Turning Point USA, the conservative youth organization with a mission statement of “enlightening” university students on “true free market values,” was completely destabilized over the past few months as it was ravaged by Twitter users making fun of its diaper-themed protest.
It’s well known TP USA and its founder Charlie Kirk have been facing an unending slew of mockery since the October 2017 event at Kent State University. But per the Independent, tweets featuring the group’s members wearing diapers in some sort of incredibly ill-advised effort to own left-wingers have had more of an impact on the group’s functioning than anyone might have guessed, threatening TP USA’s ability to coordinate protests and other actions at the more than 1,000 campuses it claims to have a presence at.
According to the Independent, this month TP USA’s Kent State University president and campus coordinator, Kaitlin Bennett, resigned. In a blistering statement, she wrote that she was “in disbelief at how I went from being so upbeat, enthusiastic, and passionate about this organisation to being disgusted, frustrated, and embarrassed to have invested my entire senior year into an organisation founded by a college dropout who hires some of the most incompetent, lazy, and downright dishonest people I have ever encountered.”
The Independent reported that Bennett believes the organization threw her under the bus over the event, with TP USA staff denying they had approved it and failing to defend her as social media users and even members of other chapters mocked the protest.
Bennett said that initially, Kirk reached out to congratulate her personally, telling her “Keep up the triggering, good job.” But as the backlash grew, TP USA staff seemed particularly concerned with protecting Kirk’s personal social media image, the Independent wrote:
Ms Bennett said she tried to defend herself, lashing out at the other groups in Facebook posts. That’s when she got a call from Turning Point’s chief operational officer, Tyler Bowyer.
During their conversation, Ms Bennet says Mr Bowyer told her that the diaper incident was inappropriate because it “gave the left a lot of ammo to take these pictures and make memes out of them.”
“It’s not funny,” Ms Bennet said the COO told her. “Nothing about this is funny. Now every time Charlie [Kirk] tweets they tweet back pictures of him in a diaper.”
(This is particularly funny because anyone familiar with TP USA knows that it and Kirk’s attempts to make conservatism cool online were already beyond awful, mangling memes and building a following composed largely of right-wing adults primarily concerned with how much they hate liberal college students rather than actual college students.)
Not only was Kirk apparently extremely irritated that people kept on swamping him with diaper photos on Twitter, the online backlash convinced TP USA to crack down on the ability of its chapters to independently organize:
As a result of the diaper incident, Ms Bennett said, the organisation changed its entire event process, requiring more—and more explicit—sign-offs from adult employees. Mr Kirk later confirmed as much to the New Yorker, saying the organisation had issued new guidelines to chapters in order to prevent a repeat. The Kent State chapter has not hosted a single speaker since the Free Speech Week.
To the extent that anyone can learn anything from this debacle, it’s probably that conservatives whose entire claim to relevance is built on trying to rile up liberals on social media tend to be useless grifters. TP USA says it has raised millions of dollars annually, though it declines to identify just who is pouring loose bills into this digital garbage fire. A 2017 report from the International Business Times identified a number of very prominent conservative donors, many from the Chicago area, with six-figure donations coming from the Ed Uihlein Foundation, as well as the family founations of Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and healthcare CEO Vince Foglia.
While its primary accomplishment to date has been defining success in terms of whether its members are “triggering” liberals and then getting really defensive and angry online when it turns out those liberals are laughing at them, TP USA has managed to get in lots of trouble in other ways as well. According to a December 2017 profile in the New Yorker, stumbles have included claims of rampant racial bias, hate speech, and violating its 501(c)3 non-profit status by engaging in campaign work and funneling its donors’ money to student campaigns.