Cristian Clementi was one of 400 Trump supporters who attended Turning Point USA’s Young Black Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., in October.
During the event, Clementi, who is from Turloc, California, built bonds with dozens of other black Trump supporters as they attended speaking sessions led by black conservative thought leaders. One of Clementi’s heroes, radio host Larry Elder, shared his views on the so-called welfare state.
“My favorite thing definitely was getting to talk to Larry Elder,” Clementi said in a recent phone interview. “I’ve been following that man for years. There’s a lot of wisdom in that man.”
In other segments, Black Guns Matter founder Maj Touré answered questions about gun ownership and the Second Amendment. Sports journalist and Colin Kaepernick critic Jason Whitlock denounced “celebrity athletes” during a speech about how to be a leader. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson shared his own views on leadership and what it means to support President Donald Trump at a time when even mainstream black Republicans like former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) and Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah) have distanced themselves from the president.
The TPUSA summit gave its young, black pro-Trump attendees a chance to meet and connect with peers who look and think like them. They donned red “Make America Great Again” hats and went out in public, something many dared not to do alone in their anti-Trump hometowns.
“My strongest memory was me going out and wearing that hat for the first time,” Charrise Lane, a student at Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, said in a phone interview. “We went into the Chick-fil-A. The cashier was talking about us to her co-workers. They were like, ‘Are they serious? They can’t be serious.’”
Turning Point USA communications director Candace Owens launched her Blexit campaign during the summit, likely with hopes that the momentum of the summit would galvanize other black conservatives to join the Blexit movement. Owens says she wants black Americans to become free thinkers, but for her that effectively means don’t vote for Democrats.
In the past, black conservative tenets like self-reliance, gun ownership, economic empowerment and preserving the nuclear family have been championed by icons like Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and Huey P. Newton, all of whom have played integral roles in empowering black Americans during the reconstruction era, Jim Crow and the civil rights movement. Today these themes are still preached by black conservative thought leaders like economist Thomas Sowell, a frequently celebrated figure on the right.
But these ideals don’t seem to be the focal point of Blexit’s website. Instead of promoting substantive black conservative principles, the site’s creators have pedaled cherry-picked factoids, half-truths or flat-out lies. Multiple historians have lambasted the page’s ahistorical facts.
“It’s riddled with falsehoods and to some extent inaccurate statistics,” Leah Wright Rigueur, a historian and Harvard Kennedy School of Government assistant professor, recently said by phone. “They’re putting forward falsehoods with maybe a degree or no degree of truth in terms of proving... what?”
The Blexit website’s “Inconvenient Truths” section points out black and white Republicans were lynched by the Ku Klux Klan during the Jim Crow era. It attributes a racist quote to President Lyndon B. Johnson.
“I’ll have those niggers voting Democrat for the next 200 years,” the quote reads. Other dubious revelations are explored as well — according to the website, Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger wanted to eliminate black people.
Summit attendee and Blexit supporter Armond Dixon was taken aback when he first visited Blexit’s website. The 30-year-old investment banker-turned real estate broker also disapproves of Owens and other black Trump supporters’ characterization of black liberals living on the “Democratic plantation.”
“I’ve got a lot of respect for Candace [but] I don’t agree with calling a political ideology a plantation — it’s demeaning,” Dixon said. “A lot of black people were placed on plantations against their will. They were bred. It wasn’t a choice. If you didn’t do it, you died. You’re not going to die from voting Democrat.”
The inaccuracies disturbed historian and Princeton University professor Kevin Kruse so much that he tweeted about it.
“There are very plausible cases and effective ways you can make the case for black conservatism, but this isn’t it,” Kruse told Mic on Thursday.
Kruse’s tweet thread about Blexit’s website quickly went viral on Tuesday. He pointed out a graphic photo of white men in Klan robes standing in front of a burning cross was actually taken at a KKK rally in Chicago, not the Jim Crow South, and that Illinois Klan members supported Republican politicians against Democrats at the time because many Chicago Dems were Catholic, which the pro-Protestant Klan opposed.
Kruse conceded that Johnson was known to use racial slurs in private, but noted that he was also a staunch supporter of civil rights and was integral in working with Martin Luther King Jr. to get the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 signed into law. Kruse also said there’s no credible record of Johnson saying the supposed quote attributed to him on Blexit’s website.
It’s true that Martha Sanger’s background in supporting eugenics has made her a target by progressive and conservative activists, but there are actual quotes from Sanger that are often misinterpreted. Knowing that black Americans have been subjected to forced sterilization and unethical medical experimentation by whites, the pro-choice feminist icon once wrote a letter to black ministers in the South where she planned to open abortion clinics.
“We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members,” Sanger wrote, according to Time.
Sanger’s motives in the letter were to dispel false rumors to black ministers about her intentions. The Washington Post called the quote an “inartfully written” sentence. In any case, the quote attributed to Sanger on Blexit’s website is wrong for a number of reasons, according to Kruse.
“This one’s really impressive because you’ve taken a made-up quote that was originally supposed to be about Slavs and Jews and changed it to a ‘new’ made-up quote about ‘colored people,’” Kruse tweeted. “It’s a fake of a fake.”
Rigueur, the historian and Harvard assistant professor, said Blexit’s obscuring of history and lack of focus on black conservative virtues says a lot about what the campaign’s creators think about their target audience.
“The problem that they’re running into is that this is actually not rooted in many ideas of black conservatism,” Rigueur said. “So much of this entire ahistorical, anti-intellectual phenomenon has been connected to the emergence and rise of Donald Trump.”