Op-Ed: What draws American youth to the nation’s right-wing?


Courtesy of Pexels, gd08, Danielle Yampuler

Conservative youth are much more common than they are portrayed to be.

On September 17, I threw on clothing off-trend enough to make a Christian mom from Conroe proud, pinned and pulled back any trace of artificial pink in my hair, and changed my phone’s The Owl House wallpaper to a non-demonic blue, ready to attend the Texas Youth Summit. 

The summit, hosted by self-described Christian nationalist Christian Collins, was advertised mainly to teenagers my age (12 to 26) with an interest in right-wing politics. Despite my own beliefs, which would be described by most as far-left and progressive, I decided to attend in order to learn more about what might attract youth to their values and lifestyle.

I live in Houston, a blue city in a red state. I attend a high school whose student body’s political beliefs lean predominantly to the left. Generations tend to stray more to the left the younger they become, that is no secret, and Generation Z is often viewed as the most diverse and liberal generation yet. Yet, many conservative youth exist, more than most people believe do. As a result of all these factors, I don’t associate with said youth often, and therefore was in for a bit of a culture shock as I mingled with teenagers attracted to the gathering by the promise of conservative influencers, public figures, and politicians bestowing their wisdom upon them. However, I wasn’t there to hear what Mattress Mack, a Houstonian philanthropist and furniture salesman who preaches creationism on the side, or Kayleigh McEnany, Trump’s former White House press secretary who received a standing ovation just from stepping onto the stage, had to say. Rather, I was there to listen to the children, teens, college kids, and controlling parents that filled the large Church.

An official promotion for the Texas Youth Summit, listing confirmed speakers. Multiple ultimately did not attend. (Courtesy of Texas Youth Summit)

As I began to talk to the groups of people crowding the halls, I was surprised by just how open some of them were to talking about their beliefs for as long as one would let them. The first group I chatted with headed a conservative association at Sam Houston State, and had lots to say about everything from the extremely liberal attitude at most major universities to the banning of education on CRT in public schools. The conversation I had with them developed a theme as it went on—namely their habit of discussing how liberals often victimize themselves before the group of college kids victimized themselves. 

As an example, the group stated to me how they hated being described as homophobic before describing their upcoming plans to protest a drag show at their school because “stuff like that should be kept in the bedroom.” How CRT should not be taught in public schools because it teaches people that “just because you’re white, you’re a bigot,” and that it pushes for “segregation but switched.” 

As the day went on, I found that sentiments and behaviors like the ones shared by the group from Sam Houston were popular among summit-goers, at least the ones that actually held some strength in their beliefs. Many attendees were young enough that when asked why they believed what they did, they didn’t seem to have an answer. However, they likely walked away from the summit with a stronger ability to defend their values, as its mission statement was to teach youth how to be “catalysts to win the culture war.”

Most of the students I spoke to were home-schooled, either by parents, in co-ops, or by digital schools. Almost all of their educations were heavily traditional and Christian in nature, and many Christian digital schools even advertised their services in the halls of the summit. I met barely any public school students. When a speaker asked how many students at the summit were homeschooled, over half raised their hands. I learned later that most homeschooled students come from conservative families, ever since the start of desegregation in public schools. While conservatives may have originally started avoiding public schools to steer clear of any person who was not white, nowadays conservatives of all races choose to homeschool in order to avoid queer people, education on the USA’s ongoing history of racism, and any other identity or fact they’ve decided is opposite them in the “culture war”.

Regardless of their education, I met many kind people my age, children who seemed to genuinely want to do good in the world. Almost every teenager was extremely open to my questions, and often answered in a way that was fairly friendly. Due to this, I often found that my conversations with them ended or turned sour not due to the people I was speaking with, but due to their parents, who always seemed to hover around them. Who kept their arms wrapped tightly around their 17-year-old as they told me about how they chose to homeschool so that their child would not be brainwashed by the “liberal agenda” they insisted was pushed in public schools, but were perfectly okay with their children being swayed by an explicitly conservative, Christian education. 

Many of the teens I met, even the ones my age, were not allowed to have accounts on social media or even phones. When I would ask for a number that I could use to contact them later, youth who would typically be seniors in high school would respond that they didn’t have one—but they could give me their parents. I would politely decline, as I had the sneaking suspicion that no question of substance would be answered under the meticulous gaze of these helicopter parents, seemingly terrified of their children forming any opinion that did not find its seed at home. 

One specific group, made up of cousins, siblings, and family friends, described to me how they were schooled at home, had no phones, and only socialized with those that their parents brought over, or those who attended their church. They seemed to see nothing wrong with this covert isolation their parents had raised them in. Many teens even openly stated that they were attending the summit either with their parents or at their parents’ wishes—multiple shared that they found out about the event due to their mothers seeing an ad for it on Facebook.

It was due to observations like these that my heart started to ache for these teens. These teens who openly stated their want to change the world for the better, immediately before calling gender-affirming care mutilation and stating their efforts to help strip transgender people of their fundamental medical rights. Speaking of transgender people, I was honestly shocked by how much of a talking point they were at the summit. Almost every speaker stated at least a sentence on the “moral perversion” that they claimed “transgenderism” to be. A movie on the “damage” that the “transgender agenda” did to youth was advertised throughout the festival. I was obviously aware that conservatives did not understand and actively did not like transgender youth, but I didn’t realize it was something they actively thought about often. I thought that the hateful, transphobic rhetoric they pushed, which helps drive many transgender teens to suicide, was more of something they sided against when asked purely because of bigotry or refusal to understand, rather than the main point on their agenda. However, there were many things official speakers at this convention stated that I was shocked they were brave enough (or stupid enough) to say offline.

As a Jewish woman, I was dumbfounded when I attended a panel about “medical censorship” where the speakers, who were officially educated doctors, openly and directly compared the modern era where people are urged to get vaccines to “1930’s Germany.” Throughout the panel, the speakers labeled vaccines as “bioweapons”, social media as “spyware” and “cyber biological warfare.” They spread false information about vaccines commonly causing fatal micro clots in patients, encouraged attendees to misspell “vaccine” in order to trick social media apps, specifically telling attendees to spell them “vaxxxine” because “vaccines mean death.” It was fearmongering so ridiculously open and uneducated that I barely knew what to say, especially when one doctor ended the panel with an anti-vax parody of a Dr. Suess poem. I am not joking about that. Yet these teens seemed to eat it up, diligently asking questions and taking notes.

No matter how much some of their opinions discomforted me, though, I couldn’t bring myself to fully dislike many of the actual youth there—because it didn’t seem like this hatred stemmed from their heart, but from the way they were brought up, namely in deliberate isolation in homes that functioned as conservative echo-chambers. Many of these teens were not even allowed to be exposed to any other way of thinking, and therefore saw their hatred of transgender people, women who need abortions, drag queens, and many others, as a love for their community. This hatred is so deeply engrained into both their learning and home environments that they’ve come to see it as love—many even saw the act of holding far-right beliefs as a rebellion from the norm, from the popular opinions of other teens their age, overlooking how their actions and values merely strengthen systems of oppression that have been in place since the dawn of the USA. They see their conformity as rebellion, their hatred as love, and their isolation as freedom from “the liberal agenda.” I’m not saying that none of the attendees had no way of knowing better, as many did, but I do believe that being raised in an echo chamber of hatred and bigotry has its effects that should not be overlooked.

Attending the summit made it clear why conservatives push for political actions such as “parent’s choice” for school vouchers and the “Parental Bill of Rights”. They’re terrified of their children being exposed to any opinion that is not their own, but children deserve to be allowed to see more of the world. It is for reasons like these that it is imperative to fight back against conservative control of public schools. Against conservative obscuration of history. The youth deserve to be allowed to be presented with facts from more than one side in order to form their own opinions. I urge all readers to be aware of conservative attempts to censor our public schools and to actively fight back against it by voting in elections for those who will run schools how they should be run. Conservatives may be able to trap their children in isolation of thought at home, but they shouldn’t be able to do it at our schools. Censorship expedites the death of freedom of thought, and nothing strengthened that opinion of mine more than meeting youth whose entire viewpoints had been carefully curated by their parents.