Charlie Kirk doesn’t really seem to mind white nationalism

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In 2012, Charlie Kirk deferred his acceptance to Baylor University to found Turning Point USA and establish himself as a young conservative whisperer who could convince his peers of the wonders of capitalism. In early 2016, the organization’s website argued that through “non-partisan debate, dialogue, and discussion, Turning Point USA believes that every young person can be enlightened to true free market values.” But as the group grew and set up more campus chapters, TPUSA was forced to adapt as Donald’s Trump’s reactionary brand of populism took over the Republican party. Kirk responded by spreading the MAGA gospel himself, traveling from school to school epically dunking on any liberal students who tried to spar with him during Q&A.

But during question sessions on his 2019 campus speaking tour, Kirk repeatedly found himself facing critics from the right. Groypers—what acolytes of Nick Fuentes, the young white nationalist, call themselves—showed up to pepper him with thinly veiled white supremacist, Christian nationalist, and homophobic questions, sometimes even using explicitly Nazi terms. In what became known as the “Groyper Wars,” Fuentes would watch livestreams of the events, and egg on his followers, who even published guides on 4chan and in the neo-Nazi website, The Daily Stormer, on how to properly troll a Kirk Q&A: “Dress nice, be polite, remain calm, cool AND DO NOT ASK QUESTIONS RELATED TO [the Jewish question].” 

At the time, Kirk was irritated, but did not yield and refused to be dragged to the right by the Groypers’  leading questions. But more recently, Kirk appears to have shifted, embracing racist and white nationalist rhetoric and figures with little hesitation. In the past year, he’s hosted far-right and white supremacist figures on his podcast and has tweeted in support of whiteness, earning praise from white supremacists who have long campaigned to mainstream such rhetoric.

In October, he invited veteran white supremacist Steve Sailer, whose bonafides include writing for overt white nationalist publications including VDare and the Unz Review, on his podcast. During their interview, Kirk called Sailer his favorite “noticer”—a word frequently used in internet conservative spaces as a euphemism for individuals willing to publicly draw bigoted conclusions linking race and criminality. Sailer did exactly this during their conversation, insinuating that Black people commit crimes because of innate characteristics: “Blacks tend to commit murder about 10 times as often per capita as whites… it’s not just all explained by poverty.” 

“Steve, what you’re doing is so important,” Kirk gushed.

In January, Kirk hosted Curtis Yarvin, a neo-reactionary, anti-egalitarian who has described slavery as “a natural human relationship” and argued the biological roots of intelligence vary between populations. (He has tried to walk such claims back.) While Kirk seemed uncomfortable when Yarvin’s expressed his affinity for monarchy, he mostly remained effusive and praised his guest for “thought-provoking ideas” that “I love.” 

Others associated with Turning Point USA are also giving voice to white supremacist positions. In a tweet last week, right-wing internet figure Jack Posobiec, a TPUSA contributor with his own history of ties to white nationalists, slammed Nikki Haley’s financial backers as “rootless cosmopolitans,” an established antisemitic euphemism, while arguing the same “monied class” wrote the recent failed immigration bill. When asked for comment, TPUSA spokesman Andrew Kolvet pointed to a tweet about a pro-Israel event that had been hosted by one campus chapter.

Turning Point USA founder and president Charlie Kirk during a visit to Texas State University in San Marcos.
Shutterstock Turning Point USA founder and president Charlie Kirk during a visit to Texas State University in San Marcos.

Just a few years ago, Kirk was not the type of conservative who would give space to far-right figures like Yarvin and Sailer. His Twitter feed focused on espousing the neoliberal conservatism that had been the dominant strain of right-wing ideology since Reagan. While Turning Point USA went viral for touching third rails on race—as one chapter did in 2017 for an “affirmative action bake sale” offering differently priced baked goods to different races—they often retreated, firing employees or excising members who went too far into extremism. In 2019, for example, the organization severed ties with a student ambassador after she appeared in a photo with white nationalists.

But today, Kirk and his organization no longer seem to care. Indeed, they are starting to say the kinds of things that they used to cut ties with people over. Jared Holt, a researcher at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue who focuses on hate and extremism, has noticed the organization’s increasing willingness to go there. “You’d see them dip their toe in it,” Holt said. “They would talk about demographic shifts, but say it was about voter turnout, instead of it being about a White America. At some point, it seems like they gave up doing that.”

Kirk’s Twitter feed has matched this shift. Between 2016 and 2019, Kirk sent dozens of tweets praising “free markets,” calling them a “cure to poverty,” which brings “out the best in individuals,” the thing that “built our cities,” and so on. These tweets fizzle out by 2020. In that same time period, he tweeted about whiteness just once, in response to a 2018 New York Times story, when Kirk seemed to affect a form of racial blindness in response to an article on white women’s privilege, by complaining that “the left is obsessed with race” and that the Times writer’s use of the term “whiteness” was “highly racist.”

But in the past year, Kirk has shifted from fetishizing free markets to fetishizing whiteness, authoring tweets on how “whiteness is great,” that there is an undeniable “War on White People in The West,” and about various innovations like “[o]wning property” and “[a]bolishing slavery” that he claims “you can thank the White European for.” If you search Kirk’s tweets for mentions of “white,” you’ll find a similar transition. Prior to 2020, the majority are mentions of the White House. After 2020, they tend to refer to white people or rail against perceived instances of “anti-white” bias.

The far-right has been approvingly watching Kirk’s overtures. His tweets praising whiteness and European heritage are often mobbed by gleeful replies from Groypers claiming victory for their racist politics. Fuentes himself even reposted Kirk’s “War on White People” tweet to brag about how it was “a testament to how thoroughly Groypers have taken over the conversation.” And in January, Jeremy Carl, a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute—a think tank that has tried to provide intellectual ballast to the far-right—tweeted in praise of Kirk’s platforming of Sailer and Yarvin, saying that Kirk, “arguably the most influential leader for young conservatives, is quietly expanding the range of voices that can be heard on the mainstream right and its great to see…”

Kirk’s sway with young conservatives is harder to parse than Carl suggests, but his reach is certainly far wider than those of people like Fuentes—even if the Turning Point base lacks the Groypers’ reverence and fervor. But despite his prominence, it might be better to see Kirk not as an influencer, but as a window into shifting right-wing permission structures.

“TPUSA has very deep pockets, which makes them adopting this rhetoric more consequential than your random internet personality shock jock,” Holt said. Indeed, if someone as reliant on right-wing mega-donors and as connected to the top of the party as Kirk is can say these things with little internal pushback, it’s probably because the bigwigs are fine with it in private. (Turning Point USA took in some $80 million in donations last year, a 20 million increase from 2021. Kirk purchased a $4.7 million estate in Scottsdale, Arizona in 2023).

February 26 2020: Charlie Kirk, Turning Point USA speaking to attendees at CPAC 2020
Shutterstock Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA speaking to attendees at CPAC 2020.

The year before the Groyper wars, Kirk faced a similar public humiliation when he interviewed Tucker Carlson at a Turning Point USA conference, and the then-Fox News host spent most of the 50 minutes mocking Kirk for his free-market tendencies. When Kirk tried to establish that it is “not the state’s role to incentivize or de-incentivize individual behavior,” Carlson laughed at him and dryly said “hilarious.”

“If you start with these inflexible theories,” Carlson said minutes later, talking about Kirk’s libertarian-esque rejection of regulation, “you wind up where are now: in a country where a small number of people are taking all the spoils and you guys are shafted.”

“Tucker, we’re not getting shafted,” Kirk responded. Carlson cocked his head back and laughed. The crowd laughed with him. Online, commenters crowed. “Embarrassing effort Charlie,” one wrote. “Nationalism really throws both leftists and rightists for a loop. Great job by Tucker as always.”

Kirk might have spent that day arguing back. But this June, Kirk hired Blake Neff, who had spent years as a key producer and writer on Carlson’s Fox News show, helping spread his nationalist politics. “Anything he’s reading off the teleprompter, the first draft was written by me,” Neff once boasted, before he resigned from Fox in 2020 after he was caught having posting misogynistic, homophobic, and racist content to an online forum. 

According to Media Matters, Kirk welcomed Neff to Talking Point USA during a live stream, saying “we’re honored to have Blake on our team—he’s great.”

Last springRolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson documented Kirk’s growing appreciation for Christian Nationalism. But since then, Kirk has gone beyond that already extreme ideology to make his recent overtures to racists on the right. The reasons behind Kirk’s ideological drift are unclear. He may be reacting to changes among young GOP supporters; many campus conservatives—the audience he’s built a career claiming to represent—have also shifted to the right; last year, I was able to find roughly 30 schools where Fuentes followers had taken over once mainstream conservative student groups. 

Andrew Kolvet, a spokesman for both Kirk and Turning Point, insists Kirk is not a white supremacist, nor is he making overtures to them. “We reject the darkness of those [far-right] movements. It’s negative and anti-human,” he added, before defending TPUSA’s record. “It’s critically important for observers to not conflate a legitimate and forceful pushback against radical Marxism with White Nationalism.”

Similarly, Kolvet argues Kirk’s praise of whiteness is justified by the term being “used as a pejorative” by “certain professors” and others on the left. 

Kolvet waved off Kirk’s conversations with people like Sailer and Yarvin as an example of being “willing to engage with forbidden topics…He’s not endorsing everything they believe.”

“Kirk might have agreed with everything Sailer said that interview,” he added, “but Sailer has also written a ton of things. It’s not a wholesale endorsement of everything he has written.”

Even if you’re uninclined to take him at his word, Kolvet is correct about at least one thing: Kirk is not the vanguard of the far-right. But as a political operator, he sees value in adopting more of their positions—and the why doesn’t much matter to the outcome. Either way, it moves the window of acceptable discourse to a space more favorable for extremists. I told Kolvet this. He disagreed.

This article first appeared on Mother Jones. It has been republished with the publication’s permission.

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