charlie kirk
Valerio Pucci/

In 2018, Charlie Kirk, a right-wing provocateur who founded the conservative activist group Turning Point USA, strongly criticized the evangelical political movement he now helps lead. Known then for primarily his work mobilizing college-age Republicans, Kirk described Jesus as tolerant and welcoming and denounced Christians’ “sanctimonious approach” to homosexuality and other issues. He argued politics should be advanced through a “secular worldview” and slammed attempts by the evangelical right, starting in the 1970s, to “impose” their version of morality “through government policy.”

Kirk told the conservative commentator Dave Rubin in 2018, “We do have a separation of church and state, and we should support that.” Kirk, now 30, has since reversed his position. It’s a transformation that, according to political and religious scholars, embodies and reinforces a growing embrace of Christian nationalist thinking within the Republican Party in the era of Donald Trump. “There is no separation of church and state,” Kirk said on his podcast in 2022. “It’s a fabrication. It’s a fiction. It’s not in the Constitution. It’s made up by secular humanists.”

Today, Kirk and Turning Point are dominant forces in the Republican Party and MAGA movement, working directly with the Trump campaign on voter outreach while reaching millions of listeners through Kirk’s daily radio show and podcast. Along the way, Kirk has become one of the nation’s most prominent voices calling on Christians to view conservative political activism as central to Jesus’ calling for their lives.

Kirk routinely rails against what he calls the “LGBTQ agenda,” which he claims is harming children. He has invoked the Seven Mountains Mandate, a philosophy increasingly popular among Trump supporters that calls on conservative Christians to claim positions of power in seven key mountains of society, including government, media, business and education. He also promotes Trump as being crucial to restoring Christian morality in America. “I worship a God that defeats evil,” Kirk said while introducing the former president at a rally hosted by Turning Point and the Trump campaign at an Arizona megachurch. “And we worship a God that wins in the end.”

By appealing to conservative Christians’ fears of shifting cultural norms around LGBTQ acceptance and by portraying the election as part of a spiritual struggle, Kirk and Turning Point are banking that they can drive evangelical turnout to secure Trump victories in key swing states. But extremism experts warn that this framing — the idea Trump is on a mission from God to restore Christian righteousness in America — could lead followers to take radical action if he doesn’t prevail in November.

“There’s this growing sense that American politics are so broken,” said Paul Matzko, a historian of American conservatism, “that there’s a decreasing willingness to imagine the other side being allowed to exercise power without doing it in apocalyptic terms, which fuels things like the insurrection on Jan. 6.” Kirk’s organization bused supporters to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, 2021, to rally Congress to reject the presidential election outcome.

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