National News

'I’m Not the Only Young Conservative’

About 700 teenage conservatives visited the nation’s capital this week for a four-day leadership conference organized by Turning Point USA, a group founded in 2012 to promote activism skills among high school and college students and help young conservatives network with leaders in the movement.

Posted Updated

Dan Levin
, New York Times

About 700 teenage conservatives visited the nation’s capital this week for a four-day leadership conference organized by Turning Point USA, a group founded in 2012 to promote activism skills among high school and college students and help young conservatives network with leaders in the movement.

Many of the biggest names in President Donald Trump’s administration and conservative activist circles, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions (who echoed the crowd’s chants of “lock her up” during his speech to the conference Tuesday), former White House spokesman Sean Spicer, Donald Trump Jr. and billionaire Mark Cuban, led sessions at the conference about battling liberal college bias, opposing big government, protecting the Second Amendment and promoting free markets.

We sat down with a few attendees to hear their thoughts on America and how they formed their political ideology. The interviews have been edited for clarity and brevity.

— Daniel Jakob, 15, is a high school student from Tenafly, New Jersey
Q: Why are you here?

A: The mainstream media makes it seem like the left is winning, but being here and seeing all these conservatives, it lets me know I’m not the only young conservative here. It’s nice to be with a group of people I can relate to while at the same time contributing to the cause to further endorse conservatism.

Q: What does “conservative” mean to you?

A: I’m a conservative because I believe the government should be fair and that the Constitution shall not be infringed. Where I live in North New Jersey, to get a license for a gun is really difficult. Without a gun in your house, you’re vulnerable, and not just from terrorists or criminals but also from the government, because the whole point of the Constitution is to protect us from the government. Things like gun control that the left are trying to implement, that’s what they’re trying to take away, the right to protect ourselves.

Q: Are your classmates also conservative, or are you an outlier?

A: A majority of kids in my high school are liberal. I do know a few conservative kids. All my teachers are very liberal. Whenever I’m in a class and I share my political opinion, I’m basically the bigot, that’s what I’m called. In my literature class we were reading “1984,” and my teacher compared “1984” to President Trump’s America, and when I refuted that, the class just shut me down.

Q: Where do you get your information from?

A: I watch a lot of Fox News. I try to get a lot of news from sources that aren’t controlled by big corporations. Sometimes I get news from the internet. I like Rebel Media — it’s not controlled by a big company.

Q: What have you learned from the summit?

A: It’s making me more confident to go back to school. There are lots of liberals at my school, and I’ll feel less embarrassed about saying what I believe and really standing for it. I’m a Trump supporter, I like that he can’t be controlled. Trump communicates directly with the people. He tells the people exactly what they want, he hears their concerns, and he’ll deal with it.

— Mason Scioneaux, 18, is from Vacherie, Louisiana, and will be a freshman this fall at the University of Mississippi.
Q: Why did you come here?

A: A friend and I started a political science group during our junior year of high school. We saw a lack of political interest on both sides. It was the 2016 election, a huge time to voice your political opinions. We’ve been very active in south Louisiana, making connections with local politicians. We saw the opportunity to attend the summit, and the slate of speakers was very impressive.

It’s important to be politically open-minded, not necessarily to subscribe to a certain person, whether it’s President Trump or Hillary Clinton. For me, it’s important to listen and decide for myself what I believe to be right and true.

Q: What were the political beliefs of your classmates?

A: Our high school was kind of split between conservatives and liberals. Our community was like that, too. The parish my high school is in is very liberal, and the parish I live in is split. It’s an area you can’t really define, between conservative Baton Rouge and more liberal New Orleans. My high school is about 70 percent white. The friend I’m here with is a conservative Latino.

I think this generation is now getting more opinionated than any generation before. We’re more politically aware, and it’s definitely because of social media. People go on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and have access to so much direct information, like what President Trump tweeted. They’re not just voting as their parents vote. Young people are being fed information, they don’t have to seek it. On one hand, it’s an era of conservatism aligned with Trump. I’m a Trump supporter, but I’m going to criticize him. You get more moderate conservatives who are more open-minded than others, fiscally conservative but more socially liberal. Blindly following any person is what gets us into trouble.

Q: What is your vision for America?

A: The biggest problem in America is polarization. It would be refreshing to see people on both sides come together to discuss how to fix our problems. Today it seems everyone is either on the deep right or deep left, with just name-calling and personal attacks. We need less politics and more problem-solving. We have to be willing to compromise, both sides have to give and take. One thing I’d like to see is term limits on members of Congress. It would put pressure on them not to be complacent and to work for the people’s interests, rather than political lobbyists.

Q: Where do you get your information?

A: I’ll go on Google News and open articles from Fox News, CNN, Politico and The New York Times. If you’re always getting news from CNN, that’s going to make you a liberal. If it’s from Fox News, that’s going to make you conservative. I try to stay aware. Writing off climate change, that it’s a hoax, is over the top. Ignoring the problem and denying it isn’t going to do anything.

— Grace Klassen 18, will be a freshman this fall at North Dakota State University. Her best friend, Clare Hillen, also 18, will be a freshman at George Washington University. Both are from Minneapolis.
Q: Why did you come here, and what have you learned?

A: Grace: In May, we were given the chance to hear a speech by Candace Owens. It was really interesting to hear from people out there who are questioning the way they were brought up. I’ve been raised conservative. For me, every policy goes back to moral law because I’m a Christian. I see my future in politics becoming the face of young conservative women. I came here to do networking and gain knowledge.

A: Clare: All through high school, I wasn’t going to talk about politics because it’s a toxic environment. Now I see there’s a platform for conservative women who are young. I was afraid of people attacking me for my beliefs, but now I’m learning to be an advocate for conservative ideas.

Q: Was your high school also conservative?

A: Grace: We were very blessed to go to a Catholic school. About 10 percent were liberal, 20 percent were vocal conservatives and the rest were just people who knew where their families stood on politics. I’ll vote for people who believe in what I believe in. If they’re pro-life and pro-gun, I’ll be more likely to vote for them.

Q: What is your vision for America?

A: Clare: Tolerance. Coming to this conference, we’ve learned the need to be respectful, be kind, be open minded to having your mind changed. People like to say if you’re conservative, then you’re a racist, and if you’re liberal, you’re a psycho. You have to listen to the other side to better understand your own beliefs.

A: Grace: We should want to be curious and make things better. With President Trump, I see someone who has Americans’ best interests at heart on things like the border, the economy and jobs, and putting a priority on people here who are citizens. For me, I want to protect liberty. I’ll definitely be voting in the midterms, but also in local elections like for school board.

Q: Where do you get your information?

A: Clare: Google News, I get lots of articles on different issues so I can see what the various viewpoints are, and I signed up for notifications from The New York Times, BBC, CNN, Fox News.

A: Grace: I like to go to the original idea America was founded on, so I spend a lot of time in the library.

Copyright 2023 New York Times News Service. All rights reserved.