A Monday night meeting of MSU’s chapter of the conservative youth organization Turning Point USA, or TPUSA, started out normally with club business and the introduction of a guest speaker – former Michigan gubernatorial candidate Ryan Kelley.
The evening quickly turned into a heated debate when several students in the audience revealed themselves as protestors.
The TPUSA meeting had been advertised on the groups’ social media, featuring Kelley, who lost the Republican nomination to Tudor Dixon in August.
Two months before Michigan's primaries, Kelley was arrested by the FBI for involvement in the Jan. 6, riot last year at the U.S. Capitol Building. He used the arrest the bolster his campaign.
Kelley opened the meeting by asking students to share their experiences as conservatives at MSU.
Before Kelley could get too far into his question and answer session, however, he was interrupted by comparative cultures and politics sophomore Jesse Estrada White.
Estrada White said he “couldn’t take it anymore” when Kelley answered a question about personal freedoms by condemning democracy as “mob rule” and “the thing that drove China to communism.”
“You talk about individual freedom and yet you want to tell me how to live my life,” Estrada White said. “I'm not doing this for a conversation, I'm doing this so you understand there are people in this college and in this world that don’t stand for this bigotry.”
Upon Estrada White’s interjection, other student protestors joined in, calling Kelley a “f–king fascist a–hole” and expressing anger at his presence on campus.
Kelley yelled back, and members of TPUSA began arguing with the protestors as students leading the meeting attempted to calm the room.
Eventually, the yelling settled into a still-impassioned debate between Kelley, the protestors, and James Stewart, a right-wing podcaster who was present at the meeting collecting film for a documentary.
The spirited discussion spanned several of the most pressing issues facing Michiganders and Americans ahead of the 2022 midterm elections face – abortion, immigration, and education.
Kelley said that the protestors lacked understanding about the form of oppression in America.
“We know where the fascism comes from in this country,” Kelley said. “It comes from the Democrats.”
The protestors began to exit the meeting to attend another commitment after about a half-hour of discussion, but said they appreciated Kelley’s willingness to speak with them instead of having them flat out removed from the meeting.
A representative from TPUSA stated that Kelley’s political responses to questions from the protestors were not affiliated with his organization. Turning Point has made moves to distance itself at its events from speakers promoting narratives about fraudulent voting practices in the 2020 election.
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Kelley mentioned several proven-false instances of election fraud, following Donald Trump’s loss of the presidency – including the issuing of absentee ballots to the dead and mail-in ballot fraud. He was also a speaker at a Lansing rally in 2021, which called for a full forensic audit of Michigan’s tabulation of votes in the 2020 election.
Kelley said he believes he was arrested due to his polling success in the gubernatorial primary earlier this year. When asked if he plans to vote for Republican nominee Tudor Dixon in November, Kelley declined to comment.
Kelley was also asked by attendee Sebastian Linares if it made him uncomfortable to have been present at the Jan. 6 riot alongside extremist groups displaying neo-Nazi or white supremacist symbols. Kelley said it was the first time he had been made aware of such groups being present at the riot.
“I'm not associated with those groups in Washington D.C. on Jan. 6, or anywhere else,” Kelley said. “They have their ability to think whatever they want to. Do I agree with those things? Absolutely not. Do they have the right to do those as long as they don't infringe upon somebody else's liberties and rights? Sure.”
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