Why Making Fun of Charlie Kirk Rules
If you’re not invested in college politics, you may be blissfully unaware of an organization called Turning Point USA. Turning Point is an “astroturf” (meaning forced, fake grassroots, an extremely good term for this) organization funded by the Koch brothers with the goal of making conservative capitalism “cool” on campuses, attempting to convince college Republicans that they’re oppressed and need to organize.
The “founder” and figurehead of TPUSA is Charlie Kirk, a lumbering, potato-shaped trust fund baby with the kind of face you can Photoshop a little bit smaller without anyone noticing. Their roster of attempts at a relatable millennial spokesperson also includes Tomi Lahren, a clone of Ann Coulter who escaped her incubation tube before she was finished, and Ben Shapiro, author of formulaically-titled books like Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth and Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear and Intimidation Silences Americans. Their “partners” include Prager University, a website that produces short, awful right-wing Internet videos, and the Ayn Rand Institute, an organization I flinched at the name of.
Turning Point is, pretty blatantly, an attempt by the super-rich to stop the rise of socialist ideas among the youth and teach kids who were born after Reagan destroyed the economy that his ideas were actually “hip” and “cool”. The premise alone is laughable, as it’s built on the longstanding conservative practice of shouting to anyone who can hear that they’re under constant attack from “sicko libs” and then blaming anyone who opposes them of “playing the victim”.
The thing that makes TPUSA so interesting, though, is the fact that they’re unbelievably bad at defending capitalism. Their Twitter is famous for accidentally owning itself at every turn, and yet they continue to try to crack the elaborate code of millenial meme culture and fill its sihlouette with libertarian ramblings. Sometimes this doesn’t go so well.
Most tweets from them are the same thing- A photo of about a dozen white kids holding snarky signs with images like a lookalike Bernie logo that says “Socialism Sucks” or a miscontextualized quote from a founding father.
Every Turning Point “meme” is basically the same- a square JPEG with someone standing to one side, looking smug, and a quote next to them. Most of the quotes are either “Debate me in the marketplace of ideas!” bullshit or Ricky Gervais-level “Accusing people of being offended makes us look stronger”. They range from banally stupid to intentionally inflammatory, relying on the concept that millennials will buy anything they see attached to an image.
These images, because of their formulaic nature, became endless parody fodder. Millennials who, first, actually know how to make Internet jokes, and, second, see right through Turning Point’s outdated, Koch-funded garbage, have been editing new quotes onto smug photos of Charlie and Tomi. This includes myself.
Much like how Turning Point’s real, earnest content ranges from merely dumb to intentionally offensive, so do the parody quotes:
A subreddit called ToiletPaperUSA is devoted to these images, and hosts thousands of fantastic dunks, some of which are so well-executed they become indistinguishable from real Turning Point arguments.
(A quick aside: The typeface TPUSA uses for all their branding is called Oswald Bold, and it’s available for free from Google’s font database, if you want your parodies to look and feel like the real thing.)
Their campus events, held by local chapters, are also prone to going hilariously awry. Last year, they unveiled something called the “Free Speech Ball” at a handful of colleges — a big beach ball where it was okay for a bunch of white college-republican chuds to write racist things, as a fun exercise in pretending straight white guys are oppressed on campus:
Within a week, the “Free Speech Ball” had been sabotaged — punctured and left to deflate by a culprit who was never found. Turning Point’s official news outlet fingered them as a communist (to inspire fear and resentment among people who loved the big racist ball?):
Other highlights of this fantastic article include repeatedly referring to the stabber as “Karl Marx”, explaining that TPUSA members called campus police “immediately” when they saw a hole in the ball, and the phrase “communist bookstore”, which is absurd because real communists only read redistributable PDFs:
Pryor also reported that the student in question wrote the “Latin phrase ‘sic semper tyrannus’ meaning ‘thus always to tyrants’.” That phrase was said by the Roman senate prior to stabbing Julius Caesar, as well as said by John Wilkes Booth before assassinating President Abraham Lincoln.
The YAL activists then tracked down the email address that the student left on the petition which happened to be the same email address used by the school’s communist bookstore, the Groundworks Book Collective. The activists located the vandal who referred to himself as ‘Karl Marx’ at the bookstore with his communist friends.
When the student saw the activists, he panicked and fled the scene, according to Pryor. The YAL surrounded all the exits, and the student was quickly detained by an off-duty campus officer nearby. ‘Karl Marx’ was then taken from the scene in handcuffs.
After the student left the scene, the activists quickly noticed that the mega beach ball was deflating near where the student had written his ominous expression of free speech. The students immediately called the campus police according to Pryor.
The official Turning Point website also hilariously features a “Donate” button, despite the fact that the organization is bankrolled by two of the ten richest men on the planet and student protesters are literally paid by the hour to attend events TPUSA orchestrates. That’s right, paid protestors are real, and they’re all conservative white college kids.
Their most famous stunt, perhaps, is what came to be known as “Diapergate”. In October of 2017, Turning Point activists at Kent State in Ohio held a demonstration against the “PC culture” concept of safe spaces. For some reason, they decided the best way to send their message was to make a bunch of adults stand around outside in diapers.
Unfortunately for the leadership at Kent, this brilliant and cutting demonstration was received poorly by the general public. As it turns out, wearing a diaper and drinking from a bottle while sitting on the sidewalk inside a plastic fence is a good reason for people to make fun of you. Tweets, posts and articles started rolling in, mostly just about how stupid this idea was. And as the wave of ridicule mounted, many of us held our breath to see how Charlie would react. Would TPUSA as a national organization double down, craft a tweet about how diapers “strengthen the free market”, and move on? Would they ignore it entirely?
As it turns out, we didn’t need to wait long. Charlie and the rest of the “leadership” at Turning Point disavowed Kent State, refusing to accept any responsibility for an idea it seems like they had and passed down. From an article on Right Wing Watch:
The leader of the Kent State chapter of the conservative students’ group Turning Point USA filed a public resignation and announced the dissolution of her chapter of the organization in response to what she believed to be Turning Point USA’s insufficient response to the public ridicule her group’s members faced after conservatives at her university were photographed at an anti-safe-space protest wearing diapers.
And from her resignation letter:
I was embarrassed to have been left alone to deal with the aftermath of the safe space event, and even lied about by Turning Point national. You two approved the event but took zero responsibility to save face for yourselves. Not only did I invite you to attend our entire free speech week, but you even told me you would help me apply for a grant for the event. I was also made aware by other Turning Point chapters under your watch that you were fully aware that Young Americans for Liberty members were the ones who dressed up as children, and that instead of putting the blame where it belonged, you not only distanced yourself from the event, but you let my chapter face the consequences of online harassment. I am appalled that national headquarters lied about, and put one of their own chapters under the bus just so they wouldn’t upset another organization…
I have realized how much of a shithole organization Turning Point USA is, and am glad I got out of this bullshit before I invested my whole life into it, let alone just my senior year of college. Now that I have a clear conscience and have no desire to continue my employment with Turning Point, I will have the time to find a real job, something I recommend for you. Maybe answering to business professionals rather than college dropouts, egotistic enough to put their face on stupid memes, will give you the leadership skills you desperately need for your positions.
Minutes after this letter was published, Turning Point at Kent State issued its final tweet:
Believe it or not, this isn’t even the most recent Turning Point freakout disaster. A few weeks ago, Charlie put out this gem:
It’s pretty much your run-of-the-mill Charlie take, attacking what he sees as a leftist-dominated nation (look around, my dude) and defending conservative students as “repressed”. It’s bad, but it’s not news. But then, Deadspin writer and Weird Twitter all-star Jesse Farrar responded with a now-deleted joke that earned him a week-long account suspension:
they shouldn’t do that. its not right. they should hold the conservative students heads under water until they stop breathing, instead.
-jesse farrar (@BronzeHammer)
It’s not clear if Turning Point’s reaction was because of their inability to understand jokes or their constant search for examples of “the evil left” to frame themselves with as victimized. Probably a mix of both. But within a day, Charlie was on Fox News railing against “death threats” from “evil liberals”:
I’m just going to drop in the actual Fox News video, which is an absurd staircase of increasingly insane threat-searching:
Here’s the last paragraph of the accompanying Turning Point article, which sounds like an essay about the Constitution a middle-schooler hastily wrote on the bus the day it was due:
Our fore fathers [sic] created the Bill of Rights to encourage Freedom of Speech. Freedom of Speech should include debate and healthy discussion. It should not be used to intimidate and suppress anyone’s first amendment right of freedom of speech. No one should have the right in the United States to use a right to take away a life from another. Death threats should not be condoned by anyone.
So, Turning Point USA is an organization that exists because the Kochs fear the youth, who want to separate them from their stolen wealth, and employs some of the most incompetent and absurd figures on the political landscape. But why does any of this make dunking on Charlie Kirk okay? Shouldn’t we attack the argument and not the man? Isn’t that the way of the true scholar?
There’s a principle of discourse that I learned from another Twitter favorite, Patrick Monahan. He says that everyone has the right not to be made fun of until they reveal themselves as awful, at which point everything is fair game. You can make fun of Donald Trump for his weight, or his dumb hair, or his bizarre complexion, because he doesn’t deserve the respect you’d give someone who was equally unattractive but didn’t sympathize with Nazis.
Charlie, Tomi, and the rest of the Turning Point “leadership” have waived this right as well, by running an organization that emboldens racism and oppression — real oppression, not imagined — in America. Charlie hates college because there’s too many black people there. Tomi keep her job by giving 4chan teens the notion that if they speak out against “the sicko libs” enough they’ll get closer to a woman. Turning Point is a garbage movement through and through, and deserves nothing more than to be ridiculed online forever.
If you had to defend them to the people they claim are being so mean, you could possibly offer one caveat: Making fun of Turning Point is absurd because, honestly, they don’t need the help.