What Is Turning Point USA And Why Are Iowans Concerned About It?


By Ty Rushing

April 11, 2022

Turning Point USA, a far-right student organization, is branching out to Iowa middle and high schools.

This expansion includes new chapters in Mason City Johnston, and Pleasant Valley.

Some parents in the Johnston School District recently spoke out against the group, which held a kickoff attended by school board members Deb Davis and Clint Evans, and Republican state Reps. Eddie Andrews, Mark Cisneros, and Jeff Shipley. Davis and Evans also signed the 1776 Pledge, which sparked a student-led protest in Johnston.

Turning Point’s Johnston chapter garnered local controversy when it launched an Instagram page that featured a number of photos some people found objectionable. One group photo featured a student holding a sign that says “No Matter What My Teacher Says I’ll Always Love America,” implying that Johnston teachers hate the country. This also comes at a time when Iowa politicians are introducing numerous bills targeting educators.

TP USA Johnston IG

Lya Williams, a spokesperson for the Johnston Parents for Equity and Anti-Racism, said it was shocking that a Turning Point chapter was started in Johnston.  She views it as a direct attack on the work her group and the high school’s Community of Racial Equity Club (CORE) are doing to feel more comfortable in a district that is increasing in diversity but is still overwhelmingly white.

Turning Point hasn’t become officially sanctioned by Johnston yet, although the administrative report for the April 11 board meeting recommends approving the group.

By now I’m sure you’re wondering why any of this is a big deal, so let’s get into it!

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First of all, what is Turning Point USA?

Ahhh, that’s a great question. So Turning Point USA is a far-right student organization dedicated to building the “most organized, active, and powerful conservatives grassroots network on high school and college campuses across the country.” Turning Point’s website does not list its chapters, but it self-reports having more than 1,000 in all 50 states. Turning Point was founded in 2012 by Charlie Kirk, a conservative commentator who thrives on being the “devil’s advocate” guy. 

Sounds like a typical political operation. Why would parents be upset about a new student organization?   

Well, it’s not exactly a run-of-the-mill student organization say like Debate Club or Science Club, which are among the 80-plus existing clubs at Johnston High School. Turning Point USA has a bit of history with scamming, spreading misinformation, targeting college professors and school board members they disagree with, and racism. You can’t forget the racism!

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OK, that’s a broad stroke. Can you give some examples?

Sure! Let’s start with scamming. While Turning Point USA has a long history of scamming, the Washington Post dropped a story recently about the organization’s plan to create a K-12 online school that would generate $40 million a year at its peak. The plan imploded after employees at the firm Turning Point planned to partner with revolted against the union.

Also, Turning Point is a tax-exempt nonprofit with some questionable accounting practices, something ProPublica did a deep dive on. You can even buy a $30 “Let’s Go Brandon” T-shirt in the colors of your favorite college team if you visit the Turning Point USA online shop!

Hmmm, well what about misinformation? 

Another Washington Post article, from 2020, noted Turning Point paid young conservatives—including minors—to post misinformation about coronavirus numbers and mail-in ballots. On a related note, NBC News reported that Facebook—I refuse to call it Meta—had to take down hundreds of fake accounts tied to Turning Point via a marketing agency named Rally Forge. I’m sure you can guess what kind of comments those fake accounts were posting. Rally Forge was paid $531,198 by Turning Point for “digital education” services, according to Turning Point’s 2020 tax filing.

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How does Turning Point target professors and school boards?

Starting in 2016, Turning Point really focused on those *sarcasm alert* pesky liberal professors on America’s college campuses who spend their whole class period—no matter the subject—reading Karl Marx and telling students America is bad. Turning Point created a “Professor Watchlist” to “unmask” those radical professors including a few in Iowa.

As the debate about the nonexistent teaching of critical race theory blew up across the country, Turning Point created a “School Board Watchlist” for the sake of “protecting our children by exposing radical and false ideologies endorsed by school boards and pushed in the classroom.” Eight Iowa school districts are on the watchlist, which includes contact information for each board member and their photo.

How is that targeting? Anyone can look up school board members and college professors?

True, but some—including people on the list—say the list is used to intimidate and silence voices who don’t view the world exactly the way Turning Point wants them to view it. Some list recipients have even received death threats and academics of color make up a huge portion of the watchlist despite only occupying a small sliver of academia.

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Let me guess: This is where you bring up the racism?

It is.

Fine, I’ll listen, but I swear you people say everything is racist.

I appreciate your consideration, so I’ll make it snappy! Much like the scams, there is plenty of evidence on this: Kyle Kashuv, Turning Point’s former high-school outreach director, left the organization on his own but was fond of dropping the N-word slur a lot. He also didn’t seem to like Jewish people either.

Turning Point’s former head of the University of Nevada Las Vegas chapter was caught on camera saying “white power” and using racist slurs, the former national field director texted another Turning Point employee “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE. Like fuck them all . . . I hate blacks. End of story.” Her replacement also had a history of using the N-word and F-word slurs quite regularly.

These are just a few examples. Media Matters actually keeps a running tally of racism linked to the group.

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But none of those people work for Turning Point anymore! In fact, some were fired!


Also, none of the people you mentioned are Charlie Kirk. He seems pretty alright!

He’s smarter than a lot of the people he hires so Charlie rarely just comes out and directly says something a person less experienced with racism would find racist—unless you count going to Minnesota to call George Floyd “a scumbag.”

Instead, Charlie does a lot of the race provocateur stuff which gives him room to wiggle out of an accusation. He likes asking “questions” and dropping the thinking face emoji on Twitter.

Also, the Turning Point USA official Facebook page is just full of memes criticizing COVID vaccines, downplaying racism and saying it is only used by leftists because they don’t know how to argue. Also, there are plenty of digs at Chicago, a longtime favorite boogeyman of disingenuous conservatives.

In case you don’t want to click the links, here’s a few of those memes:

It just sounds like you just don’t know how to debate. I need more evidence of Charlie being racist!

Sorry. So, sometimes Ole Chuckles does just reach for that racism brass ring rather than letting the bigotry hang in the air:

But Charlie doesn’t even say the N-word!

You got me there.


by Ty Rushing

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  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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