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Conservative Activist Group Turning Point USA Opens Phoenix Headquarters
LAUREN GILGER: Conservative activist group Turning Point USA opened its newest headquarters in Phoenix last month. The group was founded in 2012 by Charlie Kirk to fight what he saw as a liberal bias against conservative students on college campuses around the country. Kirk has since become a leading young voice in the Republican Party and their new headquarters here in Phoenix spell new opportunities for the growing organization, according to Brandon Tatum, Turning Point USA's urban engagement director. I sat down with Tatum yesterday to talk more about why the group is expanding here and why he thinks they're controversial tactics are the right approach to spread their message.
BRANDON TATUM: I think it's a great location fiscally. It's a conservative state. We have a conservative governor that's supportive of our agenda mission here. So I think it's a great location for us.
GILGER: Yeah, how big is Turning Point USA now? How much has your organization grown?
TATUM: Well were in over 1,000 universities around the country. We have chapters in over 400 universities. So I mean it is growing exponentially. We've only been around of six years.
GILGER: So there are chapters at many high schools in Arizona of your organization. Every university here, including Grand Canyon [University], has one. I wonder do you see Arizona as a safely conservative state that is not on the tip of — like many people have talked — about turning purple, for lack of a better term?
TATUM: I think nationwide I mean we're struggling with the idea of states turning purple. I think Arizona is not excluded from that. I think it's invaluable for us to continue to promote our conservative ideas and keep this state red, but we do see it being a huge challenge. So, you know, I think that it's invaluable for us to keep pushing the agenda and educating people. It's not about us trying to spoon feed individuals or trying to brainwash them into believing a certain way. We speak about principle, and these young people have their own minds they're educated enough to review the information validated and then pursue their lives with that information in mind.
GILGER: So Turning Point was founded sort of on college campuses to battle what they saw as sort of a liberal biases in universities, right? So your organization has in the past spotlighted these issues of free speech on campus and of targeting conservative students and ideas things like that. Do you think that is a problem on the college campuses here in Arizona?
TATUM: Oh, it's huge. It's huge everywhere in the country, I think especially Arizona as well. It's our duty to give these young people a perspective. They're only hearing one side of it. I mean these universities have become so soft and sensitive that it's destroying the dialogue, and young people can't grow mentally. It is good to have a debate. It's good to hear from both sides. And we're seeing it threatened in every university — every major university — ASU, UofA, Grand Canyon University. And I think it's invaluable that we give young people an alternative, or I honestly believe that they will be — the ideas and the dialogue will be lost forever. And we'll have a generation of young people who are who are ill informed — and I will say ignorant to reality — and we need to fight against that and that's our objective. And we've been very successful, but our goal is to continue to fight as much as we can to you know the fight never ends.
GILGER: Turning Point though has been criticized for some of its tactics. From recording people's encounters making these sort of viral videos, to the professor watch list — which sort of tracks college professors that are from your organizations view — against conservative students in some way. Why go about it that way?
TATUM: Well, listen, it's invaluable. I mean, just look at the basic common sense principle. We need to know of the professors who are on these campuses who are openly objecting free speech. People are saying that we are alt-right. What does that mean? I'm not alt-right. We are just individuals who believe in free market. We believe in freedoms. We believe in free speech. We believe in the Second Amendment. I mean, you can go down the list of things that we believe that's basic American concepts. And when you have professors coming out and painting us as right-wing conspiracy theorists, or they're saying that we're racist, you know, that's problematic. I'm very fine with professors coming out and saying, “I disagree with Turner Point's stance on capitalism, on free markets, on finances” — whatever the battle you want to pick, I'm OK with that. But when you go and you start lying, and you shout down students on campus, those things are unacceptable. And I think is invaluable to have a list so we know who we're looking at, we know who we're fighting against.
GILGER: So, even the Koch Brothers organization, a conservative organization came out and criticized these tactics recently, said you know this is not the kind of thing that is encouraging the kind of debate you're saying you want. What's your response to that?
TATUM: Well, they're entitled to their own opinion. I mean, we're not a monolithic because we're conservative it doesn’t mean we perceive things to be the same. And I think that we're using what we think is invaluable for our organization and what has been working for us and that is successful.
GILGER: So, I want to ask you then about debate. So if you're going you know create these sort of lists and then go about these viral videos this kind of tactics that you've used — do you think you are creating the kind of healthy debate about like you said the issues that you want or are you shutting people down or are you creating sort of internet mobs?
TATUM: Well, I think it goes like this — if people want to have a consistent dialogue, they're going to have a dialogue. People that don't want to they get offended by everything you do. So, I mean, we can't predicate our message or our methods on people who cry all the time, who are complaining because it doesn't matter. They don't want to hear the message that we have provided to them. They're not going to like it. They're going to complain. They're going to call us racist. It doesn't matter, so I think we need to continue the challenge.
GILGER: So, in that vein, do you think that this is contributing to this divisiveness in the country — to this this really … vitriolic dialogue that we've seen happening — where one side just can't talk to the other anymore?
TATUM: No, I don't think it's contributing. I think these people when you don't have an argument, and your feelings get hurt, and you're acting on emotions, you become radical, you become divisive. We're not being divisive. We're just laying out facts. We're just doing it in a manner — to a certain degree that's charismatic. We work on social media. We put up our signs. We're not hurting anybody. We're not physically attacking anybody. We're not counter-protesting anybody. We're just presenting our perspective on campus and people that don't like them they can just walk by the booth. We're not forcing you. We're not corralling people in a corner and threatening them. So, I think that what we are doing is making a balanced approach to give an alternative idea. And what I think the other people are doing, they want to continue to divide by acting on emotion alone not with any evidence or not with facts.
GILGER: All right. Brandon Tatum is the director of urban engagement at Turning Point USA. Brandon, thank you so much for coming in.
TATUM: Thanks for having me.