black and white image of Charlie Kirk's face on purple background

Andrea Austria / Media Matters

Charlie Kirk and TPUSA are fueled by far-right extremism

As Fox News distances itself from the one-time right-wing wunderkind, Kirk and his organization have continued to find refuge in extremist fever swamps

Right-wing radio host and Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk has spent years attempting to establish himself and his organization as pillars of the conservative movement while maintaining extensive ties to far-right extremists, including election deniers, white nationalists, and antisemitic conspiracy theorists. 

Kirk now appears to be engaged in a broader right-wing media revolt against Fox News, which remains the dominant media property among conservatives even after the network has faced a string of recent setbacks. Fox News didn’t air any of last weekend’s Turning Point Action Conference, or ActCon, unlike in previous years when the network has extensively covered TPUSA’s events. Fox Nation, the network’s fledgling streaming platform, posted only two ActCon speeches — those of former President Donald Trump and tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy, both Republican presidential candidates. Earlier TPUSA conferences frequently boasted Fox’s on-air talent as headliners, but ActCon’s 2023 speaker list was notably absent of any of the network’s stars. 

This fracturing comes as Kirk and Turning Point Action, an affiliate of TPUSA, are set to spend as much as $108 million on early voting initiatives that the group referred to in promotional materials as a “BALLOT CHASING OPERATION,” according to The Washington Post. “The group is raising money to hire 500 full-time organizers in Arizona, 800 in Georgia and 350 in Wisconsin, at a cost of $99 million to compensate each staffer at a $60,000 salary, according to the fundraising materials,” the Post reports.

TPUSA under Kirk’s leadership has a long history of employing racists, and there’s no reason to believe that dynamic will change with this new hiring surge. In 2017, The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer revealed that TPUSA National Field Director Crystal Clanton sent a text message to a colleague that read: “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE. Like fuck them all . . . I hate blacks. End of story.” Kirk had previously praised Clanton, but apparently fired her after the incident, replacing her with Shialee Grooman and Troy Meeker. As HuffPost reported shortly after the announcement, Grooman had posted numerous anti-LGBTQ and anti-Black tweets, and Meeker had posted at least one as well. Just last year, leaked texts from the TPUSA Towson University chapter showed members minimizing slavery and embracing an anti-LGBTQ slur. Researcher Ben Lorber has documented the many points of overlap between TPUSA and Nick Fuentes’ white nationalist “groyper” movement, despite the two groups’ history of conflict with one another.

Kirk not only associates with extremists, but he frequently espouses far-right views himself. He regularly and inaccurately claims the 2020 election was stolen, as well as some races in the 2022 midterms, including Kari Lake’s failed gubernatorial run in Arizona. He also uses unambiguously racist, anti-LGBTQ, and sexist rhetoric on The Charlie Kirk Show, a product of Salem Media Group, and at his conferences. This bigotry unsurprisingly carries over to TPUSA, which has become increasingly oriented toward Christian nationalism.

Kirk and TPUSA epitomize the larger trajectory of the conservative activist base, which has become increasingly radicalized over the last decade — from the Tea Party movement to the Trump campaign and administration, to the rise of QAnon, and now to Trump’s second presidential run.

In that spirit, here are some of the extreme figures and organizations Kirk has surrounded himself with.

(This post has been updated with additional examples. More will be added as they arise.)

  • Steve Bannon

    Bannon regularly collaborates with Kirk, and served as the penultimate speaker at ActCon before Kirk himself. The former Trump adviser’s War Room podcast also streams on the Real America’s Voice network as a lead-in to The Charlie Kirk Show. Just hours after Bannon was sentenced to four months in prison for refusing to comply with the congressional investigation into the January 6 riot, he called in to Kirk’s show for an on-air interview.

    Bannon was one of the most forceful voices in right-wing media to falsely claim the 2020 election was stolen from Trump, floating seemingly endless conspiracy theories to explain the vote totals. Immediately prior to the January 6 Capitol riot, Bannon bragged about his role in fomenting the insurrection. 

    Bannon ran the same playbook in the lead-up to the 2022 midterms, hosting kooks with plans to sow chaos at the ballot box, pushing lies about noncitizens voting, and justifying armed vigilantism at remote voting drop boxes.

    Beyond election denialism, Bannon’s podcast is a hotbed of misinformation, even relative to other conservative media. He platforms COVID-19 denialists and promoted anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. for years before reportedly encouraging him to primary Biden. He has long railed against what he calls alternately the “administrative state” or the “deep state,” and is a leading force behind a Trumpworld effort to consolidate near-dictatorial power by purging the career civil service should the former president retake the Oval Office.

    “This is a crusade, a jihad, a holy war against the deep state,” Bannon said at ActCon.

  • Alex Jones

    Jones is perhaps the country’s most well-known and notorious conspiracy theorist, who right-wing media, including Kirk, have fully embraced in recent years. Jones spoke at TPUSA’s “Defeating the Great Reset” event last year, receiving a standing ovation as he took the stage.

    As Jones was facing two trials for his repeated false claims about the Sandy Hook shooting — both of which he lost — Kirk and TPUSA were helping him shore up his audience. Kirk interviewed Jones last August, introducing him as “the most canceled man in America,” allowing him to attempt to rewrite his history of Sandy Hook denialism, and praising him as someone who helps “break people out of the comfort of the lies they live in.”

    “Alex Jones, he’s not crazy, he’s just early,” Kirk said at the close of the interview. “He’s ahead of the curve.”

    In October 2022, one day after a judge ordered Jones to pay $965 million in damages to Sandy Hook families, Kirk demanded that right-wing pundits defend him. 

    “This is a scorecard moment,” Kirk said. “If your favorite conservative commentator is silent on Alex Jones, that is very telling.”

  • Jack Posobiec

    TPUSA contributor and neo-Nazi collaborator Posobiec is one of the most influential misinformation peddlers and hatemongers in right-wing media, from his early embrace of “Pizzagate” — a precursor to QAnon — to his recent bigoted, transphobic posting on Threads, Meta’s Twitter competitor. Seemingly testing Meta’s ability or willingness to rein in hate speech and disinformation, Posobiec wrote: “The 2020 election was rigged and everybody knows it,” “The CCP [Chinese Communist Party] made COVID in Wuhan,” and, “The transgender rainbow mafia supports child grooming.”

    Posobiec was an early troll in the alt-right movement and worked alongside white supremacists until at least 2017. He also pushed a conspiracy theory that Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich was murdered because of his supposed involvement in Russia’s 2016 hack of Democratic Party institutions and individuals.

    He is a regular guest on Kirk’s radio show and spoke at ActCon last weekend. In February, Posobiec argued that programs like affirmative action and other efforts to mitigate the harms of white supremacy in the United States were “almost like apartheid.” Kirk agreed with him.

  • Darren Beattie

    Beattie founded the conservative blog Revolver News after he left the Trump administration in 2018, when CNN revealed he had attended a conference with well-known white nationalists. He is a frequent guest on Kirk’s radio show and one of the foremost proponents of the conspiracy theory that the FBI orchestrated the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021. Beattie and Revolver recently drove a smear campaign seeking to undermine a Pentagon official tasked with mitigating the harms of white supremacy in the military. He is reportedly a fan of the fascist blogger “Bronze Age Pervert” and convinced former Trump national security spokesperson Michael Anton to read BAP’s self-published racist book

    Beattie suggested on Kirk’s show in March that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis should use “state troops” to force a “stand-off type situation” to protect Trump from a federal indictment.

  • Blake Neff

    Neff is a former top writer for Fox News’ now-defunct Tucker Carlson Tonight who was fired after CNN’s Oliver Darcy revealed he had been pseudonymously posting racist and sexist comments for years on a fringe web forum, but has since resurfaced as a producer for Kirk’s radio show.  

    From CNN’s initial report:

    Just this week, the writer, Blake Neff, responded to a thread started by another user in 2018 with the subject line, “Would u let a JET BLACK congo n****er do lasik eye surgery on u for 50% off?” Neff wrote, “I wouldn’t get LASIK from an Asian for free, so no.” (The subject line was not censored on the forum.) On June 5, Neff wrote, “Black doods staying inside playing Call of Duty is probably one of the biggest factors keeping crime down.” On June 24, Neff commented, “Honestly given how tired black people always claim to be, maybe the real crisis is their lack of sleep.” On June 26, Neff wrote that the only people who care about changing the name of the NFL’s Washington Redskins are “white libs and their university-‘educated’ pets.”

    Fox fired Neff following CNN’s reporting, but he has become a regular presence on Kirk’s radio show and joined the host on a new program called THOUGHTCRIME. During that segment, panelists repeatedly used an anti-trans slur.

    “We’re really honored to have Blake on our team — he’s great,” Kirk said. “And the most, let’s just say, awful people in the world tried to destroy Blake’s life and we’re not going to let that happen.” 

    “We love Blake and he does a great job,” Kirk added later.

    In a recent appearance on Kirk’s show, Neff referred to Michelle Obama’s college thesis examining what it meant to be Black at Princeton as “ethno-narcissism.”

  • Patrick Byrne

    Byrne, the former CEO of Overstock, is a prominent election denier who has grown increasingly intertwined with the QAnon movement. He was listed as a “sponsored speaker” at ActCon, and the organization he co-founded, The America Project, was a sponsor as well. 

    Byrne was intimately involved in Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election, including attending a December 18, 2020, meeting in the Oval Office with Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani as well as former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, another QAnon supporter. In the meeting, “Byrne and others were pushing an idea that the president could use the National Guard to seize voting machines,” according to The Washington Post.    

    In furtherance of his election denialism, Bryne referred to QAnon adherents as “digital soldiers.” He was the main funder of a crackpot “audit” aimed to reverse the 2022 Arizona gubernatorial election, and embraced QAnon adherents as allies in that effort.

  • Scott Presler

    Another speaker at ActCon, Presler helped organize the “Stop the Steal” events that culminated in the attempted insurrection on January 6, 2021, repeatedly pushed QAnon conspiracy theories, and worked with Act for America, the country’s largest anti-Muslim hate group. Turning Point Action is reportedly currently pledging $5 million for an initiative with Presler to set up a “ballot-chasing initiative” in Wisconsin. 

    Media Matters reported earlier this year Presler was scheduled to hold workshops with Pennsylvania Republicans that also focused on ballot harvesting. He has previously appeared at numerous events with elected Republicans, and was scheduled to partner with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) before canceling following widespread condemnation from Democratic Party leaders and others.

    On June 1, Kirk’s top lieutenant Tyler Bowyer praised Presler, who was a guest that day on The Charlie Kirk Show

    “Now it’s about, who do we identify that can attract people, attract human beings, that can motivate the grassroots to get out and be participatory in these systems, and there’s no better example of that than Scott in the world,” Bowyer said.   

  • Daniel Kelly

    Kelly is a former Wisconsin Supreme Court justice who has compared affirmative action to slavery, advised the Wisconsin GOP and Republican National Committee on election issues including the pro-Trump “fake electors” scheme, and has provided support and legal advice to the state’s top anti-abortion groups. In 2019, he refused to recuse himself from a case wherein he accepted money from the plaintiff before and after he ruled in their favor.

    While running to win back his seat, Presler supported his campaign with appearances across right-wing media, insisting that Kelly’s win would be crucial in securing a Republican presidential win in 2024. 

    In February, Kirk said that “Dan Kelly is the best of all of them,” and hosted Kelly a month later.

  • Mike Lindell

    MyPillow CEO and prominent election denier Mike Lindell — another ActCon speaker — was central to pushing Republican conspiracy theories about the 2020 election, funding several lawsuits, forums, and QAnon-affiliated shows to promote his efforts to prove mass voter fraud and overturn the election. Lindell was recently ordered to pay $5 million to a cybersecurity expert who debunked his claims, and currently faces a $1.3 billion defamation lawsuit from Dominion Voting Systems. MyPillow is a major advertiser on several conservative networks, including Fox News, Newsmax, and One America News.

    In 2021, he appeared on Bannon’s War Room asking people to “help” an antisemitic outlet that calls Jewish people “deceivers” who “plot,” “lie,” and “do whatever they have to do to accomplish their political agenda.” 

    Kirk gave Lindell a platform to campaign for RNC chair in January, calling him “a great American patriot” who has spent over $40 million “to save the country.”

  • Jim Caviezel

    Caviezel has spent the summer promoting Sound of Freedom, a film he stars in, by embracing QAnon, including on The Charlie Kirk Show.

    “Then you find out, it's not QAnon; it's Q and anons,” Caviezel said on Kirk’s July 11 episode. “And Q puts out a question — and you're not allowed to ask questions anymore, you’re not allowed to — and the anons, they look it all up, and they start looking and investigating this stuff.”

    Caviezel pushed a number of QAnon-inspired conspiracy theories while hocking the anti-trafficking film on right-wing media, including allegations that a cabal of pedophiles systematically tortured children to extract adrenochrome from their bodies, that Ukrainian biolabs were somehow involved, and that the CIA and FBI were implicated in a cover-up. 

    ActCon screened Sound of Freedom over the weekend.

  • Tim Ballard

    Ballard, the anti-trafficking activist whose life is the basis for Sound of Freedom, spoke at ActCon in connection with the screening of the film. He is the founder of Operation Underground Railroad, an anti-trafficking organization that, until recently, seemingly existed primarily to glorify him. 

    Ballard left OUR in recent weeks following “an internal investigation into claims made against him by multiple employees,” according to Vice News, who broke the story. The outlet further reported that “a previous letter accused Ballard and the organization’s leadership of misusing donor funds and of unspecified misconduct towards women.” At the time, OUR confirmed the existence of that letter but said the organization found “zero evidence” to corroborate its claims.

    He and Caviezel, who stars as Ballard, have both heavily promoted the new movie, including doing joint interviews. Ballard has refused to denounce QAnon in the past and previously legitimized a conspiracy theory that furniture distributor Wayfair may have been involved in child trafficking.

    While hyping the film on Fox & Friends, Ballard illustrated how anti-trafficking rhetoric in right-wing media often relies on a foundation of anti-trans, anti-immigrant assumptions. He claimed that the demand for child exploitation material was a result of gender-affirming care for trans youth, which was paving the way for laws that would allow adults to have sex with minors. He also implied that the Biden administration has opened the U.S. Southern border, which was also driving trafficking. In fact, criminalization of the border sends migrants of all ages into the underground market where they are more likely to be exploited, with fewer protections or recourse.

  • Mel K

    Mel K hosts an eponymous, prominent QAnon show that was a sponsor of ActCon. In February 2021, she claimed that “99%” of QAnon has “proven to be true.” The QAnon influencer appeared alongside Eric Trump at an anti-vaccine event in 2021, and she has falsely claimed that voting machine companies Dominion and Smartmatic were working with the Clinton Global Initiative and George Soros to steal elections, calling it a “worldwide issue.” Like several other figures on this list, she has pushed the Pizzagate and Seth Rich conspiracy theories.  

    The America Project, run by fellow election denier and ActCon sponsor Byrne, honored Mel K at a gala this April.

  • American Principles Project

    The American Principles Project is an anti-LGBTQ organization run by anti-trans activist Terry Schilling, and is listed as a sponsor of ActCon. Last September, APP ran a virulent anti-trans ad in support of GOP nominee Blake Masters’ run for Senate in Arizona. That same month, Schilling said that gender-affirming care was “a step toward suicide” and “self-harm.” (In fact, gender-affirming care is associated with positive mental health outcomes.)  

    Schilling has criticized the early era of women’s liberation, characterizing it on Bannon’s podcast as a period “when we started to get women out of the home, started to denigrate the housewife, started to denigrate wives in general.” Like many other conservative media figures, Schilling opposes no-fault divorce, recently warning that it could lead to cities being “ransacked” by “criminal orphans.” He has also made repeated, bizarre statements about children’s sexuality and inaccurately claiming that people receiving gender-affirming care are unable to achieve orgasm.

    APP ran numerous Facebook ads attacking Democrats for supporting trans people, drawing widespread condemnation of both Schilling’s organization and the social media platform for allowing it. (Facebook removed the ad after reporting from Media Matters.)

    This April, Schilling admitted in an interview with The New York Times that his organization’s strategy of demonizing and terrorizing trans people was a deliberate decision to manufacture a new hate campaign following mainstream acceptance of gay marriage after the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision in 2016.

    “We knew we needed to find an issue that the candidates were comfortable talking about,” Schilling told the Times. “And we threw everything at the wall.”

  • Moms for Liberty

    Moms for Liberty is an extremist reactionary parental rights organization mobilizing a far-right agenda in education. Local chapters of the group have quoted Adolf Hitler to support their mission of banning books from public schools, and members have been linked to harassment and threats against school employees across the country. The group has helped several states pass anti-LGBTQ legislation and has pushed to ban books from school libraries about LGBTQ people and people of color. 

    Moms for Liberty is also tied with TPUSA: Kirk’s organization sponsored a Moms for Liberty event in 2022, and Turning Point Action has tweeted in the group’s defense. 

    In June, Kirk hosted co-founder Tina Descovich and praised the group for “amazing work” He invited Descovich to defend Moms for Liberty against the Southern Poverty Law Center, calling the group extremist and anti-government: “I raise my children, not the government. Since when is that extremism in America?”

  • Groypers

    As documented above, TPUSA has a significant overlap with Nick Fuentes’ “groyper” movement, even as Kirk and Fuentes — and their followers — have feuded in public.

    Groypers,” referring to members of a group led by white nationalist, Holocaust denier, and antisemite Fuentes, have been accepted into TPUSA as speakers and chapter leadership. In October 2022, groypers Kai Schwemmer, Brandt Wiggins, and Tyler Russell were scheduled to speak at a TPUSA chapter event at the University of Alabama, where Wiggins was the chapter’s vice president.

    Wiggins and Schwemmer promote “great replacement” theory, and Wiggins has argued the need for white people to have white children. Russell runs the Canadian version of Fuentes’ white nationalist America First movement, Canada First, whose members openly praise fascist leaders and mass murderers.

    TPUSA employee and serial plagiarist Benny Johnson recently hired Josiah David Moody — a Fuentes acolyte — to serve as a “digital media specialist.”

  • Christian nationalists

    Kirk openly embraces Christian nationalism and its believers, and attacks his opponents as “demons of the woke” in a “spiritual war.” 

    At the annual TPUSA Pastors Summit earlier this year, Kirk and the organization at large pushed for churches to become more politically active. Turning Point leadership criticized that the church has been silent on culture war issues, with one implying that Christians who allow children to be exposed to critical race theory or LGTBQ people should be drowned.

    Kirk has spoken at several events held by Christian nationalists and has endorsed the “Seven Mountain Mandate,” a “dominionist” strategy demanding that Christians impose their values on American society via the “seven mountains” of cultural influence: government, education, media, religion, family, business, and entertainment. In an interview with dominionist leader Lance Wallnau, Kirk called him “one of my all time favorite people.”

    Kirk has now reportedly joined forces with self-proclaimed “Christocrat” preacher Rick Scarborough to launch an initiative aimed at organizing “pastors and Christians across America,” according to Right Wing Watch:

    Scarborough has a long history of launching virulent attacks against LGBTQ people, calling them “sodomites” and declaring that AIDS is God’s “judgment as a result of an immoral act,” while insisting in 2015 that “God would probably give us the cure for AIDS today” if the U.S. stopped supporting gay rights.

    TPUSA’s religious offshoot, Turning Point Faith, is also a sponsor of the Kingdom to the Capitol Tour, where preacher Sean Feucht pushes that Christians should write all the laws.

  • Pedro Gonzalez

    Gonzalez, a conservative writer who Kirk associates with and has hosted several times, was recently exposed for sending racist and antisemitic text messages in which he said that “whites are the only hope non-whites have for living civilized lives,” referred to The Daily Wire’s Candace Owens and Ben Shapiro as “the Negress and the Jew,” and said that “most” Jewish people are “problematic.” 

    Right-wing site The Washington Free Beacon later revealed additional offensive text messages that Gonzales sent in 2019 and 2020. In the texts, Gonzales wrongly referred to Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as Jewish, and said that meant she “can’t be criticized.” Gonzales also argued that right-wing nationalist Yoram Hazony, who he referred to as an “Israeli scholar,” shouldn’t be allowed to “define the rules of American nationalism.” Screenshots additionally show Gonzales using an anti-Black slur and an anti-LGBTQ slur. When former President Donald Trump responded to the racist shooting in El Paso by condemning “white supremacy,” Gonzales responded: “Fuck this president.”

    Gonzalez is also virulently anti-trans, tweeting in 2022, “Transgender ideology is quite literally a crime against humanity,” and publishing a report for Schilling’s American Principles Project fearmongering that gender-affirming care is a money-making scheme “coming for your kids.”

  • Mark Lamb

    Lamb — the sheriff of Pinal County, Arizona, who is currently running for Senate — has become a mainstay in conservative media and appeared as a guest on Kirk’s show at least twice. He also participated in a documentary-style series produced by TPUSA called Border Battle.

    Lamb is a so-called “constitutional sheriff,” part of an extremist movement that falsely believes county sheriffs are the supreme legal authority in the country, overshadowing judges and the federal government. He has appeared at least five times on QAnon shows and once signed a book with the Q slogan “WWG1WGA,” according to QAnon influencer Jeffrey Pederson.. Lamb has also been interviewed on a antisemitic network that has attacked “seditious Jews” and on a white nationalist program, suggesting there is seemingly no show or platform too extreme for him to promote his candidacy and host of books and other branded products.

    Lamb’s ties to extremists extend beyond online streamers. He spoke at a rally organized by the Federation for American Immigration Reform, which has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. He was an inaugural recipient of the Sheriffs Fellowship program at the Trump-aligned Claremont Institute in 2021, whose curriculum was based on racist ideas about Black people and explicitly denied the existence of systemic racism in the U.S. criminal punishment system.

  • Daniel Schmidt

    Schmidt is a former organizer of “Students for Ye,” which he founded to support the fledgling presidential campaign of the rapper formerly known as Kanye West following the celebrity influencer’s neo-Nazi rants on Alex Jones’ show.

    Schmidt gained notoriety after then-Fox News star Tucker Carlson granted the college student an interview last July.

    Roughly one year later, Kirk interviewed Schmidt on his Salem radio show. “White people are not expected to speak up for white people,” Schmidt told Kirk, adding that there is “pure racial hatred toward white people, and it’s everywhere.” 

    Schmidt has previously made antisemitic remarks on Twitter, and was applauded by white supremacist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes. White nationalists Kevin MacDonald and Peter Brimelow have also praised Schmidt.