Until the day of the “Exposing Critical Racism Tour” event sponsored by Turning Point USA, no one knew the location for the event. Headlining would be TPUSA’s fascist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, sexist founder, Charlie Kirk. Kirk is known for being a COVID conspiracy theorist, math and fetus expert, and all around dipshit. The event was first scheduled to take place at UVM and was cancelled after students protested the organization’s presence. After a cancellation by the Hilton Burlington (which told VTDigger it never had contact with Turning Point USA), the event’s page on Eventbrite listed the event location as “TBA” until securing the DoubleTree by Hilton in South Burlington. The Rake Vermont applied for press passes through the event website and received no response. We went anyway to see who exactly comprised Kirk’s audience in Vermont.
Almost all of the event hall’s 400 seats were filled. The demographic was decidedly not college aged, supposedly TPUSA’s target audience. Turning Point USA aims to foment conservative values at high school and college campuses and “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote freedom.” But according to Trey Cook, chair of the UVM Young Democratic Socialists of America, “there was a much larger presence of college-aged kids in the YDSA opposition than there [were] for Turning Point.” He added, “I would say the average age there was probably like 40…thankfully there was not a big campus support for him.”
Kirk told the audience that they had waited to publicize the address of the event because local activists were attempting to “cancel” him. “[T]he first hotel we had, came under a very targeted campaign from certain people that didn’t want us to be here in Burlington,” he said. His advice to these protestors? “Go explore scripture.”
The “Exposing Critical Racism Tour” is a part of the newly launched “Turning Point Faith” initiative that aims to “play offense with a sense of urgency to win America’s Culture War,” organizing within existing church communities across the country to access pulpits and youth groups with their extremist rhetoric. With Kirk aging out of the college demographic, and perhaps not captivating a large enough audience to make a meaningful difference in the eyes of his wealthy donors, TPUSA has turned to a tried and true right-wing base: churchgoers, and in particular, those of the evangelical persuasion.
In Vermont he finds that audience in part from Ignite Church in Williston, which Kirk visited in June of this year. At the DoubleTree event Kirk made sure to mention Ignite’s head pastor, Todd Callahan, multiple times as the co-organizer of the event. We can only assume that Callahan’s congregation contributed many of the supportive attendees.
As for his speech, Kirk vomited hyperbolic conservative talking points, ranging from hating “woke” big tech companies to touting the benefits of Ivermectin. In response to being called a fascist, he called leftists authoritarian, for protesting. He praised Vermont’s small businesses. He mocked his opposition’s mask wearing. It bears mentioning that Kirk’s mentor and TPUSA co-founder Bill Montgomery died from COVID in 2020, and TPUSA subsequently deleted anti-mask tweets.
Cook said that while Kirk’s speech in Vermont was purportedly about critical race theory (CRT), it was more about self-help. Cook explained that “instead of saying ‘these systemic issues are hurting you,’ the answer is ‘no, all you need to do is go to church, be virtuous, don’t drink, don’t take handouts, pick yourself up by the bootstraps, and respect yourself instead of continuing to come up with problems.’”
Kirk preposterously claimed that we “live in the least racist country in the world,” insinuating that we don’t need to talk about race in schools at all in the United States. While talking about Critical Race Theory, Kirk called it a “cousin to eugenics,” claiming that CRT is in itself racist and promotes segregation. Kirk also claimed that a national resurgence of segregation in our schools directly corresponds with an increased prevalence of CRT, highlighting “black only” dormitories at Western Washington University as an instance of racial segregation to be abhorred.
In reality, POC affinity spaces have been specifically created to support POC in higher education and to combat racism on college campuses; they are welcomed and appreciated by students. There may be a demonstrable increase of racism and segregation at the educational level, but researchers don’t link it to CRT; they link it to systemic racism and socioeconomic inequality. Kirk, however, misses the point and sees something that empowers Black students as harboring “the very sin of segregation that we worked so hard to eliminate in the 1960s.” He added,“[W]e need to stand against it.” This was just another example of how Kirk, like his fellow right-wingers, love to misappropriate the Civil Rights movement.
Kirk’s culture war rabble-rousing provides a useful distraction to even those offended by Kirk, especially those in power. More broadly, the particular danger of Kirk seems to be not in his unfactual hyperbolizing, but rather in that he ends up being a “scarecrow” for establishment Democrats and liberals: If we are perpetually upset about what people like Kirk are saying, which is so outlandish and intolerable, then we will never engage with legitimate political rhetoric or change.
Democrats love to use Kirk and those like him to fearmonger amongst the more radical sections of the left and to preserve the capitalist political binary. They use them as examples of why we shouldn’t be “extremists,” why we need to “work together” and “get out the vote.” This falsely implies that the Democrats still have any semblance of radicalism or interest with or for the working class. The Dems are just as, if not more, alarmed by radicals, socialists, and Marxists as they are by Kirk and his Nazi youth-esque followers.
Toward the end of the event the fire alarm was pulled, heard only in the hallway of the conference center. Kirk went on answering questions, blissfully unaware. The moment felt distinctly and uncannily metaphorical: What was really happening materially and physically all around this macabre political theatre was happily unknown to all those engorged with the spectacle happening inside.
With additional reporting by Matt Moore.