Charlie Kirk coming to Springfield

Turning Point USA founder to speak at annual Lincoln Day Dinner

click to enlarge Charlie Kirk coming to Springfield
PHOTO COURTESY OF CHARLIE KIRK
Charlie Kirk, founder of Turning Point USA

The Sangamon County Republican Central Committee hopes to follow up on record-breaking attendance at last year's Lincoln Day Dinner with this year's April 19 event featuring national conservative political activist Charlie Kirk.

Kirk, 28, a Chicago-area native and Eagle Scout, has said he is dedicated to "win the American culture war."

Raised in Wheeling, Kirk is known for his support of former President Donald Trump, his doubt about the value of masks during the COVID-19 pandemic, his skepticism of human contributions to climate change, and his criticism of transgender individuals and gymnast Simone Biles for her decision to withdraw from the team competition during the 2020 Summer Olympic Games.

Last year's Lincoln Day Dinner benefited from a lull in COVID-19 cases before the delta and omicron variant surges, as well as the popularity of conservative commentator Candace Owens as keynote speaker, when the event attracted more than 1,500 people, central committee chairwoman Dianne Barghouti Hardwick said.

Sangamon County Republican officials checked with some of their younger members for guidance on whom to invite to speak at this year's $100-per-person fundraiser at the Bank of Springfield Center, she told Illinois Times.

"We gave them a choice of a couple of different people, and they like Charlie Kirk, so we said, 'OK, we'll go with Charlie Kirk,'" Barghouti Hardwick said.

Kirk founded Turning Point USA in 2012 and is chairman of Students for Trump. He didn't respond to a request for an interview but says on his website that Turning Point is the "largest and fastest-growing conservative youth activist organization in the country with over 250,000 student members, over 450 full- and part-time staff, and a presence on over 2,000 high school and college campuses nationwide."

Kirk says Turning Point, based in Phoenix, is "a national student movement dedicated to empowering young people to promote the principles of free markets and limited government."

The tax-exempt organization posted $28.5 million in revenues in the fiscal year ending in June 2019, according to the group's most recent IRS form 990. Kirk's compensation that year totaled $292,423, according to the tax document, which is available online at bit.ly/TurningPoint990.

Kirk doesn't have a college degree but reportedly attended New York's King College and Harper College in Palatine.

Former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and his wife, Diana, gave Turning Point $100,000 in 2014 and $50,000 in 2015. In 2017, Kirk called Rauner a "disappointment, somewhat," as governor.

The New York Times reported in 2021 that Liberty University in fall 2020 opted not to renew Kirk's contract as founder of the Falkirk Center – named after Kirk and Jerry Falwell Jr. According to the Times, the center had become the "de facto headquarters of evangelical Trumpism."

The Virginia university's decision came shortly after Falwell, the son of Liberty's founder, resigned as university president amid allegations of sexual impropriety.

Kirk has been prolific on Twitter and in March was suspended after he used a tweet to address Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services Rachel Levine as a male. She is a transgender woman.

Kirk wrote that Levine "spent 54 years of his life as a man. He had a wife and family. He 'transitioned' to being a woman in 2011, Joe Biden appointed Levine to be a 4-Star Admiral and now USA Today has named 'Rachel' Levin as 'Woman of the Year.' Where are the feminists??"

That same month, Kirk tweeted that Vice President Kamala Harris and recently confirmed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson were "Affirmative Action" picks for those jobs.

And in July 2021, Kirk called Biles a "selfish sociopath" after she withdrew from the women's Olympic gymnastics team final in Tokyo, citing mental health issues.

"We are raising a generation of weak people like Simone Biles," Kirk said on his podcast, "The Charlie Kirk Show." "What kind of person skips the gold medal match?"

Kirk said people with mental health problems should opt not to compete in the Olympics. He said Biles is "an incredible athlete ... She's probably the greatest gymnast of all time. She's also very selfish, she's immature, and she is a shame to the country."

Candace Owens and Kirk may represent the far-right end of the Republican Party, but Barghouti Hardwick said that doesn't mean their views don't deserve an audience. Sangamon County Republicans tend to be moderate politically, though the presence of many Catholics plays a role in their firm pro-life stance on abortion, Barghouti Hardwick said.

The county GOP brings in speakers primarily as a draw to raise money for the support of local candidates, she said.

Previous Lincoln Day speakers included singer, hunter and gun-rights advocate Ted Nugent, former Judge Jeanine Pirro, former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, former Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah and former U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson.

As for Kirk, Barghouti Hardwick said, "I don't think he's as controversial as maybe some people would like to make out."

Kyle Stauder, president of the College Republicans at University of Illinois Springfield, said he doesn't agree with Kirk on all the issues but admires him for "getting young people energized about the political process."

Stauder, 20, a junior from Shelbyville who is majoring in political science, wouldn't say which of Kirk's views he disagrees with. But Stauder said Kirk's work to build Turning Point is impressive.

Kirk is among conservative activists who go to college campuses to provide an alternate viewpoint to "liberal ideology" and "fight back against the propaganda that's put out," Stauder said.

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at dolsen@illinoistimes.com or 217-679-7810.

About The Author

Dean Olsen

Dean Olsen is a senior staff writer for Illinois Times. He can be reached at:
dolsen@illinoistimes.com, 217-679-7810 or @DeanOlsenIT.

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