Late in December, some of the conservative movement’s biggest influencers gathered at the Monarch Theatre in Downtown Phoenix for what was advertised as “the biggest patriot’s party ever.”
Inside, the DJ played a club remix of the “Let’s go, Brandon!” chant, while a curly-haired kid wearing a proper button-up and slacks swang from an aerial hoop above the stage. James O’Keefe, right-wing political activist and founder of Project Veritas, posed for selfies with eager, young fans as the music boomed. Organizers said Matt Gaetz, the Florida lawmaker currently embroiled in scandal amid allegations of child sex trafficking, made an appearance earlier in the night.
The partygoers were in town for AmericaFest, Turning Point USA’s final student activism conference of the year. But while the official speaker list focused on Fox News regulars like Gaetz, the party was geared towards younger influencers, drawn together by Turning Point’s ambassador program. Some of them were lifestyle influencers, while others ran communications for Republican congressmen in Washington like Madison Cawthorn. Many already had podcasts and brand deals. At the event, they wore special badges giving them access to a VIP lounge in the convention center only a few blocks from the hotel rooms Turning Point had booked for them.
Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images
For nearly a decade, Turning Point USA has served as a new kind of College Republican club, setting up a network of campus organizations through its chapter program. But in recent years, the organization has moved beyond on-campus organizing to something more ambitious, launching podcasts and online shows with an eye towards fostering young Republican influencers online.
Increasingly, those influencers are Turning Point’s focus — finding ways to promote them, popularize them, and integrate them into the broader world of conservative media and politics. Instead of the campus, Turning Point is now focused on the politics of Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube and using them to reach a new generation of voters. With platforms increasingly willing to ban conservative voices who violate platform rules, it’s a difficult task and an urgent one for conservatives who fear they’re losing their sway with younger voters.
The project comes with real money. Turning Point’s 2021 investor prospectus set the budget for its media branch (which handles influencer outreach) at over $7.2 million. The organization has onboarded and trained over 400 creators as brand ambassadors, a number verified on social media and in a Turning Point Quizlet account that was taken down shortly after The Verge contacted the organization for comment.
While Turning Point hires talent to host their in-house productions, these unpaid “ambassadors” make up a much larger portion of the organization’s brand media output. As TPUSA’s most recent press kit described it, ambassadors “use their platforms to help share our message with their audiences.”
At the same time, Turning Point seems to have struggled spreading …….