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Campus Reform

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  • Turning Point USA and Campus Reform are defending a Florida professor with ties to a white nationalist group

    Blog ››› ››› GRACE BENNETT


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    A recent investigation exposed ties between a Florida professor, Marshall DeRosa, and the white nationalist hate group League of the South. DeRosa currently serves as faculty adviser for his university's chapter of the conservative organization Turning Point USA (TPUSA). In response to student activism in the aftermath of the report, TPUSA and fellow conservative organization, Campus Reform -- both of which have recently gained influence in the conservative media echo chamber --  are defending DeRosa and attempting to whitewash his history.

    TPUSA is perhaps best known for a misguided 2017 protest in which its members wore adult diapers to “trigger the libs,” but the organization’s stated mission is to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government.” Campus Reform is a project of The Leadership Institute, a decades-old and Koch-funded nonprofit that trains young conservative activists and policy leaders to sell right-wing ideals through seminars on media, fundraising, communications, and campaigning. TPUSA’s website lists The Leadership Institute as one of its “partners.”

    Both TPUSA and Campus Reform have gained prominence in part due to right-wing media’s readiness to offer them a platform. Fox News frequently hosts TPUSA founder and conservative “boy wonder” Charlie Kirk and relies upon Campus Reform’s content (which includes selectively edited videos) to fearmonger about “liberal facism” and the plight of conservative students on college campuses. Other conservative outlets, including Breitbart.com, The Daily Caller, and National Review, have also cited Campus Reform to stir up outrage about American colleges.

    In March, a report by the activist group UnKoch My Campus, which highlights the influence Republican megadonors Charles and David Koch have on colleges and universities, revealed a connection between DeRosa, a Koch-affiliated professor at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), and League of the South (LOS), a white nationalist, neo-confederate group. According to both UnKoch My Campus and The Nation, DeRosa was a “faculty member” at the LOS Institute, the “educational arm” of white-nationalist group League of the South (LOS), from 2000 until at least 2009.

    The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has described LOS as a neo-Confederate hate group dedicated to a second Southern secession and “a society dominated by ‘European Americans.’” Group members participated in the August 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, VA, and one LOS member has since been charged with viciously beating a black man during the rally.

    DeRosa’s association with LOS isn’t the only damning information to come to light in recent months. After the UnKoch My Campus report was released, students discovered two extremist and bigoted essays that DeRosa had penned on the website of the conservative Abbeville Institute, which was created by the founder of the LOS Institute. In one essay, DeRosa claimed that “linking … slavery with white supremacy is a gross over-simplification” and that, in fact, “black supremacy is the origin of Southern slavery.” In another, DeRosa repeatedly misgendered Olympic gold medalist and reality television star Caitlyn Jenner, asserted that Jenner will “never be a woman,” and called her “somewhat repulsive from a Christian perspective.”

    Since DeRosa’s ideological leanings and former ties to LOS came to light, students at Florida Atlantic University have been protesting his position at the school. Regardless of clear evidence of DeRosa’s unsavory associations and extremist views, however, TPUSA and Campus Reform have defended him throughout the controversy, and attempted to explain away his racist past. The professor himself has attempted to downplay his relationship with the neo-Confederate group. He told The Nation that he “disengaged early on” after he “got an inkling as to some of the characters involved.” But, as experts on LOS told The Nation, it’s unlikely that DeRosa could have spent nine years within the group without recognizing the racist beliefs at the organization’s core. According to SPLC's Heidi Beirich “LOS was different when DeRosa was involved, not as militant, but it still had very, very bad racial views.” She added that DeRosa “can’t scurry away from the fact that for a long time he was a member of a group that had white-supremacist views.”

    Despite this, TPUSA chapter President Morgan Sachs told Campus Reform that the group supports its adviser and added that she is proud of DeRosa for “refusing to back down” in the face of “these false allegations.” University Press wrote that Sachs claimed “she’s used to antagonistic left-wing groups targeting” her organization and that as soon as she saw the posters decrying DeRosa, she covered them with TPUSA “socialism sucks” stickers.

    Campus Reform has run two articles on its website defending DeRosa as a “conservative” and condemning the students protesting his position at the university. The first article, posted March 29, was titled “Flyers defame conservative prof as a 'white supremacist'” and argued that students were smearing DeRosa “over his connection to conservative organizations.” The second post, from April 10, was titled “Students crash faculty meeting to attack conservative prof,” called the protests against DeRosa a “crusade,” and defended the professor, claiming he “has explained that while he was once a faculty member with the League of the South, he cut ties with the group long ago once it began to become more extreme.”

    As the TPUSA and Campus Reform grow more prominent thanks to the platform given to them by right-wing media, the risk only increases of the racist ideologies they excuse and enable being popularized as well.

  • Fox News ran over 50 segments in a month fearmongering about college campuses. These two organizations are driving the outrage.

    Turning Point USA fundraises off of Fox segments about “nuttiness on college campuses,” which frequently come from its “partner” Campus Reform

    Blog ››› ››› BOBBY LEWIS


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    On April 6, Politico magazine ran a profile of Charlie Kirk, the founder, chief fundraiser, and public face of Turning Point USA (TPUSA). Though TPUSA is perhaps best known for a misguided 2017 protest in which members wore adult diapers to “trigger the libs”, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit’s stated mission is to “identify, educate, train, and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets, and limited government.” Politico magazine reported that TPUSA’s donors generally “inhabit a conservative media universe that pumps them with anxiety about liberal kids,” and that “Kirk is not shy about saying he’s selling them a solution to those worries”:

    “You can’t watch Fox News without seeing five or six segments a day about the nuttiness on college campuses,” Kirk told me in one of several interviews we conducted starting in November of last year. “You pair that nuttiness up with people in their 60s and 70s who are beginning to map out where they want a significant portion of their wealth to go, and they’re saying, ‘I don’t want my money to go to my university. It’s not representing my values.’ Then we come along.”

    Kirk isn’t wrong about the “nuttiness” on Fox News. Between March 1 and April 5, Fox ran at least 53 segments promoting supposedly outrageous stories on American college campuses. Of these 53 segments, 40 were stories previously reported by a conservative organization called Campus Reform, and 15 of those 40 segments either cited Campus Reform specifically, or featured a Campus Reform representative to comment.

    Campus Reform is a project of The Leadership Institute, a decades-old nonprofit that trains young conservative activists and policy leaders to sell right-wing ideals through seminars on media, fundraising, communications, and campaigning. TPUSA’s website lists The Leadership Institute as one of its “partners,” meaning that Kirk uses manipulative stories originating from his allies to fundraise for his own organization, with little acknowledgement of his partner relationship to the source of many such stories. Put another way, Kirk’s donor base is filled with “anxiety about liberal kids” because Kirk’s allies actively fuel and encourage that anxiety.

    Some examples of Fox pushing Campus Reform stories over the past year:

    Fox & Friends aired a video from Campus Reform's Cabot Phillips in which he lied to students about Trump’s State of the Union address to make college students appear uninformed. As Media Matters reported, this deceptively edited video got heavy playtime on Fox News and was also featured on Alex Jones’ Infowars.

    On Fox & Friends, Phillips dismissed high school- and college-aged March for Our Lives demonstrators for their “lack of appreciation and understanding of the Second Amendment.”

    Laura Ingraham and her radio producer complained about a Christian college “changing history” by removing its Crusader mascot -- a story Campus Reform had covered several days before.

    Fox & Friends mocked gender-neutral pronouns, using a list from Campus Reform. While discussing Kennesaw State University’s guide to using gender-neutral pronouns like ne and ey, multiple people in the studio laughed as Fox host Jillian Mele said, “I don’t even know what I just read, oh my goodness.” Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade added, “that makes 2 million people.” Later, when Kilmeade read the headline himself, he commented, “I’m not sure of who’s who, but I know I don’t like it. … What planet am I on?”

    The relationship between TPUSA and The Leadership Institute previously revealed itself in one of Kirk’s best-known projects, “Professor Watchlist.” The Campus Reform-sourced operation  targets professors nationwide who allegedly “discriminate against conservative students,” collecting tips on them to a database. According to Politico magazine, “the list is also ill-maintained and often inaccurate,” with “multiple cases of professors being listed for things they didn’t exactly say or do, and others listed for petty criteria, like being rude to students or making quips about Trump.”

    Methodology

    Media Matters searched SnapStream for variations of the words “campus,” “university,” or “college" from March 1 to April 5 on all Fox News Channel programming. Including “Headlines” segments, we counted mentions if their framing played primarily into existing right-wing college narratives about college campuses, such as anti-Trump professors or free speech issues, and/or if a host explicitly mentioned “Campus Reform.”

  • Fox & Friends follows Infowars in running with right-wing video attacking college students

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Fox News’ Fox & Friends and far-right conspiracy theory website Infowars both ran with the conservative activist group Campus Reform’s latest selectively edited hit piece against college students. Fox & Friends further edited the video and showed students' responses without giving much context to the nature of the questions that were posed to them. 

    Campus Reform is a discredited conservative group funded by right-wing dark money networks that takes students and professors out of context to fearmonger about perceived instances of liberal bias on college campuses. In its latest video, Campus Reform Media Director Cabot Phillips lied to students at New York University (NYU), telling them that President Donald Trump had already delivered his State of the Union address (the speech will take place January 30).

    Phillips gave the students fabricated information about what Trump said in the speech and asked for their thoughts. The video on Campus Reform's website features some of those questions. But on Fox & Friends, the hosts and Philips didn't always mention what he specifically asked the students, airing only the responses to his deceptive questions. For example, in the video posted on Campus Reform, Philips told some students: "One of the craziest moments [was] when he started a 'build the wall' chant with all the Republicans that were there. People on social media were accusing him of basically using the State of the Union as a campaign event." Fox deceptively aired only a response to this statement in which a woman said, "The fact that he started a chant, he's big on those."

    Alex Jones’ conspiracy theorist site Infowars and Fox & Friends have both given credence to the video. Fox’s flagship morning show aired parts of the video and hosted Phillips for an interview where they proceeded to mock the students.

    From the January 29 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends:

    AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): President Trump set to give his first State of the Union address tomorrow. So what happens when college students are asked about the speech before it actually takes place? Campus Reform went to NYU to find out. Watch.

    [BEGIN VIDEO]

    CABOT PHILLIPS (CAMPUS REFORM): What was your reaction to everything that was said?

    UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: I didn’t watch it because I couldn’t bring myself to watch it.

    UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Quite racist at the very least, if not up there with most racist.

    UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Hopefully everything that he’s outlined can be overturned by the public opinion.

    [END CLIP]

    BRIAN KILMEADE (CO-HOST): Yes. Exactly. It’s called voting. Here now to discuss is CampusReform.org correspondent Cabot Phillips. So, Cabot, welcome back. So the premise was, let’s ask people about a speech that hasn’t happened yet.

    PHILLIPS: Exactly.

    KILMEADE: And what was the NYU reaction?

    PHILLIPS: The reaction was overwhelming disapproval of this speech, which should be encouraging for President Trump because there’s nowhere but up from here because they haven't actually heard any speech. It hasn't happened. But we’ve been hearing so long how the left has shut down anything that has to do with President Trump, with conservatism. And most conservatives assume it's not based on facts. It's based on rhetoric. It’s based on feelings, and this kind of proves that. And isn't it ironic, too, that these are supposed to be the most open-minded segment of society, the left. But, yet, they’re not coming in with an open mind to Trump's presidency or to conservatism at all. They shut down completely without actually knowing the facts.

    EARHARDT: Did you have anyone, one or two at least, that said this speech hasn't happened yet?

    PHILLIPS: Not one person was able to tell me the speech did not happen.

    EARHARDT: Really?

    PHILLIPS: There were a few that said I don't want to go on the record. I'm not entirely sure what was said. But one thing that -- every college campus I go to with Campus Reform, there's always one thing in common, and it's that there is an overwhelming pressure and bias to hate President Trump at all costs, even if there are no facts there.

  • Fox News helped conservative spread lie that she was added to an "LGBTQ hate-list"

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Fox News published an op-ed by Hannah Scherlacher, from the conservative media outlet Campus Reform, and later hosted her on television to push a false claim that she was added to a “hate-list” designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). In fact, Scherlacher was not added to any hate list -- she was simply included in a list SPLC posts regularly of guests who had appeared on a radio program of the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council. Right-wing media outlets parroted Scherlacher’s false claim, saying she’d been “defame[d].”

  • Conservative media misinformation leads to violent threats against professors

    Blog ››› ››› BRETT ROBERTSON


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The conservative media misinformation cycle is increasingly targeting college professors for engaging in what they call anti-white rhetoric. Some conservative advocacy groups and right-wing and conservative media are working together to produce fake news about professors, leading to threats, intimidation, and campus shutdowns.

    Several articles published in the past week in The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed trace the path of misinformation as it moves through the conservative media ecosystem. The Chronicle notes: “Whether true or trumped up, tales of liberal faculty espousing tone-deaf or noxious views are good business for the network of conservative media outlets that purport to document the leftward drift of higher education.” The process often starts with Campus Reform, a website where conservative college students write about perceived liberal bias on campus.

    The Chronicle reports that “Campus Reform’s pieces are often stamped with the hallmarks of nonpartisan journalism” but that they are packaged with sensational headlines and generally fail to place professors’ comments in context. These stories are picked up by right-wing “longstanding industry leaders” such as “The National Review and edgier newcomers like Heat Street and The Blaze,” which then further skew the original stories in ways intended to resonate with their conservative audience. After bouncing around right-wing media, the stories may be picked up by more mainstream conservative media outlets such as Fox News. By this time the story often bears only a superficial resemblance to reality. The result of these right-wing media campaigns has sometimes been an outpouring of abuse and threats against the professors. Recent instances have resulted in one campus closing down, universities asking professors to take a leave from campus, and a professor moving to protect his family.

    For instance, one of the many examples the Chronicle documented was the case of Trinity College professor Johnny Eric Williams. On June 18, Williams published a series of Facebook posts on race and policing. He shared a controversial article titled “Let Them Fucking Die” that referenced the shooting of Republican Rep. Steve Scalise (LA-R).

    Campus Reform quickly wrote an article about Williams’ social network posts with the headline “Prof calls whites ‘inhuman assholes,’ says ‘let them die.’” The Blaze and The Daily Caller picked up the Campus Reform piece and wrote articles titled “College professor to blacks, other minorities: Let white people ‘f***ing die’” and “Professor Calls White People Inhuman,” respectively.

    On June 21, The Washington Times followed with an article based on these three pieces titled “Trinity College professor calls white people ‘inhuman’: ‘Let them f-ing die.’” Finally, Fox News published an article the same day titled “Professor’s profane, anti-white messages cause campus controversy.” Williams also issued a statement on June 21, defending his position: “It is evident to anyone who carefully reads my posts on Facebook and Twitter that I did not call for the death of all self-identified ‘whites,’” he said. He called the coverage a “provocative move to get readers to pay attention to my reasoned, reasonable, and yes angry argument.” But by then, the cycle was complete and the campus was temporarily shut down due to a multitude of violent threats.

    Trinity College eventually placed Williams on leave. Williams told the media that this was not his idea; the Hartford Courant quoted him saying, “They said it was in the interest of the college, primarily in their interest, not in my interest.”

    Media Matters has documented an extensive network of conservative and right-wing funders, advocacy organizations, and media organizations that work together to generate a toxic culture of harassment and intimidation. Campus Reform plays a critical role in this nexus by providing stories about college campuses. Campus Reform is also intimately connected to Professor Watchlist, another right-wing campus group that targets college professors and asks site visitors to “submit a tip” about professors who “discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.” Campus Reform is the primary documentary source that Professor Watchlist links to to substantiate professors’ purported anti-conservative discrimination. Two of the professors profiled in the recent Chronicle stories, Tommy Curry and Johnny Eric Williams, are also profiled on Professor Watchlist. Professor Watchlist currently lists 216 professors, complete with pictures, brief summaries of their alleged offenses, and links to stories of dubious quality detailing these offenses.

    Inside Higher Ed reports that the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) “is definitely concerned about this trend” of professor intimidation. The article notes that some universities have offered “mixed responses” to professors in the wake of threats and intimidation. Universities have also censored, fired, or put on leave some professors, like Williams, who are targeted by these dishonest campaigns. They have also tried to cancel, or rename controversial courses that draw attention of the far right.

    Universities that fail to protect professors against the dishonest misinformation campaigns of conservative media are complicit in the rise in violent right-wing rhetoric on college campuses. A statement from AAUP, reported by the Chronicle, highlights the risk: “Threatening messages are likely to stifle free expression and cause faculty and others on campus to self-censor so as to avoid being subjected to similar treatment.” The conservative media that create the environment for these threats -- and the mainstream media outlets that fail to aggressively counter this misinformation -- are also at fault in creating less safe and less open universities.

  • The Conservative Dark-Money Groups Infiltrating Campus Politics

    ››› ››› PAM VOGEL

    College campuses have long served as unique places for the free exchange of ideas -- but increasingly they’ve also become playgrounds for ideologically driven, right-wing billionaires and the dark-money groups they fund. Media Matters has mapped out some of the biggest actors behind astroturf conservative campus activism, creating an echo chamber of seemingly grass-roots right-wing student media and campus groups that are actually propped up by a handful of the same conservative funders and, sometimes, even prominent hate groups.