More than 100 students and community members gathered in the Michigan League to hear Charlie Kirk, the founder and executive director of conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA, speak about ideological diversity Tuesday night in an event hosted by the University of Michigan’s chapter of College Republicans.
Kirk founded Turning Point USA in 2012 when he was 18, and since then has received ample media coverage. He spoke at the 2016 Republican National Convention and has been interviewed on Fox News, CNBC and Fox Business News.
According to Turning Point USA’s website, the organization engages in “grassroots activism” and is “dedicated to identifying, organizing, and empowering young people to promote the principles of free markets, and limited government.” Turning Point USA has chapters at more than 300 college campuses and lists one of its goals to challenge liberalism on college campuses.
Kirk began his speech on Tuesday by giving an overview of Turning Point USA’s core beliefs and his own “conservatarian” political philosophy. He then addressed the idea of ideological diversity by discussing the future of U.S. politics and emphasizing the need to challenge the rise of leftist ideals on college campuses.
Kirk repeatedly expressed his disagreement with what he calls socialist or neo-Marxist ideology, describing socialism as “the greatest killer of humanity in the last 100 years and the worst idea of the 20th century.”
“It baffles me, the rise of socialism on college campuses,” Kirk said.
Kirk’s speech touched on a variety of other subjects, including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which pushes for divestment from Israel. A #UMDivest resolution successfully passed in Central Student Government last November, for the first time on the Ann Arbor campus. The resolution urges University Board of Regents to form a committee to investigate three companies operating in Israel with alleged human rights violations against Palestinians.
Kirk condemned the BDS movement as anti-Semitic and said, “Israel is a beacon of freedom in the Middle East.”
Among the other topics Kirk discussed were political philosophy, human nature, religion and biases in the media.
After speaking for about 40 minutes, Kirk opened the floor up to questions. Participants asked Kirk for his opinion on a range of issues such as President Donald Trump, institutionalized oppression, regulating large corporations and identity politics.
He also responded to several questions about how young conservatives can engage their liberal peers in discussions. Kirk encouraged the audience to stay “as informed as you possibly can, not just about the other viewpoint, but other foundational ideas and perspectives.”
Kirk responded to several questions intended to challenge his ideas. One student asked Kirk whether his Facebook page actually sparks dialogue, or whether it’s simply “pandering” to his base. Kirk said the Facebook page does foster conversation.
According to Kirk, some of the material he puts online is “intentionally trying to be edgy, spur discussion, spur debate … And some of it is also, I think, very good intellectual content.”
Many of the students who attended Kirk’s speech were visiting from nearby universities. Spencer Edwards, a sophomore at Jackson College, came to the event to hear from a younger conservative thinker.
“I grew up on a lot of conservative ideals with my grandparents, guys like Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh … Those are the guys for an older generation. I feel like these guys like Charlie are guys who represent our generation more,” Edwards said.
LSA freshman Michael Dedecker said he also appreciated hearing Charlie Kirk speak, especially in relation to his humorous retorts against liberal ideals.
“I’m probably going to start following him around more on Twitter, just because I thought he was funny and he offered some new perspectives on how to combat socialism with new arguments,” he said.