The launch of right-wing student group Turning Point UK quickly became a source of confusion for Twitter users this week as dozens of parody accounts claimed to be official university affiliates.
The group, which brands itself as “a student movement for free markets, limited government & personal responsibility,” launched last Friday on Twitter, and quickly received support from prominent Conservative MPs including Jacob Rees-Mogg and Priti Patel.
Turning Point UK aims to bring its US parent organisation’s brand of neoliberal populism to UK universities, tweeting: “Young people are not puppets to be used in the Left’s narrative. We think for ourselves. We act for ourselves. We vote for what we believe in and we believe in a freer society. Smaller Government = Bigger Freedom.”
In one of the promotional posters ac- companying the group’s launch, student activist Dominique Samuels said: “The left has weaponised racism and used it to control the black community for years. Now is the time to demand the freedom to think with our minds, not our race.”
The launch soon descended into confusion as dozens of parody accounts began posting memes pretending to be university chapters of the group.
Despite the official account’s attempts to prove their legitimacy, several Twitter users were misled by the parody accounts.
Matters were only complicated further when two UK charities, Turning Point UK and Turning Point Scotland, were forced to post statements clarifying that they had nothing to do with the political organisation.
Daniel Mcilhiney, who is in charge of Oxford’s Turning Point UK chapter, told Cherwell: “I think the launch went well, the multiplicity of parody accounts shows that we have certainly ruffled some feathers, although I think this is partly down to an incorrect picture painted by the media, I am very pleased to see that people are taking note of young conservatives.
“The Members of Parliament and others in the public eye decided to endorse us entirely off of their own backs. We were pleased to see them taking note of what were against (e.g. The far-left and the alt- right) and trying to counter the negative image presented by the press. We look forward to working with many of those individuals in the future.”
Since the group’s plans were revealed exclusively by Cherwell earlier this month, Turning Point UK has come under pressure to distance itself from the far-right.
The group’s American parent organisation has been plagued with racism scandals, with Turning Point USA’s second-in-command Crystal Clanton resigning after texts were leaked in which she wrote “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE. Like fuck them all . . . I hate blacks. End of story.”
In an interview with Cherwell, the group’s chairman George Farmer described its main objective as combatting ‘cultural Marxism.’
Cultural Marxism is a conspiracy theory popular with the far-right, which blames a plot by mainly Jewish Marxist academics for the success of modern liberation movements such as feminism, multiculturalism and LGBTQ+ rights.
Asked to elaborate on the term ‘cultural Marxism’, Mcilhiney backtracked on Farmer’s statement, telling Cherwell: “What we are saying is that there’s a shift in the cultural zeitgeist and the cultural mind towards the left.
“We have recognised that the terminology of cultural Marxism has some difficult origins, so from now on I think we’ll stay away from the use of that.”
Daniel Mcilhiney’s past political activities include organising events with alt-right fig- ures Carl Benjamin (a.k.a. Sargon of Akkad) and Mark Meechan (a.k.a. Count Dankula), who both spoke at last year’s Tommy Robinson rally, and organising a welcome party for Donald Trump alongside far-right Islamophobe Lucy Brown, who used to work on Robinson’s media team.
Nonetheless, Mcilhiney hopes he will be able to distance himself and Turning Point from the far-right, promising Cherwell that they are neither racist, nor far-right, nor alt- right. He asserted that “racists would be made not to feel welcome.”
Mcilhiney emphasised that the mandate of Turning Point UK is to promote free speech, not campaign on social issues like immigration or terrorism: “There are certainly individuals within Turning Point both in United States and in the United Kingdom who care about social issues and campaign on social issues. But that’s not Turning Point’s mandate. Turning Point’s mandate is merely to talk about freedom: free economies, freedom of thought, freedom of speech.”
Despite this, Mcilhiney does see Turning Point’s role as part of a larger culture war: “We care about culture. We believe in Western democratic values, which have their roots in Judeo-Christianity, that they are good values, and that they are values that should be promoted and celebrated, and that we should be proud of the country we come from.
“What I mean by Judeo-Christian values is the values of community and of personal responsibility; those two must be balanced. I also think most people within Turning Point would agree with me that one of the main cornerstones of society is the family.”
Mcilhiney would not clarify whether this included families with same-sex parents, saying: “We have such a wide range of opinions that it would be foolish of me to even start speculating on a consensus within Turning Point UK.”
The group’s American parent organisation has attracted criticism for its controversial tactics, which include blacklisting left-wing professors on its website Professor Watchlist and secretly funnelling thousands of dollars into student election campaigns.
The group’s Twitter launch reached a new level of confusion when the parody accounts began accusing each other of being troll accounts, including two accounts for the group’s Oxford chapter. One of these, @oxfordtpuk, appeared to be official, as it was followed by Mcilhiney and Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk.
By the end of the day, Turning Point UK’s official account was forced to publish a statement disavowing all Twitter accounts claiming to be regional chapters, including the official Oxford account.