Charlie Kirk’s attempt at creating a young conservative movement, called Turning Point USA, has long had a complicated relationship with the youth-oriented, white nationalist alt-right. This week, it became a lot more complicated.
Kirk’s long-planned “Culture War” speaking tour ran into a blizzard of white nationalist, paleo-conservative, and homophobic trolls on Tuesday on the Ohio State University campus in Columbus. During a question-and-answer session featuring Kirk and black gay conservative Rob Smith, those trolls plagued their hosts with relentless questions about immigration, gay rights, and white nationalism that clearly demonstrated that Kirk’s attempts to separate his would-be youth movement from the alt-right are not working.
One questioner asked: “How does anal sex help us win the culture war?” Another asked: “Can you prove that our white European ideals will be maintained if the country is no longer made up of white European descendants?”
One young man, wearing a red MAGA ball cap and a pro-Israel button, mocked Kirk in classic alt-right fashion by ironically speaking as though he were an ardent supporter of TPUSA’s philo-Semitic positions, and then concluded by urging everyone to Google a notoriously anti-Semitic white-nationalist meme about “dancing Israelis.”
Kirk attempted to push back against the trolls (“I find that to be a racist question,” he responded at one point) but shouts of derision and boos could be heard throughout the affair. Afterward, Kirk and TPUSA denounced his alt-right interlocutors, and Kirk went on the syndicated radio show of former White House adviser Sebastian Gorka the next day to “reject the vile anti-Semites.”
Kirk, of course, has no one to blame but himself for the company he has kept. An old adage is handy here: Lie down with dogs, get fleas.
An organization that claims to have chapters at more than 1,000 colleges, TPUSA’s ties to the alt-right date back to its earliest days organizing on campuses around the nation in 2014-16, thanks largely to Kirk’s fondness for inflammatory far-right rhetoric friendly to white nationalist sentiments, such as his insistence that white privilege is a myth: “They’re trying to discredit good ideas and good arguments, just because you’re white, and that’s ridiculous,” he liked to say.
Bloomsburg University professor Wendy Lynn Lee collected a “bibliography” that documented, as the Southern Poverty Law Center described it, “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.” The publication of the piece resulted in Lee being viciously attacked by the alt-right on social media and elsewhere.
A New Yorker exposé similarly revealed that the organization was indulging in shady “dark money” operations on some campuses, and was looking the other way when it came to ugly expressions of racism within its ranks.
After at least one campus chapter disbanded and several of TPUSA’s most prominent figures—including gun activist Kaitlin Bennett and black conservative Candace Owens—left the group, Kirk began working to distance the group from the alt-right. A chapter president from Las Vegas was prominently booted from TPUSA this spring after a viral video of him surfaced in which he screamed “White power!” at the camera.
In the past year, Kirk and TPUSA have begun threatening activists and others who describe the organization as “alt-right” with libel. He’s also promoted the work of Smith, a black gay man whose presence has roiled many conservatives, even despite his rabidly far-right, pro-Trump pronouncements attacking liberals.
All this distancing has resulted in an internecine war on the far right between the alt-right and the alt-lite. While more mainstream figures like Gorka have weighed in supporting Kirk, the unapologetically white nationalist alt-right—including many TPUSA members who were radicalized into believing anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant conspiracy theories through the organization’s community—have begun organizing to attack Kirk and other conservatives who are deemed too friendly to Jews, gays, and immigrants.
The leader of this charge has been a leading alt-right figure named Nick Fuentes—who, besides hosting a popular podcast titled America First, and before that co-hosting the Nationalist Review podcast with white nationalist James Allsup, was best known for denying that he was a white nationalist by embracing white nationalism:
“Maybe it might be descriptive to call somebody a white nationalist, I think it sort of loses something when an average person hears that and it’s almost synonymous with Nazi or villain or whatever. And so, I would say I’m a white person, I’m conscious of my white identity, conscious of nationalism, but I think in a way it’s almost redundant that you’re a ‘white’ nationalist. We know that the word ‘nation’ almost implicitly talks about ethnicity and biology.”
Fuentes has taken to Twitter in recent weeks to challenge Kirk to a debate for what he considers TPUSA’s embrace of liberal politics. Fuentes reported Tuesday that he had been refused entry to Kirk’s Ohio State event, surrounded by security officers, and escorted out.
Nonetheless, his name kept coming up among the audience members who lined up to ask questions of Kirk and Smith during the Q&A session. One asked Kirk specifically why Fuentes had been excluded, and Kirk responded incoherently. Then there was the MAGA-hatted troll with the “I [Heart] ISR[ael]” button, who proceeded to mock Kirk:
“What a racist question that was! OK, I got a quick and fun, lighthearted question for you, Charlie. So I know you gave a speech in Jerusalem earlier this year. Were there any awesome, fun dance parties that you had afterwards, because I heard that Israelis are some of the best dancers in the world. I mean, if you guys don’t believe me, just Google ‘dancing Israelis.’ It’s insane how good their dance moves are. Would you agree or disagree with that?”
Kirk smirked back, and responded by simply saying he thinks Israel is “a beautiful country,” to which the interlocutor added ironically, “That’s right, they’re our greatest ally.” Then he added, with the mic out of his hands: “Debate Nick Fuentes or you’re a coward.”
[The “dancing Israelis” video to which he was referring is a notorious anti-Semitic conspiracy theory claiming that Israeli Mossad agents were “dancing” in celebration after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.]
There were multiple similar questions that pushed white nationalist ideas, including the young man who got up and read his question:
“According to the US Census Bureau population projections, in 2045, whites will account for less than 50% of the population in the United States. Given that the Democrat Party’s politics do not point to the maintaining of our ideals, and given that most groups other than whites overwhelmingly vote Democrat, how can we be sure that said ideals will be maintained when millions of immigrants come in with majority Democratic support. Can you prove that our white European ideals will be maintained if the country is no longer made up of white European decedents? … If not, should we support mass legal immigration?”
When Kirk responded by calling this question “racist,” there were shouts from the audience, and the bad mood continued to simmer throughout the remainder of the Q&A. It reached its apex when another notable white nationalist figure named Patrick Casey—who introduced himself as “an American nationalist, an America First patriot”—got up and grilled Kirk:
“You do run TPUSA and TPUSA did remove its relationship with Ashley St. Clair—and all she really did was take a picture with Nick Fuentes, she was in the same room, so my question to you, Charlie, is: as someone who purports to be pro-debate, -free speech and the exchange of ideas, do you support blackballing people based on having controversial opinions or being even in the same room when a photograph is taken with someone who has controversial opinions? And the second part of the question is, if the answer is no, will you debate me on immigration, identity and demographics?”
Kirk declined to debate Casey, who in fact is much more than merely an “American nationalist.” He took over the reins of the explicitly white nationalist organization Identity Evropa earlier this year, and rebranded it as the “American Identity Movement,” without altering its underlying tenets or membership one iota.
Andrew Anglin, editor/publisher of the explicitly neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, explained to his readers how deniability was built into all these public expressions of support for white-nationalist beliefs: “If you say any of the things said in OSU on Tuesday night, you can just say ‘no of course I’m not an ALT-RIGHT NEO-NAZI RACIST WHITE SUPREMACIST, I’m just an America First nationalist and MAGA supporter.’”
Rob Smith, for his part, participated in TPUSA’s public pushback. He tweeted: “They’re not what this movement is about, and should be called out like the scum they are.”