Sun 12 July 2020

Last week saw the launch of the UK division of Turning Point USA, a grassroots organisation dedicated to educating students and other young people on the values of free markets, limited government and personal responsibility”.

Turning Point USA has become as notorious for its hard-line conservative views as its social media presence. It deploys a plethora of low-grade, often baffling memes and videos complaining about ‘leftist narratives‘.

It drives attention towards itself with these memes, alongside a more traditional real-world presence in the form of conferences, campus events and publicity stunts.

Turning Point USA… claims to be a grassroots student movement but is funded a small number of rich individuals.

Founded by Trump supporter Charlie Kirk, Turning Point’s self-stated mission is to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government”. It claims to be a grassroots student movement but is funded a small number of rich individuals.

Turning Point USA is a wealthy organisation, counting a large number of incredibly wealthy right-wing businessmen and women among its donors. These include Foster Friess, a billionaire with close ties to the Koch Brothers, and the Ed Uihlein Foundation which gave it $275,000 between 2014 and 2016.

Richard Uihlein, president of the foundation, is a Republican mega-donor who spent upwards of $26 million during the 2016 election cycle and has been described as a “free-markets, smaller-government crusader”. The group also has close ties to the National Rifle Association, with representatives from the gun-lobby organisation speaking at campus events organised by Turning Point USA.

The organisation is also no stranger to controversy. In 2016, Turning Point USA launched ‘Professor Watchlist’ a website aiming to “expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom”. The watchlist became an immediate source of controversy with comparisons drawn to McCarthy-era blacklisting tactics.

They have also promoted on campus appearances by controversial right-wing figures like Sebastian Gorka and Milo Yiannopoulos, and have been accused of tolerating racial bias, illegal campaign activity, sexual harassment, and spreading fake news about political opponents

Turning Point targets academics who criticise Donald Turmp

This week Turning Point UK tried to launch a similar pseudo-grassroots young conservative movement on campuses over here in Britain.

On Saturday morning, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, as well as Paul Joseph Watson, editor-in-chief of the conspiracy theory and fake news website Infowars, tweeted about the organisation within an hour of each other, helping to generate some much-needed buzz.

The concerted push of politicians and social “influencers” suggests they had been approached by the new venture simultaneously as part of a combined launch effort.

Watson said that “the left is terrified of [Turning Point UK] and their work has barely even begun.” Since then, other Conservative MPs have publicly backed the organisation.

The concerted push of politicians and social “influencers” suggests they had been approached by the new venture simultaneously as part of a combined launch effort.

So who’s running things over at Turning Point UK?

Chairman George Farmer, a former Bullingdon Boy who works at his father’s investment fund, is engaged to one of the directors of Turning Point USA. In 2018, Farmer dined with the Prime Minister at an exclusive Tory Leaders’ Group event. He has also donated almost £100,000 to the Conservative Party since 2017. Farmer was recently out socialising with Paul Joseph Watson, which may explain the latter’s timely tweet about Turning Point UK on Saturday.

Another of the Turning Point UK team is Darren Grimes, who was fined by the Electoral Commission last year for channelling hundreds of thousands of pounds for Vote Leave’s Brexit campaign in breach of electoral spending limits.

Also on board are Guido Fawkes reporter Tom Harwood and Steven Edginton, who describes himself as being “in association” with the shadowy Taxpayers Alliance.

The social media backlash against Turning Point UK has been swift and merciless. Dozens of parody accounts and fake regional divisions sprang up over the weekend, creating a chaos of misinformation, tone disparity and general confusion.

Accounts pretending to represent Turning Point chapters in Manchester, London, Bristol, Stornoway, Belfast, Liverpool and dozens of other cities, towns and universities appeared. There is even a Turning Point Hogwarts.

As each of these accounts accused one other of being fake while espousing on-brand Turning Point talking points and retweeting official media, it became almost impossible to distinguish parody from reality. Turning Point UK couldn’t even get its hands on the Twitter handle @TurningPointUK as that’s already taken by a highly respected and well-established charity.

If Turning Point’s backers are willing to take a significant financial hit for a sustained period of time there is a slim chance this astroturfing effort could take root and actually begin influencing minds.

But the question remains: who is willing to make such a big investment in British student politics. And why?

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