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Thursday, December 2, 2021

George Floyd was a scumbag: how a right-wing provocateur uses race to reach Generation Z

MANKATO, Minnesota – Charlie Kirk stood 80 miles from the scene of George Floyd’s murder, faced the vast majority of white onlookers and announced he was going to say things, “no one dares to say it out loud.”

This was followed by an avalanche of libel and rebutted claims about Floyd, the black man whose death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer sparked widespread recognition of racial injustice and widespread calls for change. But the white conservative agitator had the opposite point of view: Floyd was a “bastard”, he said, unworthy of attention.

The insult to Floyd, a 46-year-old father suspected of issuing a counterfeit $ 20 bill, must have been shocking. But no one who knows Kirk should be surprised. Over the years, the conservative provocateur and his group, Turning Point USA, have created the following racist and resentment. Kirk flourished during the presidency of Donald Trump – he spoke at the Republican National Convention in 2016 and 2020 and occasionally advised Trump on campaign messages and tactics.

Now, the 28-year-old is expanding his options as he tries to rally the next generation of resentful white conservatives. While touring college cities, he blows up schools and local governments for teaching racism in a confrontational style that some call dangerous. However, Kirk attracts large crowds of millennials and Gen Zers, millions of online followers and donations, often without media attention.

Kirk strikes fear into a group of people who come of age during a period of social unrest, said Nekima Levi Armstrong, an attorney and civil rights activist based in Minneapolis.

“It takes the grievances that some people may feel and combines it with racial animosity, which is a dangerous recipe for a country still in the midst of racial unrest,” she said.

Like many leading Republicans, including Virginia’s elected governor Glenn Youngkin and Trump, Kirk seized on opposition to critical racial theory. The once obscure academic framework has been transformed by conservatives into a generic term for inclusiveness, diversity, and systemic racism in the United States.

Kirk’s answer is a free K-12 alternative curriculum, described as the key to “reliable, honest, and quality America-centered education,” and is aimed primarily at homeschooling parents.

This is just one offer on Kirk’s popular conservative content portal for dating young people online. There are also dozens of podcasts run by Kirk and other conservative figures, and a List of Professors to designate educators “who discriminate against conservative students and promote leftist propaganda.”

Turning Point Live is a 3-hour streaming talk show targeted at Gen Z and featuring host John Root, who is in his 20s. Recent guests include Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, both Republicans.

And a bunch of souvenirs: “Buy merch. Save America, ”the site suggests.

Turning Point USA’s online audience is vast and growing. On average, over the past three years, it received an average of 83,000 unique visitors per month, but, according to the company Similarweb, last year the average rose to 111,000 per month. That’s more than three times the website traffic of conservative radio host Laura Ingram over the past year.

This traffic is driven in part by at least a dozen social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, which together have over 10 million online followers.

The money for Kirk’s nonprofit network followed the traffic.

Turning Point USA is a 501c3 non-profit organization, which means that contributions are tax deductible and donors are not disclosed. But in 2019, the last year for which tax reporting is publicly available, Turning Point USA raised more than $ 28 million, according to IRS reports. That’s almost double what he raised in 2014, the first year of his tax-exempt charity.

While Turning Point USA is not required to disclose its donors, some are foundations set up by wealthy conservatives who report their donations to the IRS on their annual tax returns. The incomplete list looks like a list of conservative megadonors, including foundations associated with the late megadonor Foster Friss and the Wichlein and Bradley families, which also help fund leading conservative political groups such as the American Council of Legislative Exchanges, the Cato Institute, and the Federalist Society.

Kirk is also leading a fundraising team specifically dedicated to political advocacy. This group, Turning Point Action, has endorsed several congressional candidates for 2022. The list includes Joe Kent of Washington, Catalina Lough of Illinois, Anna Paulina Luna of Florida, and Max Miller of Ohio – all candidates who ran against GOP members who voted for Trump’s second nominee. impeachment.

Kirk has demonstrated the ability to anticipate the outrage of the moment.

He rushed to attack the closure order at the dawn of the pandemic and then falsely claimed Trump won the 2020 election. He attacked Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, blamed the rise in violent crime on efforts to free police departments, and months before Youngkin seized on his parents’ resentment in Virginia, Kirk turned to a critical racial theory.

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“He works within the Trump movement. It is a good barometer of what the Republican right wing thinks can get away with, ”said Michael Hayden, a spokesman for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit group that tracks far-right figures and organizations.

Turning Point USA was included in the list of 11 groups participating in the “March to Save America” rally that preceded the deadly uprising at the US Capitol on January 6. Days before the rally, Kirk bragged on Twitter about sending buses full of patriots to DC to fight for this president. ” He later deleted the tweet.

Online payments to Turning Point’s website have skyrocketed in the wake of the riot, which may track the frequency of online payments, but not the amount, according to Similarweb.

Kirk is not one of more than a dozen rally organizers summoned to court by a special committee of the House of Representatives investigating the siege of the Capitol. A spokesman for the committee did not comment on whether Kirk was interviewed or contacted by the committee.

Kirk, who hasn’t responded to interview requests, hasn’t made headlines lately. However, an event in Idaho caught attention last month when a man shouted from the crowd, “How many elections are they going to steal before we kill these people?”

Kirk responded by denouncing the comment, but blaming the left: “They are trying to get you to do something that will be violent, which will justify the seizure of your freedoms and freedoms.”

Raised in Arlington Heights, a high-income suburb of Chicago, Kirk became active in politics at a young age, volunteering in middle and high school for political campaigns. His rapid growth began shortly after high school, when he dropped out of Harper College, a community college in the Chicago area, to pursue political activities and co-founded Turning Point USA with Chicago area tea activist and mentor Bill Montgomery.

Kirk’s “Exposing Critical Racism Theory” tour has contributed to recent stops in Alabama, Idaho, Michigan, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and Vermont. Last month, he assembled a ballroom at a convention center in Mankato, Minnesota, Tuesday night for about 600 people — mostly teenagers and college students.

Once a prairie agricultural center south of Minneapolis, Mankato has evolved into a diversified mini-metro. Minnesota State University, food businesses, and the Mayo Clinic subsidiary campus are attracting immigrants from Africa and Latin America, while the black population is growing steadily.)

For 90 minutes, Kirk spoke directly to an almost entirely white crowd and told them that the radical left wants to be ashamed.

“Just because you’re a white person doesn’t mean you have to start apologizing for how God created you,” he said.

He reiterated the widely debunked allegations of Floyd’s criminal record and suggested that the cause of Floyd’s death was a drug overdose, not murder, as the medical examiner found out.

Rep. Jim Hagedorn, a local Republican Congressman, was in the audience and later said in a Facebook post that he “enjoyed being present” and hearing Kirk “discuss the need to stand up and defend America and our founding principles.”

Riley Carlson, coordinator for the Turning Point USA campus in Minnesota, said she knew little about critical race theory prior to the event.

“We’re just glad Charlie is here to explain it,” said an elder from St. Michael, a Minneapolis suburb. “There are so many different ways to look at this. And I’m looking for where I stand on it. “

Kirk’s message is hard to sell to most young people. Roughly 60% of voters under 30 said they believed racism was a very serious problem in the United States, according to AP VoteCast, a poll of more than 110,000 voters in the 2020 election. This is the largest percentage among all surveyed age groups.

Trump, meanwhile, lost 30 percentage points to younger voters last year, VoteCast shows.

“Fueling the shrinking base is a serious problem,” said John Della Volpe, director of polls at the Harvard Kennedy School of Politics and an expert on young voters.

But it shows Kirk has his finger on the pulse of conservative anger, said Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow at the liberal People for the American Way.

“Fear of critical race theory seems to have really come to the fore in the messages of the groups I watch,” he said. “There was a turn towards this, and Kirk showed wisdom about the promised fundraising force.”

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