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Leaked chats show white nationalist group’s plot to infiltrate Turning Point USA

The leaks revealed the group’s long-term strategy to gain a foothold in more mainstream, student GOP organizations.

by Tess Owen
Mar 11 2019, 7:58pm

When media nonprofit Unicorn Riot obtained and leaked Identity Evropa’s internal chats last week, it revealed the group’s long-term strategy to distance itself from the ugliness of the violent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, and gain a foothold in more mainstream, student GOP organizations.

Identity Evropa helped plan the white nationalist rally in August 2017, which left one person dead. But the leaked chats — from Discord, a platform popular among gamers, and Slack, a chat application often used for office communications — confirm that the group wants nothing to do with the swastikas and Confederate flags associated with old-school white power movements. Instead, they’ve embraced a preppy, patriotic aesthetic and rely on Greco-Roman imagery to evoke European ancestry to make their brand seem more benign and attract conservative college-aged men.

In particular, many members viewed Turning Point USA, a MAGA-friendly student organization with more than 1,000 chapters at high schools and colleges nationwide, as fertile grounds for recruitment. A recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center found that the number of hate groups in America hit a record high last year, driven largely by a surge in groups catering to young, college-aged white men.

“Pro-Tip,” one member wrote on the Discord server, titled “Nice Respectable People Group,” in February. “Turn your local Turning Point USA chapter to a de-facto IE [Identity Evropa] chapter.”

In the wake of the leaks, Identity Evropa “rebranded” to the more innocuous-sounding “American Identity Movement.” The group even ditched its trademark “Dragon’s Eye” logo, a Germanic symbol representing the choice between good and evil, in favor of an American eagle, decked out in red, white, and blue.

Leader Reinhard Wolff, who also goes by Patrick Casey, took over leadership of Identity Evropa a few months after its members had marched through Charlottesville chanting slogans like “Jews will not replace us,” alongside hardcore neo-Nazis. Wolff explained in a press release that the rebrand had been months in the making and its goal was to get rid of the “baggage accumulated before my tenure.”

“When hate groups tried to ‘unite,’ it was an unmitigated disaster,” said Brian Levin, a criminal justice professor and director of the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. “While some are going underground now and becoming more lean, radical, and violent; others are trying to grow by differentiating themselves with a slightly tweaked, more mainstreamed, bigoted message — with a more stealth PG-13 rating.”

Infiltrating Turning Point

It’s not entirely clear how many members Identity Evropa has accrued since Nathan Damigo, an Iraq War veteran, founded the group in 2016. The Discord server had nearly 900 members, which isn’t necessarily a reflection of the group’s membership but does speak to the numbers of people who are curious, if not sympathetic, to its ideas.

According to the leaked Slack chats, about 200 members were expected to attend a secret Identity Evropa conference in Kentucky last weekend. Consistent with their brand overall, the event had a fairly strict dress code: Attendees were urged to wear “dress slacks or chinos” — no jeans. Some attendees fretted about whether they had enough time to get their suits dry-cleaned.

Part of Identity Evropa’s strategy now relies on its ability to weaponize metaphors to make their white nationalism seem more acceptable, like referring to “European heritage” — which white nationalist often use as a euphemism to mean “white” — or seizing on mainstream conservative issues like immigration.

But that’s posed a unique challenge to groups like Turning Point USA, which Charlie Kirk founded in 2012, when he was just 18 years old, as a backlash to what he saw as liberal bias and political correctness on college campuses.

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From left, Republican National Committee deputy press secretary Raffi Williams; Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah; Charlie Kirk, Turning Point USA, and Sen. Ben Sasse R-Neb., participate in a panel discussion during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Md., Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

In the last two years, Turning Point USA went from a relatively unknown entity to a beacon of millennial conservatism. Kirk, 25, who was a speaker at the Conservative Political Action Conference this year, has met with President Donald Trump numerous times and has become a firebrand for the Trump presidency on college campuses. The eldest Trump son, Don. Jr, even wrote the foreword to Kirk’s 2018 book “Campus Battlefield.”

But the brashness of Turning Point USA’s rhetoric — with its slogan “Socialism Sucks” — and its grassroots structure has, on occasion, left the group vulnerable to infiltration or appropriation by more radical elements of the far-right.

“Hate groups see such an opportunity in the coarse, fragmented, and often bigoted socio-political mainstream, that they are willing to ditch more abrasive propaganda that would otherwise alienate potential new adherents,” Levin said.

In the leaked Identity Evropa Discord chats, one server member wrote that his “ultimate goal” was a “subversion of my school’s TPUSA chapter into a front for IE [Identity Evropa.]”

“Broke: Infiltrating GOP,” another user wrote. “Woke: Infiltrating TPUSA.” Another member claimed that he’d been recruiting with the leader of his school’s Turning Point USA chapter at the club fair.

“Groups like this borrow mainstream political language, mix it with hate, in order to confuse students who are maybe unaware of their intentions,” Kirk told VICE News. “It’s a moving target but one TPUSA is committed to identifying and calling out when it’s brought to our attention. “

“Verging on white nationalism”

Last October, Kirk and Candace Owens, a conservative activist and Turning Point communications director hosted an event at the University of Colorado, Boulder. During a question and answer session, an Identity Evropa member used his moment with the microphone to extol the virtues of “ethno states” or “ethnically homogeneous countries.”

The student and Kirk debated for a couple minutes until the student — with a smirk on his face and enthusiastic nods from a group of students around him — asserted that all “of the top Olympic competitors were from Europe.”

“What?!” said Kirk, leaning forwards.

The student repeated his statement.”European or European stock,” he replied.

“You are verging on white nationalism, my friend,” Kirk said angrily. “I want nothing to do with ethnonationalism or anything like that. I condemn, I disavow completely.”

“To the best of TPUSA’s knowledge, no Evropa representative — or sympathizer — has ever or would be invited to participate in one of our events,” Kirk told VICE News.

But just last week, white nationalist Nicholas Fuentes, who attended Unite the Right, spoke at Iowa State University. During his speech, blamed people of color, immigrants, and “globalists” for America’s problems, according to the Des Moines Register.

Iowa State University's College Republicans released a statement the following day condemning Fuentes and claimed that he’d been invited to speak by Turning Point USA.

But a spokesperson for Turning Point USA said there has been no recognized chapter at Iowa State University since its president stepped down a few months ago. “Unaffiliated students used the Turning Point brand without our knowledge,” the spokesperson told VICE News. “Had we been aware, we would have absolutely not allowed this event to move forward.”

Anyone who wants to invite a speaker under the Turning Point name has to get their request cleared with the national chapter, after filling out an online form. Fuentes would have never been approved to speak, the Turning Point spokesperson said. Kirk and other leaders at Turning Point are investigating the incident and will act accordingly.

Cover image: Identity Evropa recruitment flyer from September 2017 at Purdue University (Courtney of Bill Mullen, a professor of American Studies and member of the Campus Antifascist Network)