Advisor to major pro-Trump group runs racist newsletter
Turning Point USA advisor Rip McIntosh remains unapologetic about the anti-Black screeds he has published.
This article was co-published with Talking Points Memo.
It was an email so racist it might make a ku klux klansman blush.
An advisor for the influential conservative youth organization Turning Point USA recently published an essay for subscribers of his personal newsletter that, among other things, said Black people have “become socially incompatible with other races” and “American Black culture has evolved into an un-fixable and crime-ridden mess.”
It also said white people aren’t racist but “just exhausted” with Black people. It portrayed post-Civil War America as a 150-year-long “experiment” to see whether Black people could be “taken from the jungles of Africa,” enslaved, and then integrated into a majority-white society. It said that experiment had failed.
The email, which included Turning Point's logo and a fundraising appeal for the group, was sent out on April 29 by Rip McIntosh, an 85-year-old white Florida man who sits on the organization's advisory council, a board that includes the likes of former Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and, until his recent death, GOP mega donor Foster Friess. The newsletter, which McIntosh says has more than 25,000 subscribers and which he sometimes publishes as often as five times a day, is frequently filled with culture war rants, conspiracy theories, racism, and other types of bigotry, but this email stood out even among that toxic stew.
In an interview, McIntosh said neither Turning Point nor its co-founder Charlie Kirk, whom he considers to be a personal friend, has any role in the publication of his newsletter. McIntosh also denied writing the essay, which was published under the fictitious byline “E.P. Unum.”
“That's a nom de plume of a friend,” McIntosh told TPM and The Informant. “He doesn't want his name out there because he's a teacher. He doesn't want to be canceled.”
The essay, titled “On the Question of Systemic Racism in the United States,” was emailed out just hours after Sen. Tim Scott, a Black Republican from South Carolina, gave a nationally televised speech on behalf of the GOP in which he said “America is not a racist country,” a claim that was debated for days afterward. The essay made no direct mention of the speech, but it closed with a similar phrase: “America is not a racist nation.”
McIntosh acknowledged that the essay, which it turns out borrowed heavily from an article first published years ago on a prominent racist website, was “a bit extreme,” but said he had no regrets about publishing it. He also said he believed both Turning Point and Kirk would stand by him.
“I think that if you got right down to it, not one of them would object to the fact that I let somebody speak their mind, even though they may have been slightly uncomfortable with the statements actually made,” McIntosh said.
A spokesperson for Turning Point declined to discuss McIntosh’s role with the organization, his friendship with Kirk, or the contents of the email, saying only that Turning Point “does not put out that newsletter.” The spokesperson asked for further questions to be sent by email and then declined to answer them. McIntosh’s name and photo still appear on the organization’s governance page.
The email marks the latest in a series of racist and bigoted incidents that have dogged Turning Point in recent years as the organization has clawed its way from the far-right fringe into mainstream conservatism, aided in part by its connections to former President Donald Trump.
Perhaps as much as any other organization, Turning Point has positioned itself within the ex-president’s orbit and achieved massive growth since his election in 2016. Once a struggling nonprofit with a goal of becoming the right’s version of MoveOn, the group now acts as a network of young conservative activists and claims to have a presence on more than 2,500 high school and college campuses nationwide. (A 2018 article in Politico Magazine suggested that a number of chapters at the time appeared to be inactive.)
In recent years, the group has been embraced by Trump, who spoke at two of its conferences in 2019 and who is scheduled to speak at a rally for its campaign arm, Turning Point Action, on July 24. It has received additional support from many of the personalities who surround him, such as Fox News hosts Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), attorney Rudy Giuliani, MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, embattled Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and the former president's son, Donald Trump Jr. Testimonials from several adorn the organization's website.
Beginning on Saturday, the organization will host a major four-day conference called the “Student Action Summit” in Florida, featuring speakers like former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, and multiple members of Congress. The purpose of the event is to train and fire up conservative activists ages 15 to 26.
Founded in 2012, Turning Point received early guidance from far-right figures, including most prominently from David Horowitz, an anti-Muslim activist who has written disparagingly of Black Americans and whom Kirk has described as a "mentor." (Among other things, Horowitz has suggested that Black Americans today should show “gratitude” to whites for things like the Emancipation Proclamation.) Those connections to far-right extremism, coupled with Turning Point's stated goal to “win America’s culture war,” might help explain how the group has repeatedly found itself mired in racism by its staff and volunteers.
A history of racism
One of the most prominent examples of racism within the organization came in 2017 when Turning Point parted ways with Crystal Clanton, a white woman who was Kirk’s second-in-command. The New Yorker's Jane Mayer, as part of a larger article looking at allegations of racial bias and financial issues within the organization, reported that Clanton sent a text message to a colleague that said: “I HATE BLACK PEOPLE. Like fuck them all ... I hate blacks. End of story.”
In 2018, HuffPost reported that Shialee Grooman, a white woman who replaced Clanton, had previously used the N-word on social media and bragged, “I love making racist jokes.” The news site also uncovered other examples of Turning Point employees and volunteers using racist and anti-gay slurs in text messages and on social media. (Grooman later described the comments as “childhood mistakes” and said they didn't reflect her current beliefs. Campaign finance records show she has been recently working for the Arizona Republican Party.)
That same year, the Miami New Times uncovered a series of group chats from the TPUSA chapter at Florida International University that showed members engaging in racist, misogynistic, and antisemitic discussions. In the chats, one user brought up white nationalist Richard Spencer, who helped organize the deadly “Unite the Right” rally the year before in Charlottesville, Virginia. His name appeared as part of a discussion of what kind of talk was acceptable within the chat.
“Avoid using the n word and don't reference Richard Spencer too much and don't Jew hate ... all the time,” the user wrote.
In 2019, the organization came under fire after Candace Owens, a Black conservative woman who worked as the group's communications director, brought up Nazi leader Adolf Hitler when asked about the idea of nationalism during a public appearance in the UK. BuzzFeed News was the first to report what Owens said: “If Hitler just wanted to make Germany great and have things run well, OK, fine. The problem is that he wanted, he had dreams outside of Germany. He wanted to globalize.” She resigned a few months later after a number of Turning Point campus chapters called for her to be fired.
Also in 2019, the news site It’s Going Down published video showing the head of Turning Point’s Las Vegas chapter yelling, “White power! Fuck the n-----s!” The young man, Riley Grisar, was removed from the organization after the video surfaced.
These incidents and more have put Turning Point under the microscope of anti-hate watchdog groups like the Anti-Defamation League.
In the past, Kirk and Turning Point have generally been swift to cut ties. In the 2017 incident, for instance, Kirk told The New Yorker his organization had taken “decisive action within 72 hours of being made aware of the issue.”
That has not been the case for McIntosh.
TPUSA’s man in Palm Beach
At first glance, Henry P. McIntosh IV, who goes by the nickname “Rip,” might seem like an unusual fit to advise a conservative youth organization. But being an octogenarian doesn’t make him an outlier on Turning Point’s advisory council. Foster Friess, who was one of the early donors to the organization, was 81 at the time of his death on May 27. In fact, a list of the group’s advisory council members shows few who are under 30.
Among the dozens of people who sit on the advisory council, McIntosh considers himself to be somewhat influential due to his personal relationship with Kirk. He even claims he was instrumental in Kirk’s decision to hire Candace Owens, a key moment in the history of the organization.
The way McIntosh tells it, the three of them were at a conference put on by David Horowitz several years ago in Florida, when McIntosh encouraged Owens to introduce herself to Kirk. For his part, Kirk told a similar story to The Washington Post Magazine about hiring Owens after seeing her speak at a Horowitz conference. But he didn’t say anything about an advisory council member, instead chalking the decision up to his own eye for talent. TPUSA declined to confirm or deny McIntosh’s story, and representatives for Owens didn’t return messages seeking comment.
But McIntosh also said a relationship with him comes with certain perks. For Turning Point and its founder, it means a link into the conservative donor class of Palm Beach, Florida, home to both Mar-a-Lago and one of the top three wealthiest zip codes in the U.S.
“I told Charlie early on if he shook me really strong by the heel, you're not going to come up with a lot of money,” McIntosh said. “But what I can do and what I have been doing is introduce him to influential and moneyed people here in Palm Beach, Florida who recognized his value and have gotten on board with him with major contributions.”
A retiree who says that he made his fortune in real estate development, McIntosh made news in 2016 when he and his wife Susan put their house of more than three decades on the market. The headline in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper read: “$16.2M Palm Beach estate surrounded by tropical gardens.” The Wall Street Journal put it simply: “Palm Beach Estate Lists for $16.2 Million.”
The articles noted the Creole French Classical home included features like walnut paneling in the living room that had been reclaimed from a 17th century French chateau. The house included six bedrooms, three staff bedrooms, eight full bathrooms, two powder rooms, and a pool house (with nearby pool), all situated on a 25,200-square-foot lot.
Despite his largesse, McIntosh said he didn’t buy his way onto Turning Point's advisory council. And it's true that donations to the group appear to be a small part of the annual charitable contributions made by him and his wife. Nonprofit filings show that from 2013 to 2019, the most recent year for which records are available, the Susan and Rip McIntosh Foundation made just three donations to Turning Point totalling $15,000. Mcintosh said in an interview that he might have made other personal donations to the group but couldn’t remember.
By comparison, during those same years, the couple’s foundation donated more than $190,000 to The Society of the Four Arts in Palm Beach and more than $170,000 to what is now the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. Rip McIntosh sits on the boards of trustees of both organizations.
Hiding in plain sight
By simply looking online, you might have a hard time figuring out who Rip McIntosh is, and what his personality and politics are like. His footprint on the open internet is very small, mostly limited to various infrequently updated social media accounts and a page on the Turning Point website that includes his name and photo but no biographical information. He doesn’t have a YouTube channel or a personal website.
Yet over the past 18 months or so (he can’t remember when he sent his first email), he has built a sizable publication that essentially lives out of view of the open internet — in people’s inboxes. It offers a glimpse into the worldview of McIntosh, who described himself in an interview by using the conservative cliche that he’s “slightly to the right of Attila the Hun.”
The growth of the newsletter, which is run on the Constant Contact platform, has been a surprise even to McIntosh, who claims he doesn’t chase subscribers or pay to promote it. He says he has no explanation as to how his subscriber base has rocketed to more than 25,000 readers, a figure that would make many budding Substack entrepreneurs, and indeed many local newspaper publishers, jealous. By his telling, it has all happened by word of mouth.
“I have no idea why the ripples spread in the pool,” McIntosh said.
McIntosh said he began his list with about 300 email addresses, which he said he put together from people he knew and had corresponded with over the years, including while engaging in civic activism in Palm Beach. That activism included an effort to oppose the opening of a Starbucks coffee shop because he saw it as a gateway to other fast food joints opening in town. To those 300 people, he started sending out articles and essays that demonstrated his interest in far-right politics. Many of those articles, McIntosh said, are just copied and pasted from various websites without asking permission. Eventually, momentum grew and he started getting solicitations from writers who wanted to be published by him. He began to oblige.
The design of his emails is minimal. The header carries his name alongside a photo of him wearing a plaid golf cap, glasses, and a yellow shirt, holding up a glass of red wine. Below that is a headline, a byline, a date, and the body of the essay. At the bottom is the pitch for Turning Point as well as a logo for Convention of States Action, a group that seeks to get states to hold a convention to rewrite the Constitution. McIntosh said he has no affiliation with the latter group other than as a supporter of its cause.
As mundane as the presentation is, the content is anything but. TPM and The Informant reviewed months of emails, mostly through subscribing to the newsletter, and have seen an almost daily churn of content as toxic as almost any conspiracy-obsessed or racist website. McIntosh doesn’t mind that it comes off that way.
“It's a newsletter, but what it basically is is my way of doing something other than standing around at cocktail parties bitching about the status quo, or bitching about what's going on with the president or the Congress or the legislators or the fire department or whatever,” McIntosh said. “It's my way of getting involved. I'm 85 years old. I can't go out and dig ditches or march in the streets and carry signs — or do ‘peaceful protesting’ where I burn down half the city.”
Soon after the 2020 election, McIntosh was blasting out QAnon-type conspiracy theories about whether the whole thing had been rigged against President Trump. In an email on Nov. 29, for instance, McIntosh republished an article from the far-right website American Thinker titled, “Did President Trump Spring a Trap on Treasonous Democrats on Election Night?” The article, written by an author named Paul Dowling, implied that the voting technology company Dominion Voting Systems had helped Democrats cheat in the election but that Trump had long been planning a counter-strike that included seizure of computer servers in Frankfurt, Germany. None of which actually happened.
In January, under the threat of litigation, American Thinker retracted articles mentioning Dominion with a note that said the conspiracy theories it had peddled were “completely false and have no basis in fact.” Despite frequently republishing American Thinker articles, McIntosh said he never published a retraction.
Race is another favorite topic for McIntosh. In an era when conservatives are up in arms over Black Lives Matter and anything they imagine falls under the umbrella of Critical Race Theory, McIntosh has embraced articles touching on those topics.
On March 24, he published an essay from a white businessperson named Kathleen Brush headlined, “The War on White People.”
More recently, on May 15, McIntosh published an essay by a white author named Bill Shuey. The piece, which was also published on Shuey's website, was titled simply, “Oppression.” It was essentially a string of thoughts about Black people in the U.S.
Among the ideas expressed in “Oppression” was that “far too many” Black people “have chosen to take the course of least resistance and remain in their self-imposed, segregated, closed society. Then almost without exception, they blame white America for their circumstances.”
At this point, it should be noted that old white men don’t impregnate young black girls who are either having illegitimate children or aborting them. Old white men don’t go to inner-city schools and steal the textbooks. Old white men don’t force young black men to kill other black youths to achieve some kind of turf bragging rights.
And so on.
A very racist email
“On the Question of Systemic Racism in the United States” was published by McIntosh in late April. It stood out among the other essays he'd emailed to his subscribers. While many were explicitly racist, this was stark in its length and repeated disparagement of Black people.
“For almost 150 years the United States has been conducting an interesting experiment. The subjects of the experiment: black people and working-class whites,” the essay said. “The hypothesis to be tested: Can people taken from the jungles of Africa and forced into slavery be fully integrated as citizens in a nation where the majority of its citizens are white?”
The essay eventually concluded that the “experiment has failed.” It listed the reasons:
The fundamental problem is that American black culture has evolved into an un-fixable and crime-ridden mess. They do not want to change their culture or society and expect others to tolerate their violence and amoral behavior. They have become socially incompatible with other races by their own design, not because of the racism of others — but by their own hatred of non-blacks. No matter how many dollars are given to them, they believe they are entitled to more because they are descendants of slaves. And, so today, black advocates and politicians pandering to blacks for their votes are now clamoring for “reparations” to compensate blacks for the “sin of slavery.”
The anti-Black screed was from an author calling himself "E.P. Unum," who frequently writes original pieces for McIntosh’s newsletter. Unum’s true identity is apparently a secret between the two men. McIntosh declined to reveal Unum's real name on the basis that this article “was not going to be kind to him.” McIntosh did, however, once address the author as “Joe” in an email correspondence with TPM and The Informant. There are some other clues to his identity too. In March, Unum wrote an essay in which he said that he was 75 and lived in New Jersey. In May, he appeared to confirm McIntosh’s assertion that he was a teacher, writing that “the Spring Semester has come to a close and I have submitted final grades for my students.”
Many of Unum’s essays for McIntosh’s newsletter are rambling strings of thoughts with no real point. One recent essay, for instance, was titled, “SOME THOUGHTS ON A BEAUTIFUL WEDNESDAY IN MAY.” It touched on COVID-19, the Obama presidency, Unum’s stint as a college baseball player, the American Revolution, and exclamations, such as this, that were uncoupled from any other ideas in the essay: “Maybe it is just me, but I think Melania Trump just exudes class. What a First Lady!”
Unum’s “Systemic Racism” essay, however, was different. It was almost singularly focused on disparaging Black people. Much of the essay was devoted to a comparison of various races and ethnicities. It depicted Black people as inherently inferior.
“The whites were descendants of Europeans who had created a majestic civilization,” the essay said. “The former slaves had been tribal peoples with no written language, no unique skill sets, and virtually no intellectual achievements.”
“And today, unlike the English, Hungarians, Italians, Spanish, Indians, Vietnamese, Asians, blacks blame their lot in life on slavery,” the essay continued. “Why is that?”
It turns out, however, that some of the ideas in Unum’s essay, including that one, weren’t originally his.
TPM and The Informant discovered that Unum copied and pasted more than a quarter of his piece from a 2014 essay that was originally published by the white nationalist website American Renaissance. An automated analysis using the plagiarism checking site Copyleaks showed that about 700 words from Unum’s 2,500-word piece matched the essay published by American Renaissance.
Known in racist circles by its abbreviation AmRen, the website plays host to an annual conference attended by the likes of white nationalist Richard Spencer and longtime neo-Nazi David Duke. The website also has sections devoted to “Black on White Crime,” “Racial Differences,” and what it calls “the Demographic Transformation,” a conspiracy theory that's been the motive for multiple mass killings by white supremacists in recent years.
From the beginning of his essay, Unum acknowledged that it was partly based on someone else's ideas. But he misattributed the source material. Unum wrote that his essay was based on an article called “The Black Dilemma,” which he claimed had appeared in The Baltimore Sun newspaper.
The problem is that no such article exists.
Unum appears to have fallen for a racist hoax that’s been circulating online since at least 2015. The hoax was simple: It took the American Renaissance essay and changed the attribution to the Baltimore Sun, making it appear more legitimate than it was. Fact-checking website Snopes debunked the misattribution six years ago, but the hoax still persists with the essay occasionally showing up on various online forums. The Sun even maintains a “note to readers” on its website that flatly says any attribution of the essay to the newspaper is false.
Even though his essay was partly the work of someone else, Unum said in a statement forwarded by McIntosh that he stands by every word of it. After all, the rest of the piece was his original work, he said. He denied that his essay was racist, calling such an assertion to be the tactic of “a left-leaning liberal.”
“What I wrote and what I believe are purely historical and economic facts,” Unum said. “As a nation, we have invested trillions of dollars to help blacks out of poverty. No other nation on this earth has done as much for black Americans as the United States of America. But it never seems to be enough.”
He said he had always gotten along with Black people. He said he served in the military, where he “fought alongside” Black and Asian servicemembers. He also said he played sports, including “for a limited time professional baseball,” alongside Black men. He said he has a friend who is Black and that he was the best man at the friend’s wedding.
“I am not racist; not even a little bit!” Unum wrote. “It’s been my experience in life, on the athletic field as a player and coach, in the classroom as a college professor, as a combat officer and as a President and CEO that the people screaming the loudest accusing others of being racist are themselves so!”
For his part, McIntosh vacillated on his feelings about the Unum essay. He didn’t regret publishing it, but even in the face of the author’s sayso, McIntosh wasn’t sure Unum really believed what he wrote in the piece.
“I think he was pointing to it saying, ‘See, this is what some people think,’” McIntosh argued at one point. “I don't think he was saying, ‘See, this is what I believe.’”
Yet at another point, McIntosh started to distance himself from the essay a little. He described its perspective as “very severe” and said he didn’t think it was the “proper way” of looking at racial disparities in the U.S. His criticism came with its own loaded language, however.
“I would say that, to a great extent, the situation in which young Blacks find themselves today is not necessarily their fault at all,” McIntosh said. “It did have a systemic or at least a federal impetus to get them there. They're not the only people that are ugly. There are white people, there are red people, there are brown people who do outrageous things all the time.”
He said that when he published Unum’s piece, he didn’t know that it was partly lifted from an American Renaissance essay. He said when he found out about the connection, he didn’t know he was dealing with a white nationalist website. At one point, McIntosh said, he even considered sending out the American Renaissance essay to his mailing list as a way of explaining where the Unum essay came from. But after learning more about American Renaissance, he decided against it.
In the end, McIntosh stuck by Unum. He has continued publishing Unum’s essays in his newsletter. He also continued publishing conspiratorial and racist essays by other writers. He said he sees it as a First Amendment issue.
“I don't see myself as a censor,” McIntosh said. “That particular article got more praise than it got derision. I got very little negative feedback on that article.”
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