How America’s conservative youth movement grew a powerhouse on the cult of rage

(RNS) – Polls show that young Americans are more liberal than older Americans. But over the past decade, Republicans, helped in many ways by white evangelicals, have invested heavily in creating a controlled youth movement that is good for boys. young women – especially college students – to the right.

Kyle Spencer, a longtime journalist who has reported on education for the New York Times and Politico, has now written a book on the effort. “Raising Their Rights: The Untold Story of America’s Ultraconservative Youth Movement and its Plot for Power” examines the key players and their strategies.

The book traces the movement through the school’s tabling of events, excellent training, beautiful meetings and the embrace of leadership. It paints a picture of a powerful, powerful force that has grown increasingly violent, confrontational and, often, incendiary. Spencer gives many examples of communication strategies using “insults” and the gotcha game. There is an “Affirmative Action Bake Sale” (Asians: $1.50; Caucasians $1, African Americans and Hispanics $.50), “Teacher Care” and doctor’s videos on liberal behavior.

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Leading this movement are Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk and talkshow host Candace Owens (and, to a lesser extent, libertarian organizer Cliff Maloney). In his book, Spencer describes their history, their capacity for self-support and their rapid rise to the mainstream of Republican politics. Kirk and Owens have become rivals of President Trump’s inner circle. They then supported Trump’s Big Lie campaign, becoming the shock troops for disinformation after the election. Turning Point USA sent some 350 people to Trump’s speech at the Ellipse on January 6, where he urged his supporters to go to the Capitol because Congress has confirmed the 2020 election. (Kirk, who was not there and said he did not support the protest at the Capitol, however said the protesters’ anger was understandable.)

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Kirk and Owens were raised in Christianity and publicly and publicly embraced the evangelical identity. Kirk founded TPUSA Faith, whose mission is to “unite, develop, and empower Christians to change the course of our country.” His podcast airs on Christian radio station, Salem Media.

RNS spoke to Spencer about his book and what the growth of young conservatives will be in the future. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How did you get into this?

I’m out and about in college and I’m starting to come across young gun-rights activists who are tabling and pushing for laws on campus. When you talk to them they say they do this on their own. I just don’t believe that. I started looking at budgets and annual reports. And look, I’ve seen the NRA and the National Firearms Association of America spend billions of dollars in college for gun laws. Then, I think, if the gun rights groups are doing this, are the conservative groups. I see pro-life groups, anti-climate groups, libertarian groups. They all spent lots and thousands of dollars to go to college. Then I went to the Headquarters, which is the clearing house for all these groups. That’s where I learned how they did it.

Kyle Rittenhouse, right, is introduced to supporters by Charlie Kirk, center, founder of Turning Point USA, at a panel discussion at Turning Point USA America Fest 2021, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021, in Phoenix.  Group discussion, called "Kenosha On Camera," comes a month after Rittenhouse's conviction in the Kenosha shooting death in 2020. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Kyle Rittenhouse, right, is introduced to supporters by Charlie Kirk, center, founder of Turning Point USA, at a panel discussion at Turning Point USA America Fest 2021, Monday, Dec. 20, 2021, in Phoenix. The meeting, titled “Kenosha On Camera,” comes a month after Rittenhouse’s decision to indict in the Kenosha shooting death in 2020. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Did Charlie Kirk go through the programs?

I’m not sure if he studied there. But everyone who works for him has passed through the Directorate. They bring the mentors to their meeting, their school. They are really embedded in these groups.

How did Charlie grow up believing?

His family went to church, and in high school he attended a local evangelical church. He admires Joel Osteen and quotes him and recommends him to friends. He told people early on that he would not have sex until marriage, and that he was not an alcoholic. His faith is central to his understanding of how the world works or should work. Some of his first donors, Allie Hanley and (the late Wyoming businessman) Foster Friess, were very religious. He knew very early on, the evangelicals were a good source for him. Turning Point USA looks like a religion, but inside the organization the majority are Christians. Eventually Turning Point moved to Arizona, and then the organization was led by Tyler Bowyer, who is Mormon, and now there are many Mormons working for Turning Point USA.

Where do their tactics of anger and criticism come from? Does the Leadership Institute teach that?

The Leadership Institute’s goal is to win and do whatever it takes to win. Criticizing and mocking and making fun of college students are baked into the style and ideas of winning hearts and minds. That has always been the case. The thing with Trump is that he gets bad and encourages kids to be bad. It makes people see their inner bully and capitalize on it. It’s rooted in anger and frustration that college students don’t feel like they belong or aren’t heard. Then they showed, OK, here’s a way you can fight back. Find fun for them. They tell them to arm their phones. Every time you see a bad performance, get it on video. We will fix and whip it. The Leadership Institute has a publication called Campus Reform, which is a vehicle to push this idea that college administrators don’t have free speech.

Are the tactics ever related to their beliefs?

They say we are in a holy war. If you are in a holy war, the end justifies the means. Radicalism is the way to do this. Your way of life is very risky, this world is very dangerous, you have to fight it in every way you can.

Health activist and political activist Candace Owens speaks during a press conference on the Ellipse at the White House on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, in Washington.  (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Health activist and political activist Candace Owens speaks during a press conference on the Ellipse at the White House on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

How important was faith to Candace Owens growing up?

His grandfather and grandmother raised him, and they were very religious. They read the Bible on the table. He dropped out of college and left and moved to New York. He let his faith fall by the wayside. He picked them up again when he joined the power management. He tells the story of Liberty University. There is a video showing his fall from grace and his rebirth, and it is very difficult. He started to cry. Later she married a very religious man, George Farmer.

You wrote that neither Charlie Kirk nor Cliff Maloney had a very high opinion of Trump in the first place. They changed their mind in a kind of opportunistic way, right?

One thing that Trump gives people is a lot of access. As long as you don’t lose with it, you get a lot of benefits. No entry fee, just your soul. You don’t need a lot of law or knowledge. That is alluring. Also, Republicans fell in line. They are not comfortable with authoritarianism and hierarchy. They follow their leader. They see political leaders as ships. If you think about it, it can be very forgivable.

What is strange is that for all their college careers, neither Charlie Kirk nor Candace Owens has a college degree.

Charlie talks all the time about how college is a waste of money and a waste of time. He thinks if you want an engineering or law degree that’s fine. But if you want to get a liberal arts degree, don’t. College is a scam. It helps professionals pay more. The class is unfair. The student body stood up and refused. He described them as “islands of discontent.”

You describe the meetings of the young people who were taken care of as unbelievable events, where you find corks in the bathroom and drink 20-somethings at the pool. How did they evolve?

When the conservative movement, it is understood that people need to talk to each other. The youth group started having their own forum, too. In the last 10 years they have become the party’s worst. As the conservatives became more famous and worked to create their own shadow Hollywood, they began to see these events as a way to push out the famous and the own and turn them into Lollapalooza festivals for the law. The energy is very intense. They will enter these long lines to meet Rudolph Giuliani or Dinesh D’Souza. They lied to these people. People talk like politicians. They got a crazy room. They are a kind of concerts and motivation.

You say in the book that Charlie has his own ambitions.

I don’t know if he wants to be the next Rush Limbaugh or the president of the United States. But his ambitions know no bounds. We’re not done with Charlie Kirk. He’s gone. It just might be important to the story of Republicans in America.

About: Poll: Nearly half of Americans think the United States should be a Christian country


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