Turning Point USA has attracted figures like Eric Trump, sitting with Charlie Kirk aboveWIKICOMMONS/ GAGE SKIDMORE

The arrival of the controversial right-wing student group Turning Point in the UK was met with widespread mockery. A batch of fake Turning Point accounts emerged on Twitter, some even causing confusion by accusing the genuine account of being the imposter. However, humour can only go so far in confronting a group which has a sinister and extensive influence in America.

Without an official chapter, Turning Point has, mercifully, struggled to get off the ground in Cambridge. Instead, Turning Point Cambridge has its own parody account which has lambasted the group as a ‘racist, capitalist, white supremacists organisation’. The Cambridge Union decided not to hold a debate involving two Turning Point leaders, who were set to frame the right (presumably themselves) as the defenders of free speech after Turning Point broke their agreement about inviting specific opposition speakers. Turning Point has, however, officially launched in eight other UK universities, including in Oxford under the guidance of a Bullingdon Club member. So far, it still looks laughable.

Of course, humour can be an effective weapon against the far right, particularly when the subject of derision is as absurd as Turning Point. There is much to mock. For example, they frame their movement as a response to ‘cultural Marxism’ on university campuses, which are described by leader Charlie Kirk as ‘islands of totalitarianism’, whatever that may mean. This hyperbolic critique of apparently dystopian campus culture reads almost as a parody of itself.

“The ridicule of Turning Point may not be enough to prevent it gaining momentum”

Despite this, jokes cannot be the only effective response to the group’s trans-Atlantic migration. Failure to confront the group for its attempts to recruit UK students would be gross complacency. A complacency that cannot be afforded in light of the recent rise of the right across the world, personified in figures such as Victor Orban, Jair Bolsonaro and, of course, Donald Trump. Behind the farcical appearance of Turning Point, something more sinister is at play.

The comparison of this right wing movement to McCarthyism is an obvious one. Turning Point USA even has a ‘Professor Watchlist’ of academics who they accuse of spreading left-wing and ‘anti-American’ views, although their offences are often as simple as criticising Trump or arguing in favour of gun control. Even at the earliest stages of its development, a response to this method of intimidation was to poke fun: the watch list was soon infiltrated by fictional characters such as ’Professor Albus Dumbledore’.

As much a good dose of sarcasm may have ameliorated some of the effects of these shock tactics, Turning Point’s campaign did lead to abuse being directed towards academics on the watch list. Some of those listed reported receiving a barrage of abuse from Turning Point supporters, such as Professor Danielle Allen who wrote an article for the Harvard Crimson. Clearly, the claims that the organisation defends free speech on campuses are an example of bare-faced duplicity. Turning Point’s attacks on supposedly ‘radical’ college professors seem to reveal more about the paranoia of these activists than any trace of a Marxist conspiracy.

Turning Point does little to resolve the tension between this attack on academic freedom and their own criticisms of no platforming, but this is the least of the problems with the group. Even within the organisation there have been multiple complaints about the racism of Turning Point USA members and staff. 

“Attacks on supposedly ‘radical’ college professors seem to reveal more about the paranoia of these activist than any trace of a Marxist conspiracy”

However, it would be wrong to simply dismiss Turning Point as a fringe group of Alt-right fanatics. This is not to say that their views are of any merit; they are not. The fact still remains that the US branch of the group has a considerable following and links to the White House. In particular, Donald Trump has said that one of the group’s rising stars, Candace Owens, has met some of his immediate family. She has also been applauded by Kanye West on Twitter.

Charlie Kirk, the founder of Turning Point, also has connections with Trump and makes frequent appearances on FOX News, as well as possessing a Twitter following of nearly 1 million. As well as powerful friends, Turning Point has deep pockets. The organisation is reported to have a budget of around $8 million per year and has events sponsored by the NRA.

Turning Point USA may propagate ideas that are typical of the Alt-right but it is able to occupy a comparatively prominent place on the mainstream political stage. To hear the leaders of the organisation speak you might well view them as unpleasant outliers on the political spectrum but their influence and visibility reflects a place closer to the centre of US politics. They are not merely a punchline any more.


Mountain View

Cambridge Union allowed far right-linked Turning Point to invite three members of their own debate opposition

In the UK the group has already gained the support of Jacob Rees-Mogg, one of the stranger idols of the young right wing, as well as other conservative figures like Priti Patel, Nigel Farage and Steve Baker. Even the widespread revulsion expressed towards Turning Point UK has been used by some as proof that the organisation is needed to champion right wing students. Even as Turning Point UK is greeted as a far right laughing stock, it creeps closer to the mainstream.

Ultimately, the ridicule of Turning Point may not be enough to prevent it gaining momentum. Many of the leaders of Turning Point may be crackpots and sensationalists and perhaps its presence will simply fade away in the UK after its initial humiliation. However, in the current political climate of stark polarisation in the UK, there is a danger that Turning Point may grow into more than just a joke.

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