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Right-wing group’s attempt to open at Chicago high school rejected

After talk of starting a Turning Point USA chapter at Taft High School emerged, the school’s principal said they will “never tolerate” student groups that go against the school’s values.

William Howard Taft High School, located at 6530 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. in the Old Norwood Park neighborhood, Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Administrators at a Chicago Public Schools high school have shot down an attempt by a right-wing group to form a chapter on the Northwest Side campus of “an organization promoting racial intolerance.”

Meanwhile, Chicago police said they are investigating a social media post by a longtime CPD sergeant that praised supposed efforts by students to start the group, Turning Point USA.

Taft High School Principal Mark Grishaber said in a letter to the school community earlier this month that he was “disturbed” by efforts to launch a Turning Point chapter at Taft. The right-wing organization claims to have a presence at thousands of high schools and college campuses nationwide, including in the Chicago suburbs, according to its website.

The organization was founded in 2012 by Charlie Kirk, an avid Trump supporter who considers critical race theory and the concept of white privilege as racist against whites. The group’s key principles, he says, are rooted in capitalism, the U.S. Constitution and that the U.S. is the “greatest country in the history of the world.” Kirk grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago and attended Wheeling High School.

Grishaber said in his note that the group doesn’t support diversity and inclusion and contradicts the school’s mission statement to “educate global citizens to create a better world.”

“Please know that staff and administration at Taft will never tolerate the formation of any group that does not support these values,” Grishaber wrote. “Our diversity is our strength, and we are proud to celebrate it in our classrooms and school organizations.”

Members of the Taft local school council met Tuesday. Principal Mark Grishaber (third from right in coat and tie) said students didn’t formally fill out an application to start Turning Point USA.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

At a Taft local school council meeting Tuesday night, Grishaber said the student interested in starting the group never filled out a formal application to get the group started.

During public comment at the end of the meeting, one person who spoke via Google Meets and identified himself as Robert S. said not allowing the group is “kind of contradicting if you’re shutting down a group of individuals based on their opinions and viewpoints. It definitely goes against the mission statement of Taft.”

A 1968 graduate of Taft who attended the meeting, Art Ellingsen, said “students need to hear the other side of the discussion, the conservative point of view.”

Earlier Tuesday, Amelia “Ammie” Kessem, the 41st Ward Republican committeeman and a 20-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, told the Sun-Times she first heard about the potential Taft chapter through her daughter, a senior at the school who was interested in the group.

Kessem took to Facebook earlier this month to praise the “brave students” seeking to start the chapter.

“I could not be more proud of them,” she wrote. “In a city where Liberal Progressives have continually and unjustifiably attacked the characters of conservatives, including myself and my children ... please help support them and their cause by posting some encouraging messages.”

Kessem’s post, however, drew the attention of CPD officials. Police have initiated an investigation into the Dec. 5 post and potential involvement with the group at Taft, a CPD spokesperson confirmed.

Kessem said she never “prompted [students] to want to start a chapter.” She declined to make her daughter available for an interview.

Turning Point USA has on several occasions been accused of spreading extremist views. Turning Point Action, the political arm of the group, paid teens to spread misinformation about the 2020 election and COVID-19, the Washington Post reported.

But when Kirk, the group’s founder, spoke at Colorado State University in 2018, attracting some neo-Nazi protesters, Kirk explicitly distanced Turning Point USA from those protesters, the Coloradoan reported.

“It’s not who we are,” Kirk said in his speech. “It’s not what we believe, it’s not what Turning Point believes.”

Kessem said the idea that Turning Point USA promotes racial intolerance is “absolutely ridiculous” and said the organization has members of different races, ethnic backgrounds and sexual orientation.

Nora Flanagan, a teacher at Northside College Prep who does research on white nationalism, told the Sun-Times that Turning Point USA is “on a good day, white nationalist-adjacent,” referring to homophobic and transphobic posts on social media made by people involved.

“Only the most unashamed, unabashed racists are going to put a swastika on their clothing,” Flanagan said. “Turning Point, for my money, is the most scrubbed version of the same old ideology.”

Kessem encouraged the students trying to form the group to “take a step back” and decide how to proceed in January. An Instagram account purporting to represent Turning Point at Taft posted on its story Tuesday that the group “officially moved” its account to the Cook County chapter of the organization.