‘We’re under attack’: young conservatives gather to reject political correctness

This week 3,000 college students met near Trumps Mar-a-Lago resort for a summit on free speech, the culture wars, and the dangers posed by the left

Its an American tradition that any large gathering of students usually ends up in a party. Such a convocation in Florida this week, barely a stones throw from Donald Trumps opulent winter retreat at Mar-a-Lago, was billed as a political action summit for young conservatives. In the event, amid a multitude of Make America Great Again caps and Trump for America flags, it was essentially a raucous celebration of the president himself.

About 3,000 students from campuses nationwide gathered on Trumps doorstep at the Palm Beach County convention center for the four-day winter summit, hosted by Turning Point USA. The mission statement of that young persons activist group promotes non-partisan debate, dialogue and discussion. But its leanings were signalled pretty clearly in the quasi-official motto that was printed on placards placed on every seat: Big government sucks.

A succession of Trumps biggest cheerleaders joined the party as headline speakers, from former White House staffers Sebastian Gorka and Anthony Scaramucci to rightwing commentators and broadcasters including Dennis Prager and Tomi Lahren. Each warned the eager young loyalists of the dangers posed by the left.

Some of the loudest appreciation was, however, reserved for the presidents son Donald Trump Jr, who came to tell the students that faceless government officials were behind special counsel Robert Muellers investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

There is, and there are, people at the highest levels of government that dont want to let America be America, Trump Jr told his enthusiastic audience. My father talked about rigged system during the campaign, and it is. Now were seeing it.

Charlie Kirk, the 24-year-old founder and executive director of Turning Point USA, is seen as a rising star of the right. He bristled at the suggestion his lineup of speakers was weighted to deliver a strongly pro-Trump message.

Its actually a very diverse group, racially diverse, ethnically diverse and philosophically diverse, he told the Guardian, shortly before taking to the stage with Trump Jr.

One of these dishonest reporters I was talking to a couple of weeks ago said, Hey Charlie, it seems your speaker lineup is all people who love Trump and work for Fox News. I said, Thats one of the most intellectually dishonest statements Ive ever seen.

Conservative
Conservative commentator Tomi Lahren was among the speakers at the Turning Point USA summit. Photograph: Colin Young-Wolff/Invision/AP

We have Austin Petersen, who ran for president under the Libertarian party, who is a total Never Trumper. We have Ben Shapiro, who is like the leading Never Trump voice, we have libertarian speakers such as Dave Rubin.

We want big names, people that draw attention, and you know what? Theres going to be a lot of contradictory statements. Were cool with that. Theres going to be Alex Epstein in a shirt that says I love fossil fuels and were going to have speakers talking about how conservatives should better embrace the idea of climate change. It shows that we as Turning Point we embrace conservatives, libertarians, people in the middle.

So why the need for an action summit when Trump won the election 13 months ago and conservatives control both houses of Congress?

Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

The President has accomplished some absolutely historic things during this past year. Thank you Charlie Kirk of Turning Points USA. Sadly, the Fake Mainstream Media will NEVER talk about our accomplishments in their end of year reviews. We are compiling a long & beautiful list.

December 22, 2017

Ive found over the last couple of years how intolerant and dangerous college campuses have become for conservatives, Kirk said, citing a culture war he sees raging between left and right.

We find it unacceptable that students are kicked out of class for wearing Trump shirts or being ostracised for their beliefs. Were not going to accept the campus culture as it is. Were not going to play the victim card like we always accuse the left of doing. Were going to be saying, You know what? Yeah were under attack, lets punch back twice as hard.

Hastily, he added: Metaphorically, of course.

Fighting the PC police

On the floor, the opening night matched anything seen at a Trump campaign rally. Shouts of lock her up echoed whenever Hillary Clintons name was mentioned; there were chants of CNN sucks whenever anybody referenced the hated media. Prager, a conservative radio talkshow host and accomplished amateur conductor, warned the left was trying to hijack and kill off classical music. Trump Jr claimed it was now illegal in California to call a man with a beard sir if they identified as female.

One of the most popular themes of the night, if not the entire conference, was the perceived victimisation and persecution of conservative students and accompanying restrictions on free speech. It was a message reinforced by breakout sessions entitled Suing your school 101: knowing and defending the first amendment on campus and Fighting the PC police on your campus.

Supporters
Supporters greet Donald Trump as he arrives at West Palm Beach airport on 22 December. Photograph: Carlos Barria/Reuters

Trump Jr backed up Kirks claim of a culture war, with the nations colleges and universities as the battleground. You guys are on the frontlines, he said.

Greg Aselbekian, a 24-year-old studying business management at Nichols College, Massachusetts, said he had lost friends over his support for Trump.

I feel the whole country is even more divided, he said. You got the media, you got everybody telling you to vote for Hillary or vote Democrat, and the people who listen to them will not really listen to our side because they think the left side is the only way to be.

You have antifa destroying cities, youve got groups like Black Lives Matter and feminism just taking things way to a different level, all these marches and riots. Anyone whos white who voted for Trump is a white supremacist. Theres a price to pay when youre in favour of Trump or anything rightwing.

Joel Valdez, 18, a first-year political science major at the University of Illinois, said a campus incident in which a leftwing activist smashed his phone had only bolstered his resolve.

Im a Hispanic American and theyre calling me white supremacist, he said. After the election of Donald Trump the left was really shaken up. [But] the conservative message is going to resonate with people who felt left out by the Democrats.

Hannah Bickford, 21, a music student at Montana State University, was dressed in a Trump hat and college Republican shirt to signal her support for the president. She declared she was very happy with his performance so far.

Im here to network with people and hear from amazing speakers and people who share similar ideas, learn from each other and grow as a group of people, she said. Im open to anything, to listen and discuss.

You cant really learn unless youre open to new things.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/dec/23/conservative-student-summit-florida-turning-point-usa-trump