Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens of Turning Point USA, the influential conservative student group with more than 350 chapters on college and high school campuses nationally, canceled a speaking engagement hosted by students from Virginia Tech and Liberty University because of unforeseen travel conflicts.
Or, as one disgruntled student put it, “They bailed on us for Yeezy.”
After months of planning, public condemnation from both the local NAACP and student government, and threats of counterprotests, the Turning Point USA chapter at Virginia Tech found out last moment that Kirk and Owens would be no-shows. They canceled on the college kids to hang out with Kanye West.
“He had an opportunity on Tuesday to meet with Kanye West out in Hollywood and no way for him to get a connecting flight out there from any of the surrounding airports,” Ken Stiles, faculty adviser of the Virginia Tech chapter, said of Kirk in an interview.
The speech was scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, not unlike the numerous events that Turning Point USA hosts for students around the country. The cancellation came just eight hours beforehand Monday morning because, as one student leader explained, “They said they had to run off the momentum of the Kanye-thing.”
Kanye recently became the rare celebrity to voice support for this White House. After he tweeted his love of President Trump and modeled a MAGA hat, Kirk and Owens flocked to the rapper. According to pictures shared on social media by none other than the son of the president, Donald Trump Jr., the duo even held an impromptu summit with the superstar on Sunday in Los Angeles.
Woah, looks like my pals @realcandaceO and @charlieKirk11 hanging with @kanyeWest yesterday. This should be interesting! 🤔 pic.twitter.com/a57WvclmCh— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) April 30, 2018
Two days after that symposium, the morning after Kirk and Owens were scheduled to speak in Virginia, the pair joined Kanye for a TMZ interview Tuesday. Among other observations, the rapper noted that 400 years of slavery “sounds like a choice.”
Back on campus, enthusiasm for the chapter has flagged as students start studying for finals. Their faculty adviser has stepped down. Two student executives have resigned from the board of directors. According to one student leader, the club is trying to “make a conscience decision about whether or not this is worth” continuing the next semester.
“I was angry and then just deflated. I’ll never understand it if I’m being honest. They just thought about things nationally,” the student, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said in an interview. “We got fucked. There is no other way to explain this. We were small fish in a big pond and we definitely got used.”
While Turning Point USA did not return numerous requests for comment, text messages reviewed by the Washington Examiner appear to show Kirk less than fully contrite.
“We are really sorry and feel horrible,” says one message. “This is no excuse, except that we were left with two horrible choices. I don’t even know if we made the right once [sic], we just had to make a decision,” reads another. “So whatever it is worth, I am so, so sorry,” the last concludes.
Would it have really been that horrible to keep their commitment?
For better or worse, Owen and Kirk are two of the most visible young leaders the conservative movement has to offer today. He is a playskool William F. Buckley and she is an aspiring Phyllis Schlafly, apparently. It is clear they understand celebrity. They know how to insert themselves into the headlines.
It is not obvious, however, that they understand the responsibility they have to the even younger students who crave their attention.