LA GRANGE, IL — A controversial right-wing student group meeting at Lyons Township High School that has not been grated club status by district officials. But the Turning Point USA chapter insists it has no plans on going away, according to the students who run the group.

The group’s creation has spurred a battle over free speech around the school, including an online petition that characterizes the organization it represents as a “hate group” and that is seeking to keep the group from gaining more traction.

Turning Point, USA, founded by noted conservative Charlie Kirk, is dedicated to identifying, organizing and empowering young people to promote the principles of free markets and limited government, according to its website. The group says it represents more than 2,500 high school and college campuses across the U.S., according to its site. Meanwhile, detractors of the not-for-profit group says the organization promotes hate and white power.

The Lyons Township student chapter of Turning Point USA was established in late January after its chapter president told the high school’s newspaper that conservative students “just don’t have a voice,” junior Leslie Mendoza said. According to The Lion Online student newspaper, the group has been meeting over Zoom and plans to operate as a mostly student-led group that will hold debates and discussions.

However, a district official told Patch on Tuesday that the Turning Point USA group is not an approved club at the high school at this time. In order to be considered official, the district’s Stipend Committee would need to consider the club’s application. As of now, the matter has not yet been considered and the committee has not yet scheduled its fourth quarter meeting, Jennifer Bialobok, the district’s community relations coordinator, wrote in an email to Patch.

In order for the group to be an official club by district standards, several things must occur, Bialobok wrote.

  • The person proposing the club or activity must answer all questions in the Proposal Questionnaire — such as, a description of the club, a description of the lessons, experiences or benefits of the club, and where, when and how often the club will meet, etc.
  • The person proposing the club or activity must also submit the New Club/Activity Petition, which should include at least 25 signatures from current LTHS students who would agree to join the club or activity should it be approved.
  • The Stipend Committee, which meets four times per year, must decide whether to recommend the proposal to the Board of Education’s Human Resource Committee, to return the proposal with suggestions, or to reject the proposal.

According to Bialobok, the Stipend Committee meets four times a year and would need to approve a club for a one-year pilot program. For the club to achieve full club status (which includes a stipend for the sponsor), the Stipend Committee, the district’s central office, the board of education’s human resources committee, and full board must approve.

Meanwhile, a petition posted on entitled, “Keep hateful organizations out of Lyons Township High School” recently appeared online. As of Tuesday, the petition only had 12 signatures after being started by a poster with a username of “Concerned student.”

The petition takes exception to the organization’s approach to “friendly relations” with far-right organizations, which the organizer of the petition does not want to gain traction at the high school level, the person wrote.

“While we, as student activists from Lyons Township, respect everybody’s right to political autonomy and free association, we are greatly troubled by the possibility of Turning Point USA and the Leadership Institute becoming involved in the political scene at our school,” the person wrote. “Both of these groups have long histories of friendly relations with neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and various other bigots, as well as direct involvement in their organizing efforts.”

However, students who are involved with the organization that started in January said that they do not agree with the characterizations that are often linked to Turning Point, USA, according to a story in the student newspaper.

A message left for the Turning Point USA officials was not immediately returned to Patch on Tuesday.

Students at the high school told the school newspaper that they plan to educate students and to promote Turning Point’s message. This will be done, the group said, by starting discussions, bringing in a wide variety of speakers with different viewpoints and hosting debates and events, the Lion Online reported.

“It is important for LT to have a group like Turning Point because it offers a place on campus where all kinds of ideas can be exchanged and talked about in a non-class setting,” junior Will Kopp, the student chapter’s vice president, told the newspaper.

The creation of the student group at the high school comes at a time when attempts to have 2016 Lyons Township graduate Nick Fuentes removed from various online platforms have put the conservative back in the news. Several social media platforms have banned Fuentes for hate speech violations as Fuentes continues to fight the allegations.

Fuentes, who grew up in La Grange, lists himself as a Chicago resident on his Twitter feed, did not respond to Patch for comment.

On Monday, Fuentes tweeted that he feels like the way he is being treated by social media platforms is unfair.

“They treat me like I’m not even a human being,” Fuentes wrote on Twitter. “They want to take me off of the internet and ban me from every service like I’m a criminal. I have committed no crime, I have done nothing wrong. I have a right to speak my mind like everyone else, this is America!”

Fuentes has a verified Twitter account with more than 125,500 followers. The former Lyons Township High School student council president and member of the school’s Model U.N. team, has been a voice for conservative and more extreme right groups since graduating from the school and has gained national attention for the allegiance he has shown to the conservative movement in recent years.

His Twitter bio lists the 22-year-old as a Zoomer, gamer, Catholic, beloved entertainer, real American Patriot, real human being, Latino conservative and peaceful activist. Fuentes was known to have attended an infamous gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017 in addition to several other more recent events. Following the Charlottesville event four years ago, Fuentes tweeted:

“You can call us racists, white supremacists, Nazis, & bigots. But you will not replace us. The rootless transnational elite knows that a tidal wave of white identity is coming. And they know that once the word gets out, they will not be able to stop us. The fire rises!”

In recent months, Fuentes has lost access to his Facebook account, Instagram account and others, including an online video platform. But in an interview with the Chicago Tribune on Monday, Fuentes said that he is not causing as much trouble as social media platforms have given him credit for.

Conventionally, it’s over for people (if they are removed) from two or three of their major platforms,” Fuentes told the Tribune. “But you know, I’m 22. I’m a Zoomer. I know about how the internet works. … It’s not doing as much damage as they think.”

Meanwhile, students at Fuentes’ alma mater plan to continue to meet on their own despite objections from others, hoping that the conservative views they hold to continue to resonate within the student body at the high school.

Like Fuentes, students in the group say they have no ill will toward anyone who may not agree with their views.

“Everything that we’re going to teach students is really mostly peaceful,” Mendoza told the student newspaper. “[We’re] never going to try to bring anyone down in any sort of way.”

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