Operations like Charlie Kirk’s Turning Point USA (TPUSA)—ostensibly a campus-conservative recruitment organization, though nowadays its scope and reach is much broader—have always played a critical role in the radicalization process that has transformed the conservative movement and the Republican Party into the far-right extremist bloc it is today. They are transmitters, bridgers of the gaps. They constantly commingle mainstream Republicans with white nationalists and other extremists until it’s impossible to tell the difference.
This was on full display this week at TPUSA’s annual conference in Phoenix, Arizona. On one hand, the speakers included mainstream GOP royalty like Tucker Carlson, Donald Trump Jr., Kari Lake, and Kimberly Guilfoyle. At the same time, it also featured Congresswoman Lauren Boebert of Colorado ranting at the audience about how the new Republican House is “going to take our country back” by “weeding out the Deep State”—not to mention far-right “thought leader” James Lindsay’s claim that “drag queens are a provocation” intended to inspire violence so that the LGBTQ community can have a “Drag Floyd.”
The gathering had both a flashy presentation and the veneer of mainstream Republicanism, enough that Politico’s report filed from the scene focused mostly on the GOP presidential horserace. Would young conservatives back Trump or Ron DeSantis? (Answer: Anybody’s guess.) But the gathering’s overall thrust, in speaker after speaker, was an extended wallow in conspiracism and anti-liberal (they call it “anti-woke” now) eliminationism.
Boebert’s antic presentation was a faux-exuberant, strangely robotic rant claiming, among other supposed calamities, that America had just endured a recession. “But here’s the good news,” she said:
The Great American Comeback is on! House conservatives have been given the great responsibility to govern! And we’re going to make y’all proud. We’re going to make America proud! We are going to weed out the Deep State, and that includes the sorry Department of Injustice! We are going to take our country back! We will not relent! We will not retreat! We are moving forward! Forward from a place of victory! We are going to put America first! God bless you!
Right-wing pundit Michael Knowles also had a stark message aimed at eliminating liberals and their pernicious influence, complimenting Elon Musk “for banning all those liberals last week. It was great. I loved it. I want to see a lot more of it.” Later in his speech, he was more explicit, talking about “protecting our community” from drag queens:
Certain things can be settled. They must be settled if our society is going to do anything at all. We do not need to tolerate drag queen story hour. We do not need to tolerate leftists bullying and intimidating and doxing us. We do not need to tolerate the lies and the fraud constantly being peddled by the liberal establishment. We do not need to tolerate it, and we should not tolerate it. There is nothing hypocritical about encouraging good things and discouraging bad things. That is called common sense. That is called protecting our community. That is called politics. And it is long past that conservatives started doing that again.
The centerpiece of the America Fest’s extensive Monday lineup, though, was a panel featuring TPUSA’s founder, Charlie Kirk, with former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, podcaster Tim Pool, conspiracy theorist Luke Rudkowski, and Lindsay. They too were all over the drag-queen story hours. Rudkowski claimed they were part of a “spiritual war”:
If you guys don’t believe in God, you have to understand, the powerful people in charge, they believe in something. There’s a reason they go to the Bohemian Grove, there’s a reason they hang out with Marina Abramovich and do spirit cooking. There’s a reason they hang out with all these devil worshipers and satanists and they do horrible things on private islands that we can’t speak about on this show. So there is a spiritual war happening right now whether you can deny it or not. It’s happening and it’s here.
Lindsay in particular had a specific theory: They were part of an LGBTQ/leftist conspiracy to provoke violence from angry right-wing extremists in order to claim victimhood and thus advance their evil agenda.
I think this is that unconventional warfare. This is what they do in unconventional warfare. They make these provocations. Drag queens are a provocation. It's been an escalating provocation.
This is an unconventional warfare tactic to provoke. The goal—you guys remember George Floyd, the goal is to have Drag Floyd. And I'm serious, this is deadly serious.
Pool claimed that “family-friendly” events often featured lewd displays and behavior. Lindsay said he “called them ‘groomer schools’,” which he notes got him booted from Twitter. He also mentioned that he’s back on Twitter (“Thanks Elon!”)—but remained focused on his point:
Unconventional warfare, political warfare, this mid-level violence provocation is so critical to understand, because they're giving you a choice.
They put a drag queen, “Oh, it’s just a story. Oh, it's just dancing.” And what you're going to do is you're going to give in, at which point they're going to enter into their generate—generative themes, educational method into living queerly, strategic defiance. This is straight out of their literature that they say is the real goal of drag queen story hour, "We're going to leave a trail of glitter that will never come out of the carpets" is the last sentence in that paper—talking about your kids' brains. And then either you give into it and they get to do that, or you go too hard and you mess up and they make a video of you looking bad, and then they start trying to smear you as an anti-groomer, or as rising anti-LGBT hate. This is a thought-terminating cliché so that people don’t think about it. ‘Oh that’s bad, don’t think.’ Don’t ask questions, just stop and say to the person ‘that’s bad.’
And the goal is to get you to give in so they get their way or overreact—and that's where I say "Drag Floyd," it's so important to understand that they want a drag queen to get attacked and they want to make a huge amount of hay of it and they want to create summer 2020 again off of a drag queen or a trans person or something like this.
Meanwhile, what are they peppering the environment with? This is called, in unconventional warfare, operational preparation of the environment—it used to be operational preparation of the battlefield. That’s why the intelligence community being involved in this is so critical—they know this stuff.
And what are they doing? “Oh, stochastic terrorism.” Stochastic terrorism. Stochastic terrorism. “Everyone who talks about this is a stochastic terrorist. It’s only a matter of time until the violence. And what do all the articles do? They wrap it up, they’re like: Oh, James Lindsay, Tim Pool, Jack Posobiec, all these people, they’re saying ‘groomer,’ Marjorie Taylor Greene, saying ‘groomer,’ Lauren Boebert, ‘groomer’. These people are gonna cause violence, they’re gonna have—it’s stochastic terrorism.” And then what are they gonna do?
This kind of message from the right has been consistent throughout the campaign of eliminationist rhetoric—the kind that scapegoats whole populations of people by demonizing them, which is an essential element of stochastic terrorism—directed at the LGBTQ community since this spring, falsely and recklessly labeling them “groomers”. That message always boils down to: Your existence makes people violent—and that’s your fault.
Fortunately, all this was couched in the context of a convention that was heavy on older right-wing figures, and any message aimed at recruiting young people seemed muddled at best. In the 2022 midterms, the very large youth vote ran heavily Democratic. Gatherings like this reflect some of the many reasons why.