Turning Point USA’s recent Pastors Summit was brought to you, in part, by a registered sex offender.
Members and affiliates of the right-wing, extremist-friendly group are some of the most vocal in the crusade to malign LGBTQ people and their allies as child sex predators. But the group appears to be more accepting of those found to have preyed on minors than it lets on. And that hypocrisy led to a wave of criticism over the weekend.
Late last week, I wrote about allegations of widespread child sex abuse in conservative-leaning religious groups like the Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention. The next day, Rolling Stone reported on TPUSA hosting its pastor summit in connection with an organization founded by a registered sex offender:
[O]ne of the TPUSA summit’s corporate sponsors is a Christian fashion company that is led by a registered sex offender, Shawn Bergstrand, who served time in federal prison for attempted "coercion and enticement" after trying to persuade "a minor female" to "engage in sexual activity."
It's ironic given TPUSA President Charlie Kirk's recent rants about purported "groomers." Needless to say, if you’ve been baselessly lobbing allegations of child sex predation at others, it’s probably best to ensure no one you're affiliated with has been convicted of similar crimes. This rule apparently never made it into the TPUSA trainers’ manual.
Referring to Bergstrand’s conviction, TPUSA spokesman Andrew Kolvet told Rolling Stone the group “was not aware of this incident.” He noted that Bergstrand was an “exhibit sponsor” and was not a speaker or organizer at the event.
Of course, TPUSA is trotting out a convenient excuse for allowing Bergstrand's company to sponsor the event.
“One of the core tenets of the Christian faith is forgiveness rooted in repentance,” Kolvet told Rolling Stone. “After discussing the issue with him, we believe [it] was critical to bringing him to faith.”
Kolvet continued: “He doesn’t hide from what happened, he instead posts his testimony online on his company website. TPUSA Faith will not toss away a repentant, decent person because of a mistake that happened over a decade before, or because a leftwing outlet wants to write a hit piece on the amazing work our team is doing.”
In other words: “God wants us to keep working with this registered sex offender (and his money)!”
You’ll note that this is a complete 180-degree turn from the right’s baseless attacks on liberals. My NBC News colleague Ben Collins, for example, helped break down the conservative movement’s recent anti-LGBTQ attacks on Target for selling LGBTQ-friendly clothing. In this video, Collins notes that conservatives attacked Target in part because the company did business with a vendor that sells a shirt with the words "Satan respects pronouns" printed on it. For the record, Target never sold or planned to sell that shirt.
Compare that with TPUSA, which is financially benefiting from partnering with a registered sex offender. And contrary to TPUSA’s claims, conservatives haven’t been as open to the idea of repentance and contrition from criminals as they suggest.
Remember, for example, that TPUSA-aligned extremists like Candace Owens, the group’s former communications director who continues to speak at its events, tried to malign Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson as a “pedophile sympathizer” during her Supreme Court confirmation process last year, as they pushed false allegations that Jackson took a uniquely soft approach to sentencing people convicted of child sex crimes.
But child predators did indeed face punishment in Jackson's court. TPUSA, as best we know, appears to be much more lenient with regard to at least one child predator.
I think we know who the real "sympathizers" are here.