Turning Point USA (TPUSA), an organization that promotes free market and limited government, has disbanded the USF chapter after rumors surfaced that their now former president is anti-Israel.
Aida Vazquez-Soto, an SG Senator and the former president-founder of TPUSA USF chapter, said these rumors originated from a controversial Senate resolution that passed last week.
The New Hope resolution was a product of compromise between pro-Palestinian Senators and Hillel, a Jewish organization on campus. Vazquez-Soto worked with Hillel in attempt to change the intent and language of the original version, originally named the Hands Off resolution.
“The New Hope Resolution didn’t make me happy, because the subtext of that resolution was always going to be pro-Palestine and the authors were not going to negotiate that part out,” Vazquez-Soto said. “But, we watered down so much of that language. I’m really happy I could have played any part in that at all.”
However, the morning before the resolution reached the Senate floor Jan. 30, Vazquez-Soto said she received correspondence from the national representatives of TPUSA expressing concern of some rumors about her.
“That morning, I got a text message from my regional manager, Driena Sixto, who heard rumors about my beliefs on the Arab-Israeli conflict and those rumors specifically were about me supporting the anti-Israel resolution and just being anti-Israel in general,” Vazquez-Soto said. “On Thursday (Feb. 1), I realized those rumors had reached donors.
“I also found out that Turning Point had gone to other organizations I’m involved in and accidently spread those rumors that I was anti-Israel. In the line of work I’m in, those kinds of rumors are slander.”
TPUSA has a history of meddling in USF affairs. Last year, Ryan Soscia and Logan Holland were accused of taking campaign merchandise from the organization during their campaign for student body president and vice president.
The organization has been attempting to influence collegiate politics at Ohio State University, University of Maryland-Wisconsin and the University of Maryland through its “Campus Leadership Project.”
According to a report by The Ohio State Lantern, TPUSA’s goal at the collegiate level is to influence Student Government (SG) races across the country to elect conservative students.
According to Vazquez-Soto, these rumors were the beginning of the end for her involvement in TPUSA.
“My field director (Mark Canup) met with me at two o’clock on Thursday and he informs me that TPUSA has decided to ask me to step down from leadership of any kind in the chapter that I founded,” Vazquez-Soto said. “They didn’t even know I voted yes on the New Hope Resolution at that point. The first thing out of his mouth was ‘Be frank with me, how did you vote on this?’”
Coincidentally, Vazquez-Soto’s TPUSA chapter was having elections that night and she was the only person running for president for the 2018-2019 year.
“Mark attends my meeting that Thursday night to suspend the elections, which is also a major overreach of the national organization,” Vazquez-Soto said. “Suspending my election over rumors of me having a dissenting opinion, which is completely trash coming from an organization that prides itself over free speech and freedom of opinion. The idea is you should be able to have a debate with someone, not just silence them, because they have a different opinion.”
The Oracle reached out to Canup for comment and he said questions should be directed to Sixto, a regional manager for TPUSA. Sixto could not be reached for a comment. However, in a statement made on her Facebook, she said Vazquez-Soto’s claims are unfounded.
“The anti-Israel and anti-Semitic “resolution” seen below was drafted at the USF Student Senate and passed. The majority of SGA belonging to Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). It helped pass however, with a vote of “Yes” on behalf of our former employee (no longer with us when vote was taken) and former chapter leader, Aida Vasquez Soto,” Sixto wrote. “She decided to leave the organization and create a new one claiming that her right to free speech was punished within the organization.
“This is completely untrue, as Turning Point USA always advocates for everyone to have an opportunity to present their opinions, as stupid and factually incorrect as they may be sometimes. BUT, as a representative for our organization, we do not allow for our affiliates to side with organizations that explicitly vilify and harass the Jewish community.”
As Sixto said, Vazquez-Soto did start a new organization, taking almost all of TPUSA’s former members with her.
“When he first told me, I kind of cried for about two hours, because this was my baby,” Vazquez-Soto said. “This is a year and a half of my life that I’ve given to the organization. I remember when I couldn’t get five people in a room in the MSC, and now — the night of the announcement — the entire room was packed and there was people sitting along the walls.
“These are the kind of people I surround myself with. When I got through with my crying, I realized I wasn’t going to let this stand. I reached out ot the people that had been with me from the beginning and I said this is what is happened and I invite you guys to walk out with me.”
Those that walked out with Vazquez-Soto said that what happened to her was unfair and joined her in creating a new organization, The Forum.
“I think we all feel Aida was removed based on an unofficial stance on Israel and ‘he said, she said,’” said Aurelia Shears, the former social media recruitment manager of USF’s TPUSA and current member of The Forum.
Bryant Howard, the current social media manager of The Forum, said TPUSA didn’t do their due diligence.
“She wasn’t given any sort of fair trial or investigation into what actually happened. They just took a rumor at face value and did away with her,” Howard said.
The Activity & Services funding that the USF TPUSA chapter received will be transferred right to The Forum.
“They’ve all mutually agreed that we shouldn’t just disband, we should start a new organization and that organization will be called The Forum,” Vazquez-Soto said. “We actually have logos already and we’re hosting an event on 27th. We’re just taking everything that we had. Everything is coming with us — our room reservations, the office, all of it.”
Vazquez-Soto said she remains hopeful about her new organization’s future and that it will be a center of free speech.
“In light of what has happened with Turning Point, it makes me feel that the atmosphere of The Forum is much better suited to that kind of discussion,” Vazquez-Soto said. “Apparently, you can’t have discussion about differences of opinions in Turning Point. You either agree with them or you don’t. You can have differences of opinion in the Forum.”
Vazquez-Soto said she received no guidance from TPUSA on how to handle this contentious resolution even after reaching out to them.
“Something is clearly wrong with an organization that felt that somehow by silencing me they could deal with the problem at hand,” Vazquez-Soto said. “Here’s the thing, I told Driena ‘there’s this resolution that’s coming to the Senate and I have to take some time and work on it.’ They knew about that resolution two weeks ahead and they never gave me any guidance that the way that I voted in Senate as a senator would have any impact on my presidency in Turning Point.”