirk acknowledged that some of his donors “are in the fossil-fuel space.”

Kirk’s ties to fossil-fuel magnates are controversial because Turning Point has helped organize opposition on campuses to students calling for schools to divest from fossil-fuel companies. Turning Point distributed a guide for college students with a foreword by Kirk, titled “10 Ways Fossil Fuels Improve Our Daily Lives.” In it, he argues, “Across the nation, college students are clamoring for their campuses to divest from fossil fuel . . . students are indoctrinated to believe the myth that fossil fuels are dirty and renewable energy is a plausible alternative . . . ” Turning Point, which also runs an online “Professor Watch List” that targets professors it believes are liberal, blamed “leftist professors” in its booklet for having “perpetuated” these “myths.” In the interview, Kirk told me that “We think targeting fossil fuels is rather unfair, and it is not really in the best interests of the universities to favor one type of political agenda over another.” It’s a message that “went great,” he said, when he delivered it at energy-industry meetings.

Last May, The Chronicle of Higher Education published an investigative report on what it called Turning Point’s “stealth plan for political influence.” The story recounted accusations on multiple campuses that the group had funnelled money into student elections in violation of the spending caps and transparency requirements set by those schools. It detailed how student candidates backed by Turning Point had been forced to drop out of campus elections at the University of Maryland and Ohio State “after they were caught violating spending rules and attempting to hide the help they received from Turning Point.” It also quoted Kirk saying in an appearance before a conservative political group in 2015 that his group was “investing a lot of time and money and energy” in student-government elections. (In the story, Kirk denied any wrongdoing and said it was “completely ludicrous and ridiculous that there’s some sort of secret plan.”)

A copy of a Turning Point brochure prepared for potential donors that I obtained provides a glimpse into the group’s tactics. (A former Turning Point employee said the brochure was closely held, and not posted online so that it couldn’t leak.) Its “Campus Victory Project” is described as a detailed, multi-phase plan to “commandeer the top office of Student Body President at each of the most recognizable and influential American Universities.”

Phase 1 calls for victory in the “Power 5” conference schools, including the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big Ten Conference, the Pacific 12 Conference, the Big 12 Conference, and the Southeastern Conference. Phase 2 calls for winning the top student-government slots in every Division 1 N.C.A.A. school, of which it says there are more than three hundred. In the first three years of the plan, the brochure says, the group aims to capture the “outright majority” of student-government positions in eighty per cent of these schools.

Once in control of student governments, the brochure says, Turning Point expects its allied campus leaders to follow a set political agenda. Among 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. Turning Point’s agenda also calls for the student leaders it empowers to use student resources to host speakers and forums promoting “American Exceptionalism and Free Market ideals on campus.”

Today, Turning Point claims to have a presence on more than a thousand college campuses nationwide, and to have “a stronger, more organized presence than all the left-wing campus groups combined.” Kirk told me his group had started three hundred new chapters in the past year. The Campus Victory Project brochure names more than fifty four-year colleges and universities where it claims the group helped effectuate student government victories in the 2016–17 year, including the University of California, Los Angeles, Syracuse, Purdue, Michigan State, Wake Forest, and the University of Southern California, and it names a hundred and twenty-two more schools whose governments the group hopes to “commandeer” in Phase 2. The brochure notes that completing the task will take money: specifically, $2.2 million.

Kirk, in his interview, denied that any of these funds would directly pay for students’ campaigns. “We do not directly fund any of these candidates,” he said. Instead, he explained, “We will support them through levels of leadership,” including training and what he called “leadership scholarships.”

The prospect of “dark money”—contributions from anonymous donors to national ideological groups—flowing into campus elections has alarmed some students. “Students were outraged that our elections were being influenced from outside,” Danielle Di Scala, who last year was vice-president of the student government at Ohio State University, said. “I’d never seen that before, but it’s starting to be a trend. The problem,” she told me, “is it can price some student candidates out of the market when others are getting money from groups with unlimited funds.”

Andy MacCracken, the executive director of the National Campus Leadership Council, said he worries that campus elections are “particularly vulnerable” to outside money, “because there aren’t really any standard rules.” MacCracken says it’s been “shocking to see how much of an operation there is from Turning Point,” adding that “there’s really nothing comparable that I’m aware of from left-wing groups.” The push, he suggested, reflects a recognition on the part of conservatives about the future value of student leaders. “I can totally imagine they’re thinking that if we can win this on campuses, they will be the thought leaders down the road. This is a way to win it efficiently at the start. The challenge, though,” he says, “is that so much of this is in the dark.”

A Glimpse into Turning Point USA’s Tactics

Allegations of Racial Bias and Illegal Campaign Activity at a Conservative Nonprofit That Seeks to Transform College Campuses | The New Yorker

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