Controversial conservative group Turning Point USA starts Sac State chapter

The organization has sparked protests in the quad for their stance on immigration


Will Coburn - The State Hornet

Aaron Jackson

Turning Point USA, a conservative organization founded in 2012 that has sparked controversy for its views on immigration and questionable nonprofit status, has hundreds of chapters across the U.S. and has recently started a chapter at Sacramento State.

“We are just trying to promote free speech, free markets and limited government,” said Kyle Gerard, vice president of Public Relations for the club.

Gerard explained that the group isn’t looking to influence or persuade others on social issues.

“We don’t promote social issues, such as gay marriage and abortion, or talk about them as an organization and we don’t endorse or affiliate with candidates or campaigns,” said Gerard.

Turning Point has sparked controversy for things such as their Professor Watchlist, which according to their website seeks to “expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” No professors from Sac State are currently on the list.

Some Sac State students said they are not happy with Turning Point’s appearance at Sac State. LGBT Caucus Director of the College Democrats of America and Sac State senior Travis Legault expressed concerns over their nonprofit status.

“They do nakedly partisan work and it’s despicable that they are still technically a 501(C)(3) organization,” Legault said.

Turning Point has trained or directly funded over 50 conservatives to be elected president of the student body across the nation through the Campus Victory Project, according to Politico.

While 501(C)(3) non-profit organizations aren’t allowed to engage in political campaign activities, they are allowed to engage in voter registration and voter engagement activities. Student body elections are not public offices and as 501(C)(3) organizations are not prohibited from engaging with them.

Under current Associated Student Inc. elections rules, there is a $500 spending limit for presidential tickets and a $350 limit on independent candidates with a maximum of two gifted or donated materials, and all campaign contributions are required to be reported.

Lisa Dalton, ASI’s Executive and Board Associate for Student Government, said that in the six years she has worked at ASI, most donations she has seen are of professional photographs and contributions from parents.

Turning Point is funded by billionaire Foster Freiss, the Richard and Helen Devos foundation, named after in-laws of Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, and many other foundations, according to the International Business Times.

“The idea that any amount of organizing dollars from people like the Devos’ that made their fortune by running a pyramid scheme will convince Sac State students that any attempt to solve problems like student loan debt and climate change is scary socialism and that we should rely on the unchecked rich and powerful to do what’s right is absurd,” Legault said.

While there are some that view the group as racist or hateful, Legault did not come to the same conclusion.

“As a white cis male, I don’t think it’s up to me to determine if they’re a hate group, but they’re an Astroturf organization,” Legault said.

Business Insider describes astroturfing as when “companies or even individuals mask their motives by putting it under the guise of a grassroots movement.”

The TPUSA chapter at Sac State was founded by current president Megan Masten at the beginning of the spring semester, Gerard said. The club holds meetings every other Tuesday.

“I saw a sign on campus that said ‘I love America’ and thought that it was daring for someone to admit that at Sacramento State,” Masten said. “Many students and faculty hate America and we know that we are very fortunate to live in this great country. We table almost every day on campus and we have gone to leadership trainings as a team.”

Some of their tabling efforts have included a free speech ball, where students can write whatever is on their mind on a giant beach ball, and a change my mind table, similar to what conservative political commentator Steven Crowder has done at other colleges and universities.

The group has multiple members who are part of the College Republicans, according to their president, Floyd Johnson, and while their message is similar, Turning Point differs when it comes to their political activism. They are not allowed to support candidates while the College Republicans can, according to Phil Olding, a member of both groups.

“College Republicans do more of the helping candidates and less of the tabling and talking about policies,” Olding said. “Their meetings are more about news, current events and which candidates they are trying to support and Turning Point is mostly talking about policy and how we can get people to think and not be uninformed.”

Turning Point hosts campus activism events by bringing speakers to campus and tabling. The group is hosting three conservative YouTubers — Austen Fletcher, known as Fleecas Talks, Elijah Schaffer, known as Slightly Offens*ve, and Mike Ayetiwa, known as Black Mic — at Out of the Echo Chamber: Reviving Free Speech on Campus, an event on Tuesday.

Multiple universities across the country have considered or attempted to ban the group. Turning Point was banned from Santa Clara University before appealing and eventually being reapproved in 2017.

Student government introduced legislation to ban Turning Point from Texas State earlier this year. The Texas State Star reported that the the legislation was vetoed and the school found they did not have the ability to restrict Turning Point’s functioning on campus.

Masten said the administration at Sac State has been accepting of the group.

“I do not feel that we have been targeted,” Masten said. “There have been discussions on things like tabling, flyer distribution and security, but I don’t think those problems are specific to Turning Point.”

While the new chapter was tabling in the library quad on April 23, many disagreed with a sign held by a club member which read “Illegal immigration is ruining our country.”

Government-IR major Devin Wallner disagreed and responded with a sign of his own.

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“I’m not here to bash anybody and just want to speak a bit differently from them,” Wallner said. “They have their right to voice their opinion and so do I, so that’s all I’m here for.”

More students protested the group throughout the day, holding signs that said, “No human being is illegal” and “Your racism will not be tolerated.” Olding said that Turning Point is not a hateful organization.

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“Even if you disagree with us and you can explain why, we will hear you,” Olding said.

Masten said she feels that the student body at Sac State is getting more and more used to the group.

“We want to challenge people on why they think the things they do,” Masten said. “I think that students respect those efforts.”