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Episode Summary

Polling over the decades has shown that most Republican voters are heavily motivated by white Christian identity politics. But Republican elites– politicians, writers, and many donors– were more interested in cutting spending and giving tax cuts to job creators, or rich people in other words.

Over the past 60 years or so, GOP politics has been an imbalance where the base of voters wanted an agenda that promoted Christian nationalist ideas like mandatory school prayer, open discrimination against lesbians and gays, and legal obstacles to non-Christians. But Republican leaders focused more on deregulation and tax policy.

Donald Trump changed all that, however. In addition to giving out tax subsidies to his rich friends, Trump also began implementing Christian nationalism by banning trying to ban Muslim immigration and undermining LGBT rights in America and around the world. He also talked frequently about how his goal was to help Christians have political supremacy and power.

Trump’s reorientation of Republican organizing was resistant at first by traditional Republican elites. But one person who jumped on board almost immediately was Charlie Kirk, the co-founder of Turning Point USA. The group was originally created in 2012 to spread the market fundamentalism of Republican fat cats to America’s youth. But after Trump took over the Republican party, Kirk completely changed TPUSA toward being a Christian nationalist organization.

Joining me today to talk about what specifically that means for Kirk and TPUSA, and the GOP embrace of open Christian nationalism is Matthew Boedy. He is a professor of rhetoric at the University of North Georgia, and he’s also written several fantastic articles about Kirk for us at Flux. He’s also the president of the Georgia conference of the American Association of university professors. The unedited video of our live conversation is below, a transcript of the edited audio follows.


Transcript

MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: Thanks for being here today.

MATTHEW BOEDY: So happy to be here.

SHEFFIELD: All right. So I’ve found that when I talk to people about Charlie Kirk and Turning Point, who are not familiar with that organization, they kind of see Charlie Kirk has just some Twitter troll who is constantly getting humiliated on social media by making dumb statements.

GraphicBut the reality is that, whatever you may think of his personality he has all kinds of money. And I’m just going to put up on the screen here for those who are watching and we’ll read it off as well for people who are listening, just some facts about Turning Point USA. So it was founded in 2012, and it has several different organizations, but between the organizations in 2020, they had revenues of $56.6 million.

They have over 2000 nationwide chapters and those chapters are organized in high schools, colleges and churches across the country. And every year, they host six national conferences where they gather people from all across the country and then also eight separate regional conferences.

So this is a very large organization that we’re talking about.

And they do a lot of activities. And in terms of your personal interest in Turning Point, in Charlie, Kirk, I guess it kind of began when you were targeted by one of their projects which they launched very early on which is basically an attempt to intimidate and censor professors. What are they calling it? The Professor Watch List, right?

BOEDY: They still call it the Professor Watch List and it is an ongoing effort by them. Professor watchlist.org, I think is there a website, but they have dedicated staff to adding people to that. In 2017, I wrote an op-ed for my local Atlanta paper about a bill that was going through our legislature about putting guns on campus. And I thought I’ll just get a couple of readers. And then months later, it was on a Campus Reform writeup. And that’s how Turning Point USA found it. I was one of the original members, if that’s some sort of honorific, the first hundred of that list. And again, I’m a professor in the middle of Georgia, from nowhere school and was thrust into the conversation.

So everybody asks me, why do you have such an obsession with Charlie Kirk and Turning Point USA? And I say, well, they started with me first.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. So tell us what exactly is this Professor Watch List project? What is it?

BOEDY: They describe it as a list of professors who they’re trying to expose to the general public about– anti-conservative bias, left leaning thoughts– whether in the classroom or some sort of public opinion. Again, I wrote a an op-ed about a bill that would limit gun rights that would stop concealed carry from our campuses. And obviously Charlie Kirk and Turning Point they’re big gun advocates. And so that’s one thing that people are on the list for.

SHEFFIELD: But what’s the intent behind the program?

BOEDY: Really, to expose and harass and to name individuals. And if you wanna think about for their audience, it might be not to take their class or to take their class and record them. It’s something to target individual people, as opposed to the indoctrination centers as they call it, the university.

But these are the people who are leading that mythical indoctrination. Yeah. It’s targeted harassment to give a name and a face to the enemy, if you will.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. I think you could argue that this list is really an attempt to cancel professors, basically, because there are real financial repercussions that some people–

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