Following an article published by The Stanford Review on the first day of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) elections, Students of Color Coalition (SOCC)-endorsed ASSU Executive candidate Michael Ocon ’20 denied allegations that he is affiliated with and has received funding from the conservative nonprofit Turning Point USA (TPUSA).
Ocon is running on an ASSU Executive slate with fellow student activist Khaled Aounallah ’19.
TPUSA, a national nonprofit organization with chapters in college campuses and high schools, aims to “identify, educate, train and organize students to promote the principles of freedom, free markets and limited government,” according to its website.
The website maintains that the group “works consistently to re-brand free market values” using “innovative grassroots messaging” with slogans such as “Commies Aren’t Cool,” “Big Government Sucks” and “Taxation is Theft.”
The Stanford Review article, published about 15 hours into the 48-hour voting window, said The Review had heard that Ocon accepted campaign funding and “logistical support” from TPUSA. According to the article, The Review received an attendance list for a TPUSA-hosted conference that listed Ocon as having attended.
Both Ocon and Aounallah denied the allegations. Aounallah said he was unaware of TPUSA prior to the release of The Review article. Ocon said he did not know about any conference related to TPUSA and held that he had never attended any conference related to any conservative political organization.
“This is a personal attack,” Ocon told The Daily on Wednesday evening. “This is a clear example of voter manipulation.”
“There is no proof of these allegations,” Aounallah said.
The Review contacted neither Ocon nor Aounallah for comment prior to the article’s publication.
Sam Wolfe ’20, The Review’s editor-in-chief and the article’s author, told The Daily that the piece was intended to be “satirical and lighthearted” and that The Review “never intended to attack Michael.”
“None of the facts presented are false, though,” he added.
Ocon, too, initially perceived the article to be satire.
“Initially … we thought it was a joke,” he said. “Then, reading the content of the article, we were concerned about the allegations made against us.”
Though Wolfe was “very” confident that Ocon attended the conference, he was not clear on what Ocon’s motives were in allegedly engaging in TPUSA activities.
“Why he did so is anyone’s guess,” Wolfe said.
The Daily also received a document containing a list of attendees from a TPUSA affiliate, believed to be the same file referenced by The Review. Among the attendees, Nathaniel Stuart ’20 and Faa Diallo ’21 — a current Senate candidate — were listed as staying in the same hotel as Ocon.
“It is true, as far as we know, that [Ocon] went to the conference,” Wolfe said. “The document is extensive and detailed and does not appear to be a work of forgery or anything of the sort.”
The Daily was unable to verify the document’s provenance or connect the file to TPUSA or any specific event. However, the list also contained the names of staff contacts who were verified to be affiliated with TPUSA.
Stuart declined to respond to The Daily’s request for comment. Diallo responded saying he would neither confirm nor deny his attendance at the alleged conference.
Following publication of The Review’s story, Stanford College Republicans (SCR) expressed its public endorsement of the Khaled-Ocon slate in a Facebook post.
“We, like The Stanford Review, regard the presence of a credibly conservative candidacy for ASSU Executive ebulliently and with great surprise,” SCR wrote. “If they’re conservative enough for Turning Point USA, they’re conservative enough for us!”
Ocon said that he and Aounallah have publicly clashed with The Review on several other fronts, including Stanford College Republicans’ November 2017 speaker event featuring self-proclaimed Islamophobe Robert Spencer, as well as Stanford Sanctuary Now’s campaign to make Memorial Church a sanctuary church.
Ocon also noted that he has a poor relationship with The Review, saying that he felt “attacked profusely” by Review articles about the Coalition of Concerned Students’ protests against political scientist Charles Murray’s invitation to the Cardinal Conversations speaker series in January.
“We’ve been attacked for being affiliated with movements that they deem to have some sort of Antifa connotation,” Ocon said. “We’ve been portrayed by the Review as being the leaders of a socialist movement on campus.”
Ocon said that he viewed the Review piece as an attack on SOCC, whose endorsed candidates consistently see success on ASSU election days.
“They pointedly reference the Students of Color Coalition in the article,” Ocon said. “We’re really disappointed with the fact that The Review went forward with an article that had no substance to it.”
The Review has described SOCC as “heavily influenced by radical liberal activists and operating behind the guise of ‘color’ and ‘campus unity.’”
In 2015, The Review filed a Constitutional Council suit against SOCC, claiming that they violated an ASSU constitutional clause after refusing to hand over candidate endorsement records to the publication. After hearing arguments, the Council ruled in favor of SOCC.
Ocon and Aounallah are currently in the running for ASSU Executive on a slate under the slogan “Together We Thrive.” The Khaled-Ocon slate is known for the pair’s visible involvement in a wide array of progressive movements on campus. Their campaign platform addresses issues ranging from advocating for Stanford to become a “sanctuary campus” that would not cooperate with the federal government in the deportation of undocumented students to efforts to rename University buildings and landmarks named after Junipero Serra, a missionary who has drawn controversy for harming Native populations.
TPUSA has a history of getting involved in University elections. Speaking to a conservative audience in 2015, founder and director Charlie Kirk explained that doing so gives the organization a platform for political advocacy and control over student-government budgets.
“We’re not going to change the professor’s mind,” Kirk said. “You’re not going to get teachers fired. But the only vulnerability … is student-government-association races and elections, and we’re investing a lot of time and energy and money in it.”
Generally, this support is only for right-wing candidates whose platforms differ significantly from Aounallah and Ocon’s. But doubts about the politics of one TPUSA-backed slate arose during an Ohio State University student government election in 2016.
At TPUSA’s December 2016 “Winter In West Palm Beach Activist Summit,” Kadin Llewellyn — the former president of Ohio State’s TPUSA chapter — was introduced by a TPUSA leadership director to two other Ohio State students who were running to be the school’s president and vice president. But after TPUSA backed the pair, skepticism emerged about the candidates’ conservative bonafides.
According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Llewellyn and other TPUSA chapter members “harbored deep doubts about whether the … ticket was truly conservative” and “complained that Turning Point chose to back a candidate it thought could win, even if it meant abandoning its values.”
“I felt I was manipulated and lied to during the process,” Llewelyn told The Chronicle.
However, nothing in the Chronicle article suggests that the candidates were actually left-wing; the Khaled-Ocon slate aligns with liberal causes. Amid allegations that they had broken a campaign spending cap and then covered it up, the Ohio State candidates eventually withdrew from the race.
The Khaled-Ocon slate is running for ASSU executive office against Shanta Katipamula ’19 and Ph.D. candidate Rosie Nelson, as well as the “Associated Students of Stanford” joke slate.
ASSU voting will remain open until Thursday at 11:59 p.m., and each eligible voter has received a ballot through their Stanford Email account. Election results will be publicly announced on Saturday, April 14.
Contact Brian Contreras at brianc42 ‘at’ stanford.edu, Courtney Douglas at ccd4 ‘at’ stanford.edu and Claire Wang at clwang32 ‘at’ stanford.edu.