On a brisk Saturday in Downtown Phoenix, thousands of young people filed into the Phoenix Convention Center, nary a mask in sight. They came for AmericaFest put on by Turning Point USA, Charlie Kirk’s conservative student group. The event site describes a “celebration of constitutional rights and freedoms featuring the best and brightest speakers in the country.”
I waited in the check-in line to grab my pass. Turning Point USA refused Rolling Stone’s media credentials after weeks of back and forth, a curious decision for group tied to a movement that so often derides cancel culture. Brietbart, One America News Network, and The Epoch Times were in attendance, of course. Fox News was plastered all over the place.
“Who are you most excited to see?” the twenty-something girl at check-in asked. I fumbled for a response. The headliner on Saturday was Tucker Carlson, and the crowd of 8,000 or so, decked out in cowboy and MAGA hats and “Let’s Go Brandon” t-shirts seemed eager to hear him speak.
“He’s an outspoken voice for the conservative movement,” said 15-year-old Mo, who flew in from North Carolina. “I like how he tells it like it is.” Snipes came with his 16-year-old friend Camden, who had a Trump flag draped around his back.
Samuel Lanier, 21, came from Utah to attend the event, sporting a tee with a montage of Carlson photos. “He’s very precise in what he believes in and not afraid to interview people from other sides of the aisle,” Lanier said.
Haley Bartholomew lives in Phoenix and said she was most excited to see Donald Trump Jr., “a nicer version of his dad,” and Candace Owens who “is a little bit mean but not wrong.” The 23-year-old said she doesn’t know much about Carlson “but I’ll probably be obsessed with him after I see him.”
Hours later, I was in a long line snaked around an exhibit hall, waiting to get into the general session. People sold books by Kayleigh McEnany and sweaters that read “I am 1776% sure that no one is taking my guns.” We took our seats and waited some more. “YMCA” and censored versions of rap songs blared until the timer on the wall counted down to an electric guitar rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” with shades of red, white, and blue projecting onto the stage.
Charlie Kirk was greeted by roaring applause. He awed the crowd with gems like “This is not about political parties. This is about right versus wrong, light versus dark, truth versus lies,” and “Fauci should be in prison for the way he handled the Fauci Chinese coronavirus.” He spoke out against critical race theory, the ruling class and vaccine mandates and urged the audience to “sacrifice what feels good to do what is necessary.”
Then it was time for Carlson to grace the stage, absent his trademark bowtie.
After praising Kirk for starting the Turning Point movement and not going to college, he said, “I host the world’s grimmest TV show.” His 45-minute rant was disjointed, contradictory, and as out-of-touch with reality. He admonished politicians as a “disproportionately unhappy group” of which “95% have unhappy personal lives.”
Carlson advised the mostly Gen Z and Millennial crowd to “run away” from big cities, as he did when he sold his Washington, D.C., home for $3.95 million in July of 2020 to purchase a $2.9 million property in Boca Grande, a small community on Gasparilla Island in southwest Florida. “What sane person would choose to live in a $30 million 16th floor apartment in a crowded city over a log cabin in a pine forest with the wood stove glowing as the snow falls?” he asked.
“Fight back a little bit by trying to turn down the noise just for like a half hour a day,” he continued. “It’s almost like a religious exercise. I take a sauna every day and sit alone in a hot wood room and just try and listen. Mostly I hear nothing other than the buzz of the sauna heater.”
For a party that touts so much anti-elitism, I don’t think Carlson understood the assignment.
The Fox News superstar went on to feign compassion for President Biden while poking fun at his age. “I have trouble making fun of Joe Biden’s mental decline because I feel guilty about it.” He doesn’t want people to mock him when he’s in his eighties, Carlson said, but hopes that his children “very gently wipe the Frosted Flakes from my chin.”
He later lamented how America’s next generation was being destroyed by fearful people, and took another shot at Biden and the others in charge of leading the nation. “If you’re in charge of the country, you actually have to think about the country first,” he said. “It’s actually not about you, you narcissistic creep.”
Carlson told a warm tale about how former President Teddy Roosevelt greeted visitors on the White House lawn in 1905, after succeeding former President William McKinley, who was assassinated four years earlier. “Imagine telling someone living in that country, we just arrested people for walking down the hall in the Capitol building,” he said, referencing the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol.
I don’t know Tucker, that seems a bit different from a violent mob breaking into the building.
Nevertheless, the attendees appeared to eat up his vitriol. “Respect the past, study the present, build the future,” said 21-year-old Nathan Patrick, from Indiana. “I think that’s what he represents. He said he had respect and was saddened by the decay of those that lead our country. We are called to love as Christians,” said Patrick, who told me he was kicked out of the Air Force after they denied his religious exemption to the Covid-19 vaccine.
Carlson alluding to the future in his closing remarks. “And then you can wait for the dawn, which is coming,” he said. The crowd began to file out, enthused for the evening’s country concert. But just like the corny gun rights sweater with questionable math, Carlson’s speech on Saturday didn’t quite add up. It didn’t need to in front of a crowd, and a future generation of conservative Americans, for which facts were an afterthought.