Tucker Carlson, Matt Gaetz, Donald Trump Jr., Sarah Palin. This is only a small selection of the dozens of right-wing pundits and provocateurs who converged upon Phoenix this weekend for Turning Point USA’s “AmericaFest” conference.
Turning Point, which is headquartered in Phoenix, is a national organization that agitates conservative youth, particularly on college campuses. Its four-day event kicked off Saturday at the Phoenix Convention Center and will continue through Tuesday, as a laundry list of far-right figureheads takes the stage in turn.
That will include Kyle Rittenhouse, who was announced last week to be the “VERY special guest” of a panel on the police brutality protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which is slated for Monday afternoon. The acquitted Kenosha shooter may have dropped his Arizona State University classes, but this is just his latest in a series of appearances in Phoenix — perhaps relishing in the outpouring of support he has received from conservative student groups at the university.
Turning Point, perhaps unsurprisingly, did not issue Phoenix New Times a press pass after multiple requests — although it did bestow that privilege upon Micajah Jackson, a local who recently pleaded guilty to federal charges of unlawful picketing in the January 6 riots, after he was photographed entering the building. Jackson has argued he was merely documenting the events.
On Sunday, attendees filtered in and out of the convention center after a stacked morning of speakers: Donald Trump, Jr., followed by a joint speech by Palin and Turning Point founder Charlie Kirk. The day before, Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson had served as the conference’s first major speaker, where his proclamations that his political opponents were “seized by a spirit of destruction” drew raucous applause.
Outside, one attendee, Nicholas Salonites, said he was visiting Phoenix by way of Liberty University, the scandal-ridden Evangelical school in Virginia.
“There’s a lot of energy among the youth right now,” he said.
It made sense that the conference was in Phoenix, he noted: It was Turning Point’s “hometown.”
Although many attendees polled outside the center, like Salonites, said they hailed from out of state, Arizona does have an outsized presence at the conference. Alongside panels like “How Cultural Marxists Hijacked America” and “How to Survive Wokism & Change the World” was a breakout session Sunday on Arizona’s sham election audit: “State by State Election Integrity: What Happened in AZ, The Audit, and The Future.”
Of course, “what happened” in Arizona was dictated in part by Turning Point, which has played a key role over the past year in disseminating claims of election fraud on a national level — and in Arizona. If there’s any takeaway from the spectacle of “AmericaFest,” it’s the organization’s major influence in the state, despite its national outlook.
It was no accident that Turning Point settled on Phoenix as the location for its new national headquarters, back in 2018.
Several members of Turning Point’s executive team hail from Arizona, and wield plenty of influence in state politics. Tyler Bowyer, the chief operating officer, was elected last year to be the Arizona GOP’s national committeeman, for instance. Justin Olson, the chief financial officer, serves on the Arizona Corporation Commission. And Justin Streiff, chief development officer, once managed fundraising at the Goldwater Institute, a conservative think tank in Phoenix.
“We saw energy and we saw an atmosphere in Arizona that wanted us there,” Kirk, Turning Point’s founder and executive director, said back in 2018, at a ribbon-cutting event for the organization’s new Phoenix headquarters. Previously, the group had been based in Illinois.
In Arizona, Turning Point was greeted with open arms. Various Arizona politicians, including state GOP chair Kelli Ward and then-Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, now an Arizona Supreme Court justice, attended the event in support of the organization.
Even Governor Doug Ducey offered remarks: “I really do believe that this headquarters belongs in Arizona,” he said. “It is welcomed in Arizona.”
Turning Point has since become a major player in the Arizona Republican Party.
AmericaFest is hardly the first event the organization has brought to Phoenix — in July, the group brought former president Donald Trump to Phoenix for a rally to "protect our elections."
The group has also focused its attention on Trump-backed candidates in Arizona like Kari Lake, who frequently appears at the group’s events.
“It’s just a matter of time before the GOP in Arizona will be a pseudonym for Turning Point,” as one Arizona Republican operative told the Guardian in October.
If the turnout and spectacle at AmericaFest is any indication, that day may be fast approaching.